Parabens and sulfates are two chemicals which are found in over 90% of all beauty products including shampoo, deodorants, makeup, shaving creams, toothpastes and moisturizers. Parabens are used to help prolong shelf life by preventing bacterial growth, and sulfates are the group of harsh detergents that give make your shampoo, toothpaste and body wash create that foam.  

But just because they’re so common, doesn’t mean that they’re good or even safe. Far from it, in fact. Over the past few years, scientists, doctors and health experts have begun to reveal the shocking health risks that these harmful chemicals pose and have warned us to find healthier, non-toxic alternatives instead.

So what are the dangers of parabens and sulfates? And what can we do about them?

Why Are Parabens So Dangerous?

In short, parabens spell bad news for your entire endocrine system. Their powerful estrogenic effect mimics the natural estrogen in your body and throws your hormones completely out of balance. This can trigger a wide range of reproductive disorders such as PMS and even premature menopause, and in men can create more fat, less muscle and even gynecomastia (the development of breasts in men).

But that’s not all- one study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology in 2004 revealed that parabens were actually found within breast tumors and actually promote the growth of these cancerous cells.

Additionally, this chemical spells bad news for all pregnant mothers and parents alike, posing serious risk for the fetus and newborn and according to some sources, might even contribute to autism and Attention Deficit Disorder.

Why Are Sulfates So Dangerous?

Sodium lauryl sulfate and the other members of the sulfate family are strong irritants and are both toxic and carcinogenic to the human body. Even in relatively low concentrations they can cause swelling of the arms, face and hands, scalp irritation, mouth ulcers, hair breakage, hair loss and eye irritation, dissolving the protective oils, removing the moisture from the skin and damaging the hair follicle.

Many studies also suggest that sulfates leave a residue in the heart, lungs, liver and brain which can interfere with the endocrine system (sound familiar?), triggering hormonal imbalances and worsening symptoms of PMS and menopause.

Most worrying of all is sodium laureth sulfate (aka sodium lauryl ether sulfate). This is like the other sulfates but it is often contaminated with 1,4 dioxane during the manufacturing process. This chemical by-product is a known carcinogen which is toxic to the brain, nervous system, kidneys and liver and can cause a variety of diseases and cancers. It really is scary stuff!


How To Avoid Parabens And Sulfates

While these dangerous chemicals are in almost everything we put onto our bodies, we can actually avoid them if we know how.

So become a label-reader! Educate yourself about the various guises that these substances hide under and clean up your toxic load.

Here’s what you should avoid:


  • Butylparaben
  • Methylparaben,
  • Propylparaben,
  • Ethylparaben
  • The murky term “fragrance”.



  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Sodium laureth sulfate (aka sodium lauryl ether sulfate)
  • Ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS)
  • Sodium dodecyl sulfate
  • Sulfuric acid
  • Monododecyl ester
  • Sodium salt
  • Sodium salt sulfuric acid,
  • A13-00356
  • Akyposal SDS
  • Aquarex ME
  • Aquarex methyl

If you’re concerned about 1,4 dioxane, also avoid “myreth,” “oleth,” “laureth,” “ceteareth,” any other “eth,” “PEG,” “polyethylene”, “polyethylene glycol”, “polyoxyethylene” or “oxynol”. 

(Don’t presume you’re safe if you opt for natural products- many of organic products have been proven to have this compound. It always pays to do your research!)

While dangerous parabens and sulfates are lurking in the vast majority of mainstream cosmetic products, that doesn’t mean that we should just keep our fingers crossed and pray they don’t make us sick. There’s such a wide-range of paraben and sulfate-free cosmetics available these days that can keep you looking beautiful and protect your health. You just need to find them!

Probably my all time favourite hair care products are made by Innersense.  They preserve the holistic benefits of botanical extracts and choose only the finest wild-harvested, biodynamic, and certified organic ingredients. They are 100% sulfate, paraben, and gluten free.