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In our recent blog on toxic ingredients in top selling shampoo brands we noted the harsh chemicals you should avoid when shopping for shampoo. Here on a lighter note we explore some of the alternative safe ingredients in used in our natural shampoo brands. Our aim is to help you understand natural shampoo ingredients so you can better understand natural hair care. We believe you deserve naturally beautiful, healthy gorgeous hair!

Many ingredients over the different categories also have conditioning, moisturising and other nourishing properties.


Ingredients used for Cleansing and Emulsifying


riatta blog natural shampoo ingredients

Ingredients that act as surfactants usually work to cleanse and emulsify your hair and skin. Surfactant types vary based on the charge in the hydrophilic (water loving) end of the molecule (oppose to the hydrophobic/water hating tail). There are 4 different types:

  1. Anionic Surfactants (negative charge)
  2. Cationic surfactants (positive charge)
  3. Non-ionic surfactants (no charge)
  4. Amphoteric surfactants (both positive and negative charge)

Anionic Surfactants are the harshest but most effective at cleaning. Amphoteric and Non-ionic surfactants will clean your hair but are not as effective and used alone produce much milder shampoos. It is up to the shampoo to find a balance between these 3 Surfactants to provide enough of a clean without being too harsh and stripping your hair of its protective layer of natural oils (lipid layer). Cationic surfactants do not clean well but are used for conditioning.

riatta Blog Title Top 20 Natural Shampoo Ingredients surfactants

If your shampoo is too harsh and used too often it will strip the natural oils from your hair. Your body will try and compensate by producing even more oil to protect your hair making it even oilier. This is the opposite effect of what you want! Natural shampoos are generally milder and can be used more often as they aim to clean your hair without stripping away that natural protective layer.

Natural shampoos still use some ingredients that work as anionic surfactants. This is to ensure they are effective enough to clean your hair. Anionic surfactants are used at lower concentrations/ratios than harsher mainstream options in favor of more mild surfactants. Some rate as high as a 3 in the EWG database. We have put the reasoning and context as to how they are still suitable for use in Natural Shampoos in the table below.

Ingredients used for Fragrance


In our blog on toxic ingredients in top selling shampoo brands we talked about the use of synthetic chemicals used for fragrance and how toxic they are. Here are the natural fragrance ingredients used in many natural shampoos. The first group are ingredients that have both a synthetic and naturally derived version. The natural shampoo brands we analysed all had the naturally derived versions of these ingredients. Ingredient labels should note if an ingredient is naturally derived, otherwise assume it is synthetic.

The second group are a mix of essential and non-essential oils. used for their fragrance and other positive qualities. Note however that some of these oils and scents may still irritate those who are highly sensitive to smells. If this is the case, we recommend avoiding citrus oils. EWG rates some citrus oils a 3 for toxicity due to irritation concerns. These oils are not toxic and otherwise safe for use. For other essential oils, we recommend trying a few different shampoos and finding a product that works for you. Alternatively try using an unscented shampoo.

Ingredients used for Preservation, Viscosity and Structure/Stability


Preservatives are some of the most toxic ingredients in mainstream shampoos. Synthetic preservatives are more cheaper, efficient and logistically beneficial to natural alternatives. They are also usually highly or moderately toxic. This may scare you into going ‘preservative free’ but then you may find that your products spoil before you even finish using them!

If you still want to go with a mainstream product try and find one with the least harmful preservatives possible. This means no parabens or formaldehyde releasing agents (which are all highly toxic). Tetrasodium EDTA (EWG score 2), Potassium Sorbate (EWG score 3), Phenoxyethanol (EWG score 4) and Benzyl Alcohol (EWG score 5 – so maybe consider avoiding this one too) are all rated moderately toxic but are the lesser evils when it comes to skin/hair care preservatives.

Another alternative is using natural preservatives. They extend the products shelf life without.  While they are not quite as effective they still help give the product a more reasonable time frame in terms of shelf life and use. This generally allows a 6-month shelf life and 30 days use after opening for water based cosmetics such as shampoos and skin creams. This will also vary from product to product, some may last longer.

Ingredients used for Style Management and Colour Protection


The first group in the table below are plant proteins. They reduce frizz, strengthen and smooth hair.


The names may sound daunting. Hydrolyzed Wheat and Soy Protein for example, ‘hydrolyzed’ simply refers to the process which the protein from the wheat and soy is broken down to be able to use. ‘Paullinia Cupana (Brazilian Cocoa) Phyto-Keratin’ is a fancy way of saying it is a plant protein derived from the Brazilian Cocoa plant.

Concern over keratin products are largely due to the fact many use formaldehyde for more dramatic longer lasting effects. Formaldehyde is a carcinogenic impurity which is highly hazardous (EWG score of 10). As long as Phyto-Keratin is NOT used alongside formaldehyde, a formaldehyde releasers (which are found in many mainstream shampoos) or other harsh chemicals, using 'Phyto-Keratin’ on your hair is considered safe.

Products with these proteins won’t completely straiten your hair or give results like a harsh chemical treatment from the salon. They do however help make your hair stronger, healthier, smoother and more manageable.

The second group, amino acids, work in a similar fashion. They help repair and strengthen hair leaving it smoother and with less frizz!

Getting enough vitamins and amino acids naturally though your diet should already be helping keep your hair become healthy and strong. Using products with amino acids, vitamins and proteins also helps deliver additional  nutrients to your hair making these ingredients ideal to repair dry and damaged hair. This includes sun damage!

If you have any questions about any of the ingredients in our products, please let us know! We encourage you to get in touch.

Looking for natural shampoo and conditioner to use? Click Here

Missed our blog analysing toxic ingredients in top selling shampoo brands? Find it here!