Here we will list a group of chemicals to avoid

and how to check

the status of

the ones on

the back label

Disorders linked to black hair products:

  • Cancer. 

  • Reproductive issues: infant death.

  • Respiratory disorders. 

  • Reproductive development.

  • Uterine fibroids.

  • Skin & eye irritation.

  • Allergies and eczema.

  • Hair loss.

Many of the chemicals that we listed here are already forbidden in the EU.  But as a majority of European Curlfriends, buy online and/or import cosmetic products from the US, we choose to run this list anyway.  

The stuff do avoid.

American* personal care products and cosmetics are like the wild west of the chemical manufacturing world. The last major legislation to address and limit potential toxins in our shampoos, cosmetics, lotions, and so forth, was back in the 1930s and little has been passed since.


Parts of the world like the European Union and Japan have moved to reduce or eliminate the use of known toxins like parabens and phthalates, but nothing has been done in the United States. Instead, it’s up to us, the consumers, to take charge of our health! 

There is a long list of ingredients to avoid in your natural shampoo, but I like to focus on the biggest, most common offenders: 



Parabens are widely used preservatives that help keep self-care products shelf-stable. You won’t just find them in shampoo; you’ll also find them in lotions, cosmetics, conditioners, and more. A good natural shampoo, however, won’t contain parabens because of their estrogenic track record.


Estrogenic means that parabens keep estrogen from effectively binding to your body’s estrogen receptors–which means that parabens can (and do) profoundly impact your entire hormonal system, which in turn affects everything from mood to risk of cancer. 

Parabens have been found throughout the body and tend to be highly concentrated in people of color and young women–likely because the products marketed to these demographics tend to be highly toxic, putting them at higher risk (3). A 2004 study of breast tumours found parabens in most of the tumors analyzed (4). 

Check your ingredient labels carefully, and look for any ingredient ending in -paraben, including: 

  • Methylparaben

  • Ethylparaben

  • Propylparaben

  • Butylparaben 



Phthalates are a type of chemical used for a variety of reasons. They tend to be as ubiquitous as parabens but may cause more room for concern. The European Union banned the use of phthalates after tediously studying their well-known toxicity. 


Like parabens, phthalates are known to disrupt hormones, but the disruption isn’t limited to adults. Phthalates may disrupt hormones in babies breastfeeding or in utero, particularly during critical development periods. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies phthalates as carcinogens, which means exposure can lead to cancer. Phthalates have been linked to ADHD, autism, and male and female infertility (6,7,8). 

It’s important to note that many people assume that small amounts of parabens and phthalates are safe. But here’s the thing: we don’t use one personal care product a day–we use more than ten, on average (teenage girls use even more). Chronic use of small amounts of toxins, add up. (3). Plus, parabens and phthalates are also present in plastics and have made their way into our food and water sources, so our rate of exposure is most likely much higher than we think. 

Unlike parabens, phthalates often won’t be listed directly on the ingredient list. Sometimes you’ll see DEP, DEHP, or DBP (7), but more often, you’ll see an innocuous-sounding phrase that has huge implications– “fragrance.” That’s right, all those lovely floral, woodsy scents you’re used to smelling in your shampoo can be hiding some seriously nasty toxins. '


is a term the FDA allows manufacturers to use because it views fragrance as a proprietary trade secret. Manufacturers are allowed to use over 3,000 different chemicals and call them “fragrance.” The list of chemicals is deeply worrisome and includes known carcinogens like phthalates, styrene, and many more.


Frankly, any manufacturer that opts to use the term “fragrance” instead of listing the exact ingredients should cause you to question their commitment to your health. Keep in mind, lots of “natural” and “green” products include fragrance; this greenwashing underscores how important it is to read the label yourself. 


Another preservative with a toxic reach, formaldehyde is tricky–manufacturers won’t necessarily use formaldehyde, itself. Instead, manufacturers use “preservative systems,” a series of chemical ingredients that release formaldehyde as the product sits on shelves. Meaning, the older the product, the more formaldehyde it may contain.


The problem with this is that formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports that both the US and the World Health Organization recognize formaldehyde as a carcinogen; the FDA also has data to show as much as 20% of cosmetic products generate formaldehyde (9).  

Ready to break up with the formaldehyde? Here are the most horrific chemicals to watch out for, according to the EPA (9): 

  • DMDM hydantoin

  • Imidazolidinyl urea

  • Diazolidinyl urea

  • Quaternium-15

  • Bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol )

  • 5-Bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane

  • Hydroxymethylglycinate



Believe it or not, shampooing daily isn’t normal – or common. In the early 1900s, shampooing once a month was the norm for most women. It wasn’t until the 70s and 80s that big shampoo brands began to use targeted marketing campaigns–and enlisting celebrities like Farrah Fawcett and Christie Brinkley–to push women to wash their hair more frequently (10). 

Changing American’s habits fostered huge profits for personal care product manufacturers, but it’s not doing anything good for our hair. Outside of toxins like parabens and phthalates, one of the harshest sets of chemicals that fill your conventional shampoo bottle are sulfates. 

Sulfates are detergents that are also known irritants. They’re responsible for the foaming feeling in your shampoo, but the Cosmetic Ingredient Review board reports “strong evidence” that sulfates irritate the skin (11).  Avoid sodium laureth sulfate or sodium lauryl sulfate in your ingredient list. 

Thank you /text by ERICA JONES - natural living made easy

* editorial addition

Another reminder – US cosmetic producers have

NO legal responsibility to list all ingredients in a product. Studies show that more than 80 un-labelled ingredients have been found in black hair products. Want to know more?

The rules, regulations and safety controls in the EU is quite strong.

Sweden applies an additional set of national regulations only beaten by Japan.

It's this under the Swedish legal framework that

DakMatter is produced.


"It's a really famous brand. I bought it at a well-known department store/ high-end hairdresser.

It must be safe"

One way to check the content of your products (at least the stuff that is labelled) is to use EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. It is is an online guide with safety ratings from 0 to 10 for more than 78,000 cosmetics and other personal care ingredients and more than 2,500 brands.  

Also look for EWG's new category on Skin Deep®, Hair Products for Black Women. It features more than 500 products and will continue to grow. It also kills a lot of the most common myths of cosmetic safety.

EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database has changed the market and been searched more than 200 million times.  Download the app today and don't forget to donate – EWG might actually save your life! 

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