As an organic hairstylist, I am often asked, “Why is it important to use nontoxic products on my hair and skin? If I am only getting highlights and the color does not touch my skin, is that a problem?” My response is simple, “Does it touch your skin as you rinse it out? Think 60 seconds.” Our skin is an amazing conduit to our body’s systems. It is our largest organ and, as a giant sponge, it absorbs everything we come into contact with.

What you should avoid and why:

  • Parabens: These are synthetic preservatives, approved by the FDA to be used in small doses. We are exposed to them in our eye and face creams, cleansers, shampoos and conditioners. The most common forms are methyl, ethyl, propyl and butyl parabens. They have been known to cause liver problems, produce weak estrogen-like effects, may cause breast cancer and allergic reactions, as well as present abnormal reproductive systems in young children.
  • Formaldehyde: This is a preservative that is commonly used in nail polish. It can irritate skin, damage the nervous system and may cause cancer.
  • Phthalates: These industrial compounds include DBP, DMP and DEP, and are additives in perfume, hairspray, deodorant and nail polish. They have been found to cause birth defects in the male reproductive system.
  • Ammonia: According to, ammonia is a corrosive chemical that is used in explosives, fertilizer and cleaning products. Its use in hair color has been banned in Argentina, and in the Netherlands, ammoniated colors must be mixed in a separate, closed room that has a special ventilation system. In addition to its negative effects on the skin, eyes and respiratory system, ammonia compromises the hair’s ability to hold onto hair color.


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