You may not know this, but when it comes to hair care products, ingredients matter more than brand. Some of the most well known and/or most expensive brands produce hair care products I would use to clean my toilets before I would use on my child's hair. In some instances, they are so toxic that I would even hesitate to flush them down the toilet.

Many products that make your hair look awesome in the short term, but overtime strips your hair of moisture, makes hair brittle, causes long-term damage, and (in worst case scenarios) can cause health issues. For instance, avoid these ingredients:
  • Isopropyl Alcohol - It is hard to find a hair ingredient that does not have this. It is found in many gels and hair sprays and is also found in hand sanitizer as well as industrial car and home improvement products. Isopropyl alcohol dissolves hair oils and can lead to breakage. In terms of health, the inhalation of this ingredient can cause dizziness, depression and headaches. (aka isopropanol or dimethyl carbinol)
  • Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS) - Found in most shampoos, SLS is also an industrial cleaning agent used in professional and machinery cleaning. This ingredient is know to cause health issues and dries out hair. (aka sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, ammonium laurel sulfate, sodium dodecylsulfate, sulfuric acid, Akyposal SDS, Aquarex) 
  • Proplyene glycol (PG) - Used in every type of hair and body care product you may find -conditioners, shampoos, styling gels and lotions. The Environmental Protection Agency flagged proplyene glycol as one of the top 10  hair-care product ingredients that can potentially impact health with overexposure. Though toxicity is low, the concern is over prolonged exposure. The shady FDA has approved for use in food (they feed it to animals for 104 weeks and there were no ill effects), you can find this ingredient in frozen desserts. Additionally,  this product hurts sea life by consuming oxygen needed by aquatic organisms for survival once introduced in ocean water. So I won't even flush it down the toilet.
  • DEA (diethanolamine) MEA (momoethnanolamine) TEA (triethanolamine) -  Commonly found in most personal care products that foam, including bubble baths, body washes, shampoos, soaps and facial cleansers. These are hormone disrupting chemicals and are known to form cancer causing nitrates and nitrosamines. On the show, CBS This Morning, Roberta Baskin revealed that a recent government report shows DEA and MEA are readily absorbed in the skin. Dr. Samuel Epstein, Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Illinois said "repeated skin applications of DEA-based detergents resulted in a major increase in the incidence of two cancers - liver and kidney cancers.” John Bailey, who oversees the cosmetic division for the FDA said the new study is especial important since “the risk equation changes significantly for children." (aka Cocamide DEA or MES, Lauramide DEA, etc. )
  • See here for a more detailed list.

Caring for Hair Naturally

As a rule of thumb, I tend to use products with plant based ingredients I can say/recognize like
  • Jojoba oil, coconut opil, shea butter, or grapeseed oil to seal in moisture
  • Tea tree essential oil or aloe vera juice for itchy scalp
  • Jojoba oil, aloe vera juice, grapeseed oil for dry scalp
  • Grapeseed oil, safflower oil, castor oil, argan oil to soften hair
  • Glycerin, aloe vera gel/juice, or rosewater for non-oil moisturizing or softening and moisture retention
  • Castor oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, or apple cider vinegar (post-wash rinse with cold water for 5 minutes) for shine
  • Baking soda to cleanse
  • Coconut oil or hydrolyzed protein (e.g. keratin, collagen) for strength
  • Lavender essential oil, jasmine essential oil, rose essential oil, orange essential oil for scent

and I couple that with good hair care techniques.  For instance:
  1. I use a wide tooth comb and/or detangler brush 
  2. I only detangle while wet and use a rosewater or glycerin spray
  3. I start at the ends and work my way to the roots carefully
  4. I put in a simple protective style in the evening (two strand twists)
  5. I moisturize regularly and use natural cleansers
  6. I use a small amount light soft hold plant-based gel 
  7. I use a old tooth brush with the gel to smooth down her edges

I spent a great deal of time educating myself about ingredients and making conscious decisions about what I expose my children to. I can't control for everything, but I do my best to minimize my child's exposure to harmful ingredients, people, situations, etc.

Also note that ingredients for both food and body/skin care products are listed by quantity, from highest to lowest. Try looking for products that list whole foods or plant based ingredients as the first three ingredients, and be skeptical of foods/products with long lists of ingredients.

My favorite brands are