Your shampoo might be lying to you — here’s how to keep it honest

It’s happened to you countless times: You buy a new shampoo for something specific, like dandruff control or a sensitive scalp, and then you get home and… no change. You throw it out or try to return it to the store because “it doesn’t work.”

Well, maybe it wasn’t meant to work.

Companies are smart enough to know that if a product’s bottle is pretty and it’s celebrity-endorsed, we will buy it. Many companies rely on that to sell their products because they know that the average sixteen-year-old girl isn’t educated in ingredients and doesn’t know what a “sulfate” is or what it does (and how it’ll completely strip your hair of color).

Reading the labels on your hair products is just as important as reading the labels on your food. We count on our shampoo to rid out hair of all the styling products we use (which look great for a while, but can leave your hair feeling gross and dirty), so quality is non-negotiable. But lots of products make big promises about helping your hair and never follow through.

So what’s health-conscious haircare lover to do? There are some big red flags that you want to avoid when buying any hair product, due to their harsh and irritating effects. Here’s a cheat sheet for your next trip to the store:

– Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) These are both harsh detergents. Yes, they’ll get your hair clean, but too much of their cleaning power can strip hair of essential oils. – Sodium Chloride Anyone who’s taken chemistry knows sodium chloride is salt, but what you probably didn’t know is that it can be used as a thickener in shampoos. It’s typically used in conjunction with sodium lauryl sulfate, and it can lead to a dry (and very itchy) scalp.

– Diethanolamine (DEA) & Trietheanolamine (TEA) Any products containing these two ingredients can irritate the scalp, as well as break down the keratin in your hair. Stay away!

– Parabens These are known for their toxicity — ingredients such as methylparaben and propylparaben can irritate the skin (in this case, the scalp) and affect the hormonal balance of your body, which can ultimately result in hair loss. Yikes!

– Alcohol Although this is a super common (and almost unavoidable) ingredient in many beauty products, if it’s listed in the first five or six ingredients, there’s more of it than you want and you should keep shopping.

– Propylene Glycol Another science class term — or is it auto shop? This is also known as anti-freeze, which is what you put in your car to make sure it doesn’t overheat. Companies put this in their products to prevent them from freezing during the shipping process, which makes total sense, until you get it home and it causes allergic reactions and skin irritations.

These are just some of the harmful ingredients that are in our everyday hair and makeup products. I don’t know about you, but I like to do everything in my power to keep anti-freeze out of my hair. Keep these ingredients in the back of your head (or in a list on your phone) the next time you go shopping for hair products, because most of the time if a product isn’t working, it’s not you, it’s the product.

So what should be in your hair products? There are lots of ingredients that you should be thrilled to see on your labels. Look for these next time you shop the beauty aisle:

– Lauryl Glucoside If you are looking to avoid sulfates (SLS & SLES), this is the ingredient you want. Most commonly found in shampoos, this is a gentler alternative but is still very effective in removing the grime and buildup from your hair.

– Oils Oils are crazy good for your hair. In the right amounts, they will leave your hair soft and silky and shiny, but not greasy. Oils such as palm, jojoba, and olive are all made up of sebum (which is the oil produced from our bodies in the sebaceous gland), which makes them more compatible for hair. Coconut oil, macadamia oil, and Moroccan oil are also excellent options for your hair as well.

Hydrolyzed Keratin Keratin is the building block of our hair, and this ingredient helps treat damaged hair. Also, if your hair is damaged and frizzy it will help fill in your chipped cuticle (the hair cuticle is what makes the hair appear frizzy), and will help smooth your locks.

– Silicones Many ingredients ending in the suffix “-cone” are alright for your hair! They help make hair appear shinier and can help prevent some of the damaging effects of heat. These silicones can handle more heat than natural oils (that your body produces) can, so look for these in your heat protectants.

– pH Balanced This isn’t necessarily an ingredient, but it is super important for having healthy hair. You should try to buy products like shampoos and conditioners that say that they are “pH balanced.” They’ll help keep in moisture which will leave your hair feeling soft both initially and in the long run. You can purchase pH testing strips if you want to see if your current products are pH balanced. Try to keep the pH between 4 and 7; if it’s any lower or higher, it’s time to switch products.

Overall, there are thousands of hair products out there, with millions of ingredients! Although it may not be realistic to research every ingredient in your favorite shampoo, it is easy to check the first 4-5 ingredients to make sure you aren’t putting anything damaging in your hair. Remember, the products can be temporary, but your hair is forever (hopefully)!

(Image via Shutterstock.)