The Good vs. the Bad Ingredients in Shampoo


The next time you go to the store and reach for your favorite shampoo, take the time to look at the back of the bottle. If it seems difficult to read all the ingredients, don't fret. It's all a matter of recognizing both the good and bad ingredients commonly found in most shampoo brands. 

A key component to your hair's overall health and wellness is largely from the kind of shampoo that you use. Unfortunately, using shampoos with harsh chemical ingredients can often end up doing damage to your hair. We can help you decipher the scientific names on your shampoo bottle so that you can make the best decisions when shopping.

Why You Should Care About What’s in Your Shampoo

The health of your hair involves many things such as a proper diet, staying hydrated, and the lifestyle you live. Even though hair health is an intertwined system, shampoo has a direct impact on your hair health and quality.

As you get older, you may start to notice that your hair isn’t what it used to be. The more susceptible it becomes to factors brought on by aging such as thinning and dryness, the more difficult it can be to manage it with the shampoo you currently use. Perhaps your shampoo isn’t as effective or it's starting to cause problems with each usage. 

There are common ingredients found in many shampoos that you should look out for the next time you make your next purchase. When you start to care about what the ingredients in your shampoo, you can make informed decisions on what product will be the best for your needs.

Bad Ingredients You Want to Avoid in Shampoo

Not all shampoos are created equally, as some contain products that are harmful to your scalp, hair and health. There are several bad ingredients you want to avoid in your shampoo, including the following:


Sulfates are a surfactant. Surfactants remove oil and water, which allows for easy cleaning of the skin or hair. Sulfates are a common ingredient in many shampoos because they are the primary cleaning agent for your hair. Sulfates go by the following names in shampoo: 

  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Sodium laureth sulfate
  • Ammonium lauryl sulfate

While there's nothing inherently toxic or dangerous about sulfates, they often do their job too well, which strips your skin and your scalp of the essential oils it needs by disrupting sebum production from the sebaceous gland. If you have a sensitive scalp or skin, it's best to avoid sulfate-based shampoo altogether.


Formaldehyde has both industrial and cosmetic applications. It's used for both building materials and as a preservative in shampoo. It can be easy to spot on labels, but sometimes it can go by other names like: 

  • Quaternium-15 
  • DMDM hydantoin
  • Imidazolidinyl urea
  • Diazolidinyl urea
  • Polyoxymethylene urea
  • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
  • 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol)
  • Glyoxal

The Department of Health and Human Services lists formaldehyde as a known carcinogen. While formaldehyde is relatively safe in low amounts, continued exposure through cosmetics and soaps can put your health at risk and irritate the scalp and skin. Try not to buy shampoos that contain formaldehyde.


Parabens, like formaldehyde, act as a preservative for shampoo. Your skin can quickly absorb parabens as soon as it comes into contact with them. This can lead to irritation, rashes, hives and scalp issues. When looking at the ingredients for shampoo, parabens are easy to spot. If the chemical listed ends with "paraben," avoid using it. 

Various studies have shown that parabens may cause multiple issues with hormone regulation in women. This is due to the estrogenic effects that parabens can cause. In addition, research has also shown that parabens can affect breast tissue and be a cancer risk.

Good Ingredients in Shampoo

The truth about sulfates, parabens and other harmful ingredients can make it challenging to find a quality shampoo. First and foremost, good ingredients in shampoo can mean many things for people with different hair types. Since your hair is unique compared to all of the others, we can provide a general list of ingredients that are safe, effective and promote hair health.

Natural ingredients such as sage, argan oil, coconut oil, burdock root, bamboo, etc., are all great options and easily recognizable. In addition, several ingredients on shampoo bottles may sound scary but, in actuality, are beneficial, such as niacin, keratin or glycerin. In short, stick with easy-to-read ingredient labels and natural shampoos.

Here are some additional "good" product label terms that are important to keep in mind when reading labels:

Natural: This means the product contains at least one ingredient that is natural. You may find small amounts of synthetic ingredients though, unless the label says “100% natural” or “all-natural.”

Hypoallergenic: When you see this word, ingredients in a product are known to be gentler and non-irritating for people with sensitive skin. Hypoallergenic products also frequently contain little to no fragrances, parabens, sulfates or phthalates—ingredients which all commonly cause sensitivity issues for some people with sensitive skin.

Fragrance-Free: Fragrance free means the products contain no fragrance or perfume. Keep in mind that this is different from “unscented” products, which can use fragrance to hide unwanted smells from other ingredients.

Vegan: If a product is classified as vegan, this means that none of the ingredients came from animals.

Cruelty-free: This term speaks to the fact that the product was produced without testing on animals.

Noncomedogenic: This one’s important if you are prone to oily skin—and this includes your scalp! Noncomedogenic means the product doesn’t have ingredients that are known to clog pores.

Where Can I Find Shampoos With Good Ingredients?

Better Not Younger's collection of shampoos are all made vegan and free of cruelty, parabens, sulfates and other harmful ingredients.

Finding shampoos with good ingredients can be tough, especially with all of the options out there. But, all it takes is proper due diligence and a little extra time out of your day to read the labels when out shopping. Better Not Younger's collection of shampoos are all made vegan and free of cruelty, parabens, sulfates and other harmful ingredients.

Tell Us: What ingredients do you look for in a shampoo? Share in the comments below.