Hair Care: What Really is Meant by “Natural”

When it comes to hair products, sometimes it’s really confusing to wrap your head around just what “natural” means.

Perhaps you are concerned about harsh chemicals, perhaps you are aware of sensitivities or perhaps a consciousness of the environment is behind your desire to be more biodynamic. But, the question remains… what are you really using?

Possibly you are experiencing a few greys and as a man you may wish to colour your hair for the first time? Or, you are a woman who has been colouring her hair for years. You may have become concerned about the health risks associated with the common chemicals found in hair dye and general hair care products.

Maybe you’re looking for hair care products that don’t take their toll on the planet (with ingredients sourced organically). Whatever the reason, the best way to be aware of these concerns is to read labels. So, what nasties should you be on the look out for?

Phthalates and Parabens

You probably would have heard of phthalates and parabens before. Although they were banned by the European Union in 2003, this group of chemicals is still found in most hair care, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products available on the shelf in Australia.

You’ll most commonly find these compounds in a can of hair spray. The chemicals work to keep the product sticky and fungus free. However, longer shelf life can come at the potential cost of ill health and cancer, as both chemicals have be proven to have carcinogenic properties – and are linked specifically to breast cancer.

Parabens and phthalates also affect the environment, often ending up in waterways and oceans and causing fertility issues in marine animals.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate

You would have to be living under a rock if you haven’t ever used a hair care, cosmetic or household product that contains Sodium Lauryl (or Laureth) Sulfate. These chemicals are so very common – especially in shampoo and conditioners.

Pick up your bottle of hair product and have a read; you’re likely to find these ingredients in the fine print. They are the same compounds that are used to clean such things as car engines, garage floors and are used at car washes.

It’s very ironic that hair care products can call themselves “natural” and still contain these very toxic components. Exposure can be traced to such ailments as diarrhea, eye damage and even depression.

DEA (Diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine), TEA (Triethanolamine)

If something in your bathroom cupboard foams, it’s likely that it contains these potentially toxic chemicals. The compounds DEA, MEA and TEA are frequently found in shampoo and other foaming and cleansing products such as soap, bubble bath and facial cleansers.

Research indicates that these chemicals can form cancer-causing agents. Exposure is linked to liver and kidney cancer. While as consumers we have come to expect a foamy consistency to our shampoo etc. this does not mean that the product does a better job than something that does not produce ample suds. In fact, these artificial substances do more harm than good and have a high potential to affect hormone levels in the body.

DEA, MEA and TEA are considered hazardous by environmental protection agencies worldwide because of acute toxicity to aquatic organisms and potential for bioaccumulation.


Quarternium-15 is chemical that can be broken down into formaldehyde. Yes, that’s what scientists use to preserve body parts in jars and what morticians use to embalm corpses.

Because of the strong preservative ability of this compound, Quarternium-15 is used in many hair and beauty products. Unfortunately, this synthetic substance is a major cause of allergic reactions and dermatitis. It has also been linked to a weakened immune system, headaches, joint pain and depression.

Quarternium-15 is also widely considered by environmental groups to be harmful to marine life.