Dangers of Chemicals Used in conditioner
Since the 1970s we have thought differently about caring for ourselves, with most people today washing every day, body and hair. Whether it is due to a more acute awareness of personal cleanliness or the boom in hair styling products, this new trend for everyday washing means that we are stripping the natural oils which keep our hair healthy and strong. To counter this problem, the market for hair conditioners emerged and is now big business for manufacturers. Those of us who blow dry our hair every day have become almost reliant on conditioners to keep our hair healthy.
Hair conditioners have been around for centuries in the forms of aloe vera or honey amongst others, and these can still be found in natural hair conditioner products today. The more natural ingredients have been shunned however, by the bigger brands and manufacturers. By opting for chemical conditioners they can save on costs, making products from the wide variety synthetic or derived sources. The bad news is that hair conditioners, like many other personal care products, have very little regulation. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for monitoring these products in the US, but it does not have the resources to do so properly and devotes the majority of its attention to prescription drugs.
Many chemicals used in conditioners may be familiar as they appear in many other products such as oven cleaners and antifreeze. You may be surprised by the widespread use of industrial chemicals in hair conditioners but here is a few of the main offenders in ‘leading brand’ products today.
Propylene Glycol is used in conditioning products to lock in moisture and is one of the chemicals used by major brands to moisturize and enrich hair. Although not illegal to use, there are a number of worrying side effects linked to Propylene Glycol including liver, kidney and brain damage or deformation. This harmful chemical is absorbed through the skin which is why in an industrial setting worker are required to wear full protective clothing in the vicinity of Propylene Glycol.
Momoethanolamine (MEA), Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA) are together the most common group of chemicals used in hair conditioning products. DEA is the most common of the three, with its use in products in the US totaling over 100,000 tons each year and rising – the majority of these products being conditioners and shampoos. This group of MEA, DEA and TEA chemicals are used to balance the pH levels of products to make them less offensive to our skin and also to prevent our eyes from stinging when hair products are washed into them. Repeated application of DEA to the skin can cause liver and kidney cancer according to research by the University of Illinois. TEA can cause severe allergic reactions when it comes in contact with the body, particularly affecting the eyes. TEA can be absorbed through the skin and build up to toxic levels in the body over time.
Formaldehyde is a nasty chemical which most people have probably heard of before. It is classified as toxic in the European Union and in spite of many websites claiming that its uses in hair care products has been banned, that is not the case. Formaldehyde is an inhibiting chemical used in conditioners to prevent the formation of nitrosamines, which are dangerous carcinogens. The irony is that formaldehyde itself is carcinogenic. Along with severe allergic reactions, headaches and drowsiness, Formaldehyde can penetrate and be absorbed by the skin leading to long term damage and health problems.
Sodium Laurel Sulphate (SLS) is an ingredient used in about 90% of personal care and grooming products with conditioners being no exception. As well as being known to cause carcinogenic dioxins (see below) and nitrates to enter the bloodstream, SLS has many lesser health issues associated with it, ranging from skin irritation to nausea and vomiting. SLS is used in industrial applications as a degreaser and is usually marked in these settings as hazardous or toxic.
1, 4 Dioxane
1, 4 Dioxane is a by-product of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) causes hormonal imbalances, fertility problems (particularly with males), as well as being a known carcinogen. Senator R Kennedy included it on his list of carcinogens submitted to congress in 1997 but no action has been taken since then to prevent this chemical being used in our conditioners. FDA raised doubts about the safety of 1, 4 Dioxane in 1992 but years on, nothing has changed and it is still a regular ingredient in hair conditioners.
Methylisothiazoline (MIT) is a microbial agent, which manufacturers use to kill microbes in their products that otherwise would contaminate them. Many of the big names brands continue to use this chemical in their conditioners in spite of a number of reports highlighting the dangers. According to research by the National Institutes of Health, MIT has a link to central nervous system damage and disruption. Using rats as test subjects, the researchers showed how the chemical slows communication between the neurons in the brain as well as the central nervous system. These findings, which were publicly announced at the annually meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology, raise further concerns. If the chemical MIT is slowing brain function in adults, the effect on an unborn child could be catastrophic. Fetal exposure could lead to abnormal brain development and brain damage.
While it seems clear that regulators have no power or will to stop these dangerous chemicals used in conditioners arriving in our stores, it is simple enough to make sure they don’t arrive in our homes. If you have the time to learn what every chemical is and the potential damage it can cause, you will be able to avoid the worst products. If you are like the rest of us and don’t have the time you can simply purchase natural, chemical free conditioners and be safe from the exposure. Natural and organic products are becoming more widely available and present a safe alternative to potentially harmful chemical based hair conditioner.