When to Cut Parabens, Silicones and Sulfates From Your Hair Products

Many hair-care products contain a mix of these common chemicals, but your hair might benefit from a little detox. Here’s why…

No Parabens, No Silicones, No Sulfates, No Artificial Colorants

Parabens, silicones and sulfates: They’ve become the ugly stepchildren of the beauty industry, but they’re not all bad. Depending on your mane needs, they might work well for you—preventing bacteria growth, encouraging shine and removing dirt and oil—or they might cause allergies, irritation and unwanted product buildup, all depending on your skin and hair type.

Is it time to go paraben-, silicone- and sulfate-free? Here’s everything you need to know about these personal-care ingredients and how to decide if they’ll help or hurt your locks.


Parabens are used as preservatives that fight bacteria and fungus in a wide variety of beauty products such as shampoos, conditioners and hair masks (plus face creams and body lotions).

Pros: No fungus growing in your shower-bound shampoo bottle! Sounds like a win. If a product is paraben-free, it will need another type of preservative to prolong its shelf life—which may still be shorter than a product that contains parabens.

Cons: Some people develop allergic reactions to this range of ingredients. Studies have also tried to link parabens to cancer, since they can weakly mimic estrogen, but all results have been inconclusive so far. Examples: Butylparaben, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Alkyl Parahydroxy Benzoate


Silicones used in hair-care products lubricate and condition the strands while providing slip.

Pros: They fill in the pores in the hair shaft, which means they can make dry, damaged hair look much healthier. They also create shine, combat frizz and detangle, which means combing, brushing and styling are more manageable for most people.

Cons: While silicones make hair look shinier, they can’t actually fix split ends or fight dryness. They can also weigh down fine hair and cause buildup on dry, curly locks. Examples: Cetearyl Methicone, Cetyl Dimethicone, Dimethicone, Dimethiconol, Stearyl Dimethicone

Sulfates Sulfates are used as a cleaning agent to separate excess oil and dirt from your hair and skin and allow it to wash down the drain each time you shampoo.

Pros: They emulsify, creating a satisfying lather, and effectively cleanse the hair—especially if have an excessively oily scalp or use a lot of product.

Cons: Sulfates should be used in moderation because they can be a little too effective, stripping the skin of oil and proteins and causing an irritated scalp and dry, frizzy locks as a result.

Examples: Alkylbenzene Sulfonate, Ammonium Laureth or Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl or Laureth Sulfate

Tricks of the trade

Ready to go paraben-, silicone- and sulfate-free? Try the Matrix Biolage R.A.W. collection of shampoos, conditioners, masks, all made up to 95 % ingredients of natural origin. Use the Nourish line if you have dry, dull strands, Recover if you have a stressed, sensitized mane and Uplift if your fine locks could use a little volume.  

Photo Credit: ian quilatan