Organic pretenders: hair care products that are not from Mother Nature

Whether due to skin or scalp irritation or greater consciousness about the potential dangers of some chemicals, more and more black women are seeking out organic products for their hair, and cosmetics companies are blatantly exploiting this demand by misrepresenting their products through deceptive marketing strategies.

According to French hair and beauty products company L’Oréal, black women in the UK spend six times more on hair care products than white women, 1 and in 2004 the ethnic hair care market in the UK was worth £60 million. 2

Small wonder then that cosmetics companies will do whatever they can to cash in. But whilst black women spend so much of their hard-earned money on hair care products, are we really getting value for our money, and are we being sold products that are beneficial?

According to Science of Black Hair author, Audrey Davis-Sivasothy; “The vast majority of products geared toward our community are utterly useless.” But that doesn’t stop cosmetics companies from pretending otherwise.

Words like ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ are frequently appearing on products aimed at afro textured hair, but a little research on the ingredients listed often reveals that not only are the products not organic, but worse, that they contain a whole host of undesirable chemicals.

A few months ago I purchased a few hair care products from a local store. Not having any knowledge at that point of what chemicals should be avoided, I simply relied on the product names and descriptions to guide me on products that were natural or organic, which is what I was looking for.

I chose All Ways Natural shampoo and conditioner, which both state on the bottle that they “contain no artificial colours or harmful chemicals.” Yet the list of ingredients includes the following nasties:


Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) – these are used as detergents and surfactants – they can enter the bloodstream and cause potentially carcinogenic formations of nitrates and dioxins to form in shampoos and cleansers by reacting with other product ingredients. They also sdtrip the hair of moisture.

 Cocamide DEA – Diethanolamine, more commonly called DEA, is a suspected carcinogen and has been shown to have a negative effect on the development of memory cells. It is a particularly dangerous ingredient for pregnant women to use.

 Methylisothiazolinone – This has been shown to cause neurological damage, potentially putting a fetus at risk for brain damage. The chemical might also be a factor in the development of Alzheimer’s and other nervous system disorders.

 Propylparabens – parabens can disrupt the hormone (endocrine) system and have been found in the breast cancer tumors of 19 of 20 women studied. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tested urine from 100 adults and found parabens in nearly all.  (Environmental Working Group – Parabens)

 Propylene Glycol– an active component in antifreeze – do your really want to put this in your hair?


Methylparaben – see shampoo

Propylparaben – see shampoo ‘parebens’

Propylene glycol – see shampoo

Parrafin oil –  a mineral oil – Petroleum by-product that coats the skin like plastic, clogging the pores. Interferes with skin's ability to eliminate toxins, promoting acne and other disorders. Slows down skin function and cell development, resulting in premature aging. Any mineral oil derivative can be contaminated with cancer causing PAH's (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons).

Other products I purchased were from the Soft and Beautiful Botanical range.


Propylene glycol – see above

Mineral oil – see above

The 3-N-1 DRY SCALP TREATMENT contains:

Mineral oil – see above

Propylparaben – see above ‘parabens’

Butylparaben – see above ‘parabens’

Isopropylparaben – see above ‘parabens’


Methylparaben – see above ‘parabens’

If these products were not bad enough, some cosmetics companies even go as far as creating names for their products that are so similar to genuine organic products that consumers will obviously get confused and assume the two are the same.

Take Organics by Africa’s Best. These products are not organic but similarly named to Organics Africa, a company based in South Africa that produces Rose Hip, an organic oil.

The Center for Environmental Health has a website called Sham Organics, in which Africa’s Best Organics is listed. It says:

“Though the brand name promises ‘organics’ there appear to be no organic ingredients in any of these products – but numerous products, including some ‘Kid’s’ products, contain harsh chemicals (a warning on one ‘Kid’s’ hair product reads, ‘keep out of reach of children’!)”

When I made the discovery a few weeks ago the whole lot was tossed in the bin and I have since replaced them with genuine organic products. There are very few organic hair products that are aimed at women with afro textured hair in the UK.

But most organic products are made of natural ingredients that are suitable for all hair types and many products recommended by hair experts such as Audrey Davis-Sivasothy are generic ingredients such as vegetable glycerine, aloe vera juice/gel, castor oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil,  and shea butter – all of which are best purchased in unrefined form.

Many companies that produce hair care products aimed at afro textured hair often include these ingredients in processed form which is inferior as most of the nutrients are stripped out during processing.

So my advice is be informed – do your homework before you go shopping for hair care products and you will not only avoid being ripped off by greedy manufacturers, you will also avoid exposing yourself to harmful chemicals!


1 The politics of black hair by Althea prince

2 Salon Strategies

Useful Websites

What’s in your shampoo? Verda Vivo blog

10 Things to avoid putting on your hair! Nappturality blog

Toxic Chemicals in Cosmetics Ingredients Directory

Useful Books


5 Comments On “Organic pretenders: hair care products that are not from Mother Nature”

  1. Thanks for the advice on afro hair care. I’ve had my hair in weaves for years. Recently in plait extension, I am now getting scalp irritation and constant itching. I removed the plaits and I’m looking for suitable hair treatments. I am unable to order on line at the moment Is there any other way I can order suitable products?

    • Hi Beulah, Sorry to hear about your hair problems but we’ve all been there! Please look out for the review later this week on The Science of Black Hair by Audrey-Davis Sivasothy. This book explains about the diffrent types of hair damage and how to treat them. Your hair will also improve if you follow a hair care regimen and the basic products you need to moisturise and nourish your hair can usually be purchased in health food shops. Please also visit this post on my Lifestyle Challenge blog: where you can download my hair care regimen based on information from The Science of Black Hair and Grow It. Good luck!

  2. Great stuff, Deborah! Manufacturers who try to dupe consumers should be outed!
    At free reports show how to recognise chemicals in skin care & cosmetics.
    Some chemicals actually increase premature ageing of the skin.

  3. Finally the information is becoming available not only for women of color but all nationalities. For the past 2 years I’ve been consulting the cosmetic database website which provides a thorough list of all ingredients in cosmetics as well as other prodcts, the levels of toxicity which can be leathal. There’s a plethora of other ingredients to watch out for: petroleum, oxybenzone, aluminum chlorhydrate, artificial fragrance,chlorine, EDTA,ammonia,pthalates and the list goes. The price of beauty for over a long period, could be fatal so to all women,be an informed consumer and educate before it’s to late.

  4. I too fell for the AllWays natural hype when I first discovered natural hair on YouTube. I finished off the bottle of conditioner and now use Giovanni. Every other hair product I use on my hair I make myself. It’s very liberating, although I did suffer from product junkism I only succumbed to paraben free conditioners and oils and I use them in my home product recipes.

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