You might not be booking hair straightening or color treatments, but did you know there are ingredients to avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding in hair care products like shampoo, conditioner, and styling products?

A new study published in Environmental Science & Technology found per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the breast milk of 100% of the participants who submitted samples. Not only are PFAS absorbed into breast milk but, according to research published in Environment International, they can cross the placenta and reach unborn babies.

PFAS are chemicals widely found in everyday products, from cosmetics to cleaning products, and scientific research by the United States Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry found that they have links to a wide range of health risks, including a weakened immune system, pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid disease, and cancer.

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This information on PFAS is concerning enough. But there are plenty of other risky ingredients to avoid in hair care. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist personal care products have been found to contain mixtures of endocrine disruptors (e.g. parabens, phthalates, fragrance, etc), that are not listed on product labels. Toxic exposure has been associated with infertility and miscarriage or obstetric outcomes such as preterm birth and low birth weight, neurodevelopmental delay such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and adult and childhood cancer.

Don't let this information scare you away from using high-performing shampoos and hair products. As more consumers are made aware of hidden chemicals in their products, independent and clean beauty brands are popping up around the world. It is important to be your own advocate, or shop with highly-strict beauty companies, like North Authentic, which vet ingredients to ensure products are meeting their clean standards.


Following is a list of chemicals to avoid during pregnancy and while breastfeeding in hair care products, why it’s best to avoid them, how to identify the ingredients on product labels, and options that are better for you and your baby.


Synthetic fragrance ingredients are ubiquitous in conventional hair care. Even some products labeled “unscented” contain synthetic fragrance to mask the scent of other ingredients. Fragrance in hair care is usually a chemical cocktail of several ingredients, including phthalates and industrial solvents.

How to I.D: Identifying synthetic fragrance ingredients to look out for in hair products can be tricky, as most brands don’t disclose their specific scent ingredients. Look for terms like “parfum” and “perfume”, and see if the product label makes note of natural fragrance ingredients. When in doubt, trust your nose. If a product smells like something that could not have come from nature, it probably didn’t. Many hair care products are free from artificial fragrances and use natural botanicals for scent.

Choose a fragrance free shampoos that still address your hair type, concerns and hair goals. Here are some of our stylist-recommended fragrance free shampoo and conditioner products.


These synthetic preservatives have become the poster child for ingredients to avoid in cosmetics, but pregnant women, in particular, may want to use them with caution. A study published in the Environmental Research Journal found that parabens have the potential to pass through the placenta and affect testosterone levels.

How to I.D.: Parabens are listed on product ingredient labels as methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. Certain essential oils and botanical ingredients, as well as processing and packaging methods, are used by clean beauty brands instead of parabens to preserve hair care products.

Here are some of our fav Paraben-free shampoos based on hair type, concern and goals.


These chemicals are widely used in conventional hair care products, like hairspray to provide flexible hold, and also to make fragrance ingredients last longer. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics mentions pregnant and breastfeeding women as particularly vulnerable to the effects of phthalates.

How to I.D.: Phthalates show up on product labels as phthalate, DEP, DBP, and DEHP. But it is important to note that when included as a fragrance ingredient, phthalates fall into the signature scent loophole mentioned above.

Here are some of our stylist-recommended phthalate free shampoos.


Possibly one of the most common mainstream shampoo ingredients, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a foaming agent that makes a product create suds. This ingredient can cause feelings of irritation to the scalp, skin, and eyes. Because many women have more sensitive feeling skin during pregnancy, it might help to avoid SLS in hair care.

How to I.D.: Look for both sodium lauryl sulfate and SLS on product labels. You may also see sodium laureth sulfate or SLES, another surfactant and close cousin to SLS. Clean hair care brands use natural surfactants, like a coconut-derived cleanser, in their shampoos.

Here are some of our stylist-recommended sulfate free shampoos.

Some essential oils

Essential oils have many benefits when it comes to cosmetics. But these highly concentrated oils should always be used with care, especially when pregnant or breastfeeding. There are certain essential oils to avoid during pregnancy, like basil and camphor. To steer clear of risks associated with using these oils during pregnancy, purchase prepared hair care products rather than creating your own concoctions at home.

How to I.D.: The list of essential oil names is too lengthy to list here. Some product labels will note that fragrance ingredients are from essential oils. Most often essential oils will appear at the bottom of the ingredient listing.

Bookmark our Hair Crimes List and check to see if any of your haircare products have ingredients that may be harmful to you and your baby.

Fragrance-, Paraben-, Phthalate-, SLS- Free shampoos

Innersense Pure Harmony Shampoo

Best for fine hair needing moisture.


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Oway Color Protection Hair Bath

Great for all hair types and protects color from fading.


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Ultra Shine Moisture Shampoo

Best for Thicker hair types that need smoothing and control.


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All North Authentic products are free of: Sulfates, parabens, EDTA, 1,4 Dioxian, and many more all provided in our Hair Crimes List. While we work with our brands to become even more conscious, we identify additional "Free Of" ingredients on every product page.

Shop "Free Of" ingredient preferences using our Filters. You can also take the North Authentic Hair Quiz to get your personalized hair care prescription of the best products for your hair curl type.