Editor's note: This is a dynamic list; we'll update and amend as necessary.

“AnionicSurfactants”

Anionic surfactants are mixtures, which removes dirt, product build-up, and pollutants. These mixtures break down the interface between water and oils and remove dirt.

Safe Anionic Surfactants

  • Sodium lauroyl sarcosinate
  • Sodium Xylene Sulfonate
  • TEA-dodecylbenzenesulfonate

Anionic Surfactants To Avoid

  • Ammonium Laureth Sulfate
  • Alkyl Benzene Sulfonate
  • Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate/Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
  • Dioctyl Sodium Sulfosuccinate
  • Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate
  • Sodium Myreth Sulfate
  • Ethyl PEG-15 Cocamine Sulfate
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate

“AmphotericSurfactants”

In general, amphoteric surfactants have antibacterial properties, low toxicity and a high resistance to hard water. They also have great compatibility with different types of surfactants.

Safe Amphoteric Surfactants

  • Coco Betaine
  • Cocoamphoacetate (Safer than Sodium Laureth Sulfate)
  • Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate
  • Disodium Cocoamphodipropionate
  • Lauroamphoacetate
  • Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate

Amphoteric Surfactants To Avoid

  • Cocamidopropyl betaine (Please note some people have allergic reactions to this ingredient)

“CationicSurfactants”

Cationic surfactants are quaternary ammonium compounds used to provide conditioning, some detergency, & emulsion stabilization.

Mild Cationic Surfactants

  • Behentrimonium Methosulfate
  • Cetrimonium Chloride
  • Dicetyldimonium Chloride
  • Cocotrimonium Chloride/li>
  • Hydrogenated Palm Trimethylammonium Chloride
  • Dihydrogenated Tallow Dimethylammonium Chloride (not vegan friendly)
  • Laurtrimonium Chloride
  • Stearalkonium Chloride
  • Dihydrogenated Tallow Dimethylammonium Chloride
  • Hydrogenated Palm Trimethylammonium Chloride
  • Laurtrimonium chloride

Harsh Cationic Surfactants

  • Cinnamidopropyltrimonium Chloride
  • Behentrimonium Chloride
  • Benzalkonium Chloride
  • Tallowtrimonium Chloride
  • Quaternium-15 (can cause irritation)
  • Tallowtrimonium chloride
  • Quaternium-18 Bentonite

Unknown

  • Dicetyldimonium Chloride
  • Dicocodimonium Chloride
  • Dihydrogenated Tallow Dimethylammonium Chloride
  • Quaternium-22

“NonIonicSurfactants”

Nonionic surfacants are used for gentle cleansing and for emulsion stabilization.

Mild Nonionic Surfactants

  • Decyl Glucoside
  • Laureth-10 (lauryl ether 10)
  • Laureth-23
  • Laureth-4
  • PEG-10 Sorbitan Laurate
  • Polysorbate- (20, 21, 40, 60, 61, 65, 80, 81)
  • Sorbitol (prevents cosmetics from drying in their containers)
  • Steareth- (2, 10, 15, 20)
  • C11-21 Pareth (number between 3 and 30, the higher the number, the more water soluble and higher the hydrophilic portion)

Harsh Nonionic Surfactants

  • PPG-1 Trideceth-6 (contains Ethylene Oxide, which is banned in Europe and Canada)

Unknown

  • PEG-10 Sorbitan Laurate
  • C12-20 Acid PEG-8 Ester

“Emulsifiers”

An emulsifier consists of a water-loving hydrophilic head and an oil-loving hydrophobic tail (think of a drop of oil in water). These types of ingredients enable the mixture of water and oil. Emulsifiers have the ability to interact with other ingredients and they are often mild ingredients.

Emulsifiers

  • Caprylic/capric/diglyceryl Succinate
  • C10-15 Pareth-(2,4,6,8) Phosphate
  • C14-16 Glycol Palmitate
  • C18-20 Glycol Isostearate
  • Ceteareth-(4-60)
  • Cocamidopropyl Lauryl Ether
  • Deceth-(3-10)
  • DIPA-hydrogenated Cocoate
  • Dipentaerythrityl Hydroxystearate
  • Dipentaerythrityl Hydroxyisostearate
  • Dipentaerythrityl Hexacaprate/Caprylate
  • Dodoxynol-(5,6,7,9,12)
  • Nonoxynol-(1-35)
  • Octoxynol-(1-70)
  • Octyldodeceth-(2,5,16,20,25)
  • Palm kernel glycerides

“Preservatives”

Preservatives are natural or synthetic ingredients added to products in order to preserve these. Research is lacking about whether parebens are harmful, however it's agreed that it is more harmful to use products with no preservatives in them than products with these in them.

Mild Preservatives

  • Butyl paraben
  • DMDM Hydantoin
  • Imidazolidinyl Urea

Medium Preservatives

  • Ethyl Paraben
  • Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate (avoid this ingredient in sprays)
  • Methyl Paraben
  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone
  • Phenoxyethanol
  • Sodium Benzoate

Harsh Preservatives

  • Diazolidinyl Urea
  • Isobutyl Paraben
  • Propyl Paraben

“Thickeners”

  • Aluminum stearates/ Isostearates/ Myristates /Laurates/Palmitates
  • Glycol Distearate
  • Hydrogenated Castor Oil
  • Hydrogenated Castor Oil Hydroxystearate
  • Hydrogenated Castor Oil Isostearate
  • Hydrogenated Castor Oil Stearate
  • Hydrogenated Castor PEG-8 Esters
  • PEG150 Distearate

“NaturallyDerivedPolymers”

These are used to thicken the product.

Naturally Derived Polymers

  • Carboxymethyl Hydroxyethyl Cellulose
  • Carboxymethyl Hydroxypropyl Guar
  • Cellulose
  • Ethyl Cellulose
  • Hydroxybutyl Methylcellulose
  • Hydroxyethylcellulose
  • Hydroxymethylcellulose
  • Lauryl Polyglucose

“Humectants”

These are used to attract water to the hair to keep the moisture content high.

Mild Humectants

  • Dipropylene Glycol
  • Glycerin
  • Hexylene Glycol
  • Panthenol
  • Phytantriol (enhances moisture-retention, increases absorption of vitamins, panthenol, and amino acids into hair shaft, imparts gloss)
  • Sodium PCA
  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Polydextrose
  • Potassium PCA
  • Urea
  • Hydrogenated Honey
  • Hyaluronic Acid
  • Inositol
  • Hexanediol Beeswax
  • Hexanetriol Beeswax
  • Hydrolyzed Elastin
  • Hydrolyzed Collagen
  • Hydrolyzed Silk
  • Erythritol
  • Capryl Glycol
  • Isoceteth-(3-10, 20, 30)
  • Laneth-(5-50)
  • Steareth-(4-20)
  • Trideceth-(5-50)

Medium Humectants

  • 1,2,6 hexanetriol
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Sorbitol
  • Triethylene Glycol
  • Polyglyceryl Sorbitol

“CationicPolymers”

These are positively charged polymers that provide silkening and smoothing effects by adhering to the surface of the hair due to the hair's overall negative charge.

Cationic Polymers

  • Polyquaternium-10
  • Polyquaternium-7
  • Polyquaternium-11
  • Guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride

“Silicones”

Silicones are used to add shine and gloss to hair, decrease combing friction and tangling, provide conditioning, and act as humectants.

Mild Silicones

  • Amodimethicone (not soluble in water by itself)
  • Amodimethicone
  • Trideceth-12
  • Cetrimonium
  • Behenoxy Dimethicone (sparingly soluble in water)
  • Cetearyl Methicone (not soluble in water)
  • Cetyl Dimethicone (not soluble in water)
  • Dimethicone Copolyol (Water soluble)
  • Dimethiconol (not soluble in water)
  • Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Hydroxypropyl Polysiloxane (water soluble)
  • Trimethylsilylamodimethicone (not soluble in water)
  • Stearoxy Dimethicone (sparingly soluble in water)
  • Stearyl Dimethicone (not soluble in water)
  • Trimethylsilylamodimethicone (not soluble in water)
  • Lauryl methicone copolyol (water soluble)

Medium Silicones

  • Cyclopentasiloxane (low risk on cancer - not soluble in water)
  • Dimethicone (not soluble in water)

“OrganicOils”

Low Hazard Organic Oils

  • Paraffin/li>

Medium Hazard Organic Oils

  • Mineral Oil
  • Petrolatum

“Proteins”

Proteins

  • Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Hair Keratin
  • Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Rice Protein
  • Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Silk
  • Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Soy Protein
  • Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
  • Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Silk Amino Acids
  • Cocoyl Hydrolyzed Collagen
  • Cocoyl Hydrolyzed Keratin
  • Hydrolyzed Keratin
  • Hydrolyzed Oat Flour
  • Hydrolyzed Silk
  • Hydrolyzed Silk Protein
  • Hydrolyzed Soy Protein
  • Hydrolyzed silk protein
  • Hydrolyzed soy protein
  • Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
  • Keratin
  • Potassium Cocoyl Hydrolyzed Collagen
  • TEA-cocoyl Hydrolyzed Soy Protein

Medium Proteins

  • TEA-cocoyl Hydrolyzed Collagen

“Vitamins”

Vitamins

  • Retinol, Retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A)
  • Tocopherol acetate (Vitamin E)

“EmollientEsters”

Cationic surfactants are quaternary ammonium compounds used to provide conditioning, some detergency, & emulsion stabilization.

Mild Emollient Ester

  • Butyl Myristate
  • Butyl Stearate
  • C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate
  • Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride
  • Cetyl Octanoate
  • Cetyl Stearate
  • Cetearyl Stearate
  • Decyl Oleate
  • Glyceryl Stearate
  • Glyceryl Adipate
  • Glyceryl Arachidate
  • Glyceryl Arachidonate
  • Glyceryl Caprylate
  • Glyceryl Citrate / Lactate / Linoleate / Oleate
  • Glyceryl Diarachidate
  • Glyceryl Dibehenate
  • Glyceryl Dierucate
  • Glyceryl Dihydroxystearate
  • Glyceryl Diisopalmitate
  • Glyceryl Diisostearate
  • Glyceryl Dilaurate
  • Glyceryl Dilinoleate
  • Glyceryl Dimyristate
  • Glyceryl Dioleate
  • Glyceryl Dipalmitate
  • Glyceryl Dipalmitoleate
  • Glyceryl Diricinoleate
  • Glyceryl Distearate
  • Glyceryl Erucate
  • Glycol Stearate
  • Isocetyl stearate
  • Isopropyl Myristate
  • Isopropyl Palmitate
  • Isopropyl Stearate
  • Isostearyl stearate
  • Octyl Palmitate
  • Octyl Stearate
  • Propylene Glycol Dicaprylate/Dicaprate
  • Sorbitan Benzoate
  • Sorbitan Caprylate
  • Sorbitan Isostearate
  • Sorbitan Laurate
  • Sorbitan Tristearate
  • Stearyl Stearate
  • Tocopheryl Linoleate

Medium Emollient Esters

  • Dimethyl Lauramine Isostearate
  • Glyceryl Caprate
  • Glyceryl Cocoate

Harsh Emollient Esters

  • Glyceryl Behenate

“Alkanolamides”

These are emulsifying agents, emulsion stabilisers, surfactants, & viscosity controlling agents.

Mild Alkanolamides

  • Acetamide MEA
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Stearamide MEA

Medium Alkanolamides

  • Cocamide MEA
  • Lactamide MEA
  • Lauramide DEA
  • Linoleamide DEA
  • Linoleamide MEA
  • Linoleamide MIPA
  • Linoleamide MEA
  • Linoleamide MIPA
  • Myristamide DEA
  • Myristamide MEA
  • Myristamide MIPA
  • Oleamide DEA
  • Oleamide MEA
  • Soyamide DEA

Harsh Alkanolamides

  • Cocamide DEA
  • Lecithinamide DEA

“Amines”

Amines are emulsifiers and conditioning agents.

Mild Amines

  • Cocamidopropyl Dimethylamine
  • Isostearamidopropyl Dimethylamine
  • Lauramidopropyl Dimethylamine
  • Myristamidopropyl Dimethylamine
  • Oleamidopropyl Dimethylamine
  • Palmitamidopropyl Dimethylamine
  • Palmitamidopropyl Dimethylamine
  • Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine
  • Tallamidopropyl Dimethylamine

Harsh Amines

  • Behentamidopropyl Dimethylamine

“pHadjusters”

These are typically used in very small amounts to balance the product.

Mild pH-adjusters

  • Ascorbic acid
  • Citric acid
  • Sodium hydroxide

Medium pH-adjusters

  • Triethanolamine

“Salts”

Often used to enhance thickness (viscosity) of the product.

Mild Salts

  • Calcium chloride
  • Magnesium chloride
  • Magnesium sulfate (has been found to add volume to hair, used to enhance curls)
  • Potassium chloride
  • Potassium glycol sulfate
  • Sodium Chloride

“Fattyalcohols”

Alcohol does not necessarily damage our hair. Fatty alcohols provide an emollient effect, lubricity and/or emulsion stabilization. The ingredients below have been scanned and show zero to low health concerns.

Fatty Alcohols

  • Behenyl alcohol
  • Cetearyl alcohol
  • Cetyl alcohol
  • Isocetyl alcohol
  • Isostearyl alcohol
  • Lauryl alcohol
  • Myristyl alcohol
  • Stearyl alcohol
  • C30-50 Alcohols
  • Lanolin alcohol

“Alcohols”

The following alcohols are used as a solvent. However, these can be damaging for your hair.

Harsh Alcohols

  • SD Alcohol 40
  • Witch Hazel
  • Isopropanol

“UVFilters/Sunscreens”

UV exposure can affect the strength and elasticity of your curls, therefore, you should use a good leave-in conditioner that contains a UV filter.

Mild UV Filters/Sunscreens

  • Benzophenone-2, ( or 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

Medium UV Filters/Sunscreens

  • Benzophenone-2
  • Benzylidene Camphor Sulfonic Acid
  • Bornelone
  • Ethyl Cinnamate
  • Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate (octyl methoxycinnamate)
  • Octyl Salicylate
  • Phenyl Ketone
  • PEG-25 PABA
  • Polyacrylamidomethyl Benzylidene Camphor

Harsh UV Filter

  • Benzyl Salicylate
  • Octoxynol-40, -20
  • Oxybenzone

“NaturalOils”

These provide emolliency, conditioning, & add shine. All are natural and do not harm your hair.

  • Coconut Oil
  • Jojoba Oil
  • Olive Oil
  • Palm Oil
  • Safflower Oil
  • Sesame Seed Oil
  • Shea Butter
  • Sweet Almond Oil
  • Wheat Germ Oil

“AmineOxides”

Amine oxides are used to help disperse dyes in product. The following oxides have been scanned and show zero to low health hazards:.

Amine Oxides

  • Cocamine Oxide
  • Lauramine Oxide

“ChelatingAgents”

Chelating agents are used in small amounts to react with metal ions present in the product or in the water in order to improve stability or performance of the product.

Mild Chelating Agents

  • Diiospropyl Oxalate
  • Disodium EDTA
  • Disodium EDTA-copper
  • EDTA
  • HEDTA
  • Potassium or Sodium Citrate
  • TEA-EDTA
  • Tetrasodium EDTA
  • Trisodium EDTA
  • Trisodium HEDTA

Medium Chelating Agents

  • Disodium EDTA-Copper
  • Oxalic Acid
  • Sodium Oxalate

“FattyAcids”

Fatty Acids are used as emulsifying agents & emulsion stabilizers.

Mild Fatty Acids

  • Arichidonic acid
  • Capric Acid
  • Coconut Fatty Acid
  • Lauric Acid
  • Linoleic Acid
  • Myristic Acid
  • Palmitic Acid
  • Pantothenic Acid
  • Stearic Acid
  • Isostearic Acid
  • Capryleth-(4,6,9) Carboxylic Acid

“HarshAntibacterials”

Harsh Antibacterials

  • Glyoxal
  • Triclosan

“PEG-ModifiedMaterials”

Cationic surfactants are quaternary ammonium compounds used to provide conditioning, some detergency, & emulsion stabilization.

PEG-Modified Materials

These are esed as emulsifiers, surfactants, humectants, and to make non-water soluble molecules more water-soluble. The following PEG-modified materials are approved for use. However, these ingredients do have moderate health hazards:

  • PEG-150 Pentaerythirtyl Tetrastearate
  • PEG- 2, -3, -4, -6, -8, -12, -20, -32, -50, -150, -175 Distearate - also used to thicken the product
  • PEG-10 Castor oil
  • PEG-10 Cocamine
  • PEG-10 Cocoate
  • PEG-10 Coconut Oil Esters
  • PEG-10 Glyceryl Oleate
  • PEG-10 Glyceryl Pibsa Tallate
  • PEG-10 Glyceryl Stearate
  • PEG-10 Hydrogenated Lanolin
  • PEG-10 Hydrogenated Tallow Amine
  • PEG-10 Isolauryl Thioether
  • PEG-10 Isostearate
  • PEG-10 Lanolate
  • PEG-10 Lanolin
  • PEG-10 laurate
  • PEG-10 Oleate
  • PEG-10 Olive Glycerides
  • PEG-10 Polyglyceryl-2 Laurate
  • PEG-10 Propylene Glycol
  • PEG-10 Sorbitan Laurate
  • PEG-10 Soya Sterol
  • PEG-10 Soyamine
  • PEG-10 Stearamine
  • PEG-10 Stearate
  • PEG-10 Stearyl Benzonium Chloride
  • PEG-10 Tallate
  • PEG-10 Tallow Aminopropylamine
  • PEG-100
  • PEG-100 Castor Oil
  • PEG-100 Hydrogenated Castor Oil
  • PEG-100 Lanolin
  • PEG-100 Stearate
  • PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, PEG-60
  • PEG-55 Propylene Glycol Distearate

“MiscellaneousPolymers”

There are many and they are used for a variety of purposes.

Miscellaneous Polymers

  • Carbomer: Polymer used to provide thickening
  • Dodecanedioic acid/cetearyl alcohol/glycol copolymer: Polymer used to provide thickening
  • Hydrogenated C6-14 olefin polymers: Polymer used to form films on hair surface in hair styling products
  • Hydrogenated ethylene/propylene/styrene copolymer: Polymer used to form films on hair surface in hair styling products
  • Polyacrylic acid: Polymer used to provide thickening, emulsification, binding, and film forming on hair
  • Polymethyl methacrylate: Polymer used to form films on hair surface in hair styling products
  • Polyvinyl acetate: Polymer used to form films on hair surface in hair styling products
  • Polyvinyl alcohol: Polymer used to form films on hair surface in hair styling products 
  • PPG: Polymer used to provide thickening and to stabilize emulsions
  • PPG-25-Laureth-25: Polymer used to provide thickening and to stabilize emulsions
  • PPG-5 Pentaerithrityl ether: Polymer used to provide thickening and to stabilize emulsions
  • PPG-75-PEG-300-hexylene glycol: Polymer used to provide thickening
  • PVP (Polyvinylpyrrolidone): Polymer used to provide thickening
  • PVP/VA (polyvinylpyrrolidone/vinyl acetate copolymer): Polymer used to provide thickening
  • Sodium carbomer: Polymer used to provide thickening
  • TEA-carbomer: Polymer used to provide thickening
  • Poloxamer (100-407): Polymers used as emulsifiers (emulsion stabilizers) and surfactants (detergents)
  • Poloxamine (followed by a number): Polymers used as emulsifiers (emulsion stabilizers) and surfactants (detergents)
  • Polyacrylamidomethylpropane sulfonic acid: Polymer used to form films on hair surface in hair styling products
  • Polyethylene terephthalate: Polymer used to form films on hair surface in hair styling products

“Anti-staticAgents”

Anti-static agents reduce static charge build-up and fly-away hair. There is not much data on whether the following ingredients are dangerous for the health.

Anti-static Agents

  • Apricotamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Ethosulfate
  • Apricotamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Lactate
  • Cocamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Ethosulfate
  • Cocamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Lactate
  • Lauramidopropyl Ethyldimonium Ethosulfate
  • Lauramidopropyl Ethyldimonium Lactate
  • Linoleamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Ethosulfate
  • Linoleamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Lactate
  • Myristamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Ethosulfate
  • Myristamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Lactate
  • Oleamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Ethosulfate
  • Oleamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Lactate
  • Stearamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Ethosulfate
  • Stearamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Lactate

This article was originally published in 2004, and has been updated for clarity.