Does it seem like you’re shedding a little more hair than usual?
Before you start to worry, keep in mind it’s absolutely normal to shed hair on a daily basis, especially when you shampoo. Still, you might start to feel concerned about hair loss when you notice larger clumps of hair in your shower drain, comb, or brush.
Your search for answers might lead you to your shampoo bottle — especially if most of that hair loss seems to happen when you wash your hair. But will scanning the ingredient list really help you nail down the culprit?
Most of the time, probably not. While certain shampoo ingredients may be less than ideal for healthy hair, existing evidence doesn’t point to any specific ingredient as a potential cause of hair loss.
Hair loss is a common concern experienced by people of all ages and genders around the world.
When you’re worried about extra shedding, it’s entirely understandable to consider every possible explanation and try everything you can think of to keep from losing more hair.
Experts have identified a wide range of potential causes (we’ll touch on a few of these in more depth below).
Anecdotal reports also link some common shampoo ingredients to hair loss, but these claims have yet to be proven.
Keep in mind the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) doesn’t list any shampoos, or shampoo ingredients, as common causes of hair loss.
It’s been suggested that both sulfates (cleansing agents) and formaldehyde (a preservative) can contribute to hair loss.
To date, no research backs up these claims. That said, both sulfates and formaldehyde, along with a number of other chemicals often used in shampoo, could potentially lead to other types of hair damage.
The complaints about both sulfates and formaldehyde seem largely anecdotal.
At this time, “there is no evidence that sulfates… affect hair loss,” says Amy Forman Taub, MD, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist in Illinois.
The same is true for formaldehyde.
“It’s not formaldehyde, but the formaldehyde donor used as a preservative that keeps getting cited as a problem, albeit incorrectly,” explains Ranella Hirsch, MD, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist in Massachusetts. “This has been used as a preservative for decades… If these claims were accurate, we would have seen loads of [hair loss].”
That’s not to say these ingredients don’t cause other problems.
Sulfates provide that telltale lathering effect in shampoos. But while they’re effective cleansers, they can irritate sensitive hair and skin.
Sudsy sulfate-based shampoos strip natural oils from fine or dry hair even more easily, leaving your strands brittle and at risk of breakage. Broken strands could even give the appearance of hair loss.
You’ll often find this ingredient in keratin-based hair products designed for straightening or smoothing.
The Brazilian blowout, in particular, earned a notorious reputation when hair stylists and consumers using these products began experiencing symptoms of formaldehyde exposure, including:
- skin irritation
- difficulty breathing
- burning eyes, nose, and throat
The products, although marketed as formaldehyde-free, contained heat-triggered formaldehyde releaser preservatives, like DMDM hydantoin.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a
While scientific evidence has yet to find support for DMDM hydantoin as a cause of hair loss, a number of class-action lawsuits have been filed against companies that manufactured products with DMDM hydantoin.
Hair loss can happen for a number of reasons:
- hereditary causes
- hormonal changes
- illness and other medical concerns
- certain medications
- nutritional deficiencies
Plain old stress — on the rise for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic — can also play a major role in hair loss.
While your favorite shampoo might not be causing your hair loss, other hair care habits could factor in.
Styles that put too much pressure on your hair can permanently damage hair follicles over time and lead to traction hair loss.
Wearing your hair in these styles occasionally shouldn’t pose a problem, but doing so daily can increase the risk of hair loss.
Hot tools and chemical treatments
Heated styling tools, such as blow dryers, flat irons, hot rollers, and heated combs, can damage your hair. Regular coloring, bleaching, relaxing, and perming can also singe your hair.
“This doesn’t usually affect growth from the hair follicle, but it can cause breakage,” Forman Taub says.
That can contribute to the appearance of hair loss. Over time, it could even lead to true hair loss by weakening the hair shaft.
What isn’t likely to cause hair loss? Shampooing itself.
Most of the stray hairs you notice after lathering up were slated to fall out anyway. You just help them along when you massage your scalp during a shampoo.
So if you’ve recently spaced out your shampoos by an extra day or two, you might get the impression more hair is falling out when you do wash it.
If you’re concerned about recent hair loss, a few simple changes to your usual hair care and styling routine can be a good first step.
It may help to:
- avoid tight hairstyles
- take care not to rub, pull, or twist your hair
- switch to a gentler shampoo
You might also consider using shampoo on an as-needed basis instead of every day. Oily hair may need more frequent washing. But if your hair is on the drier side, you might not need to wash it more than twice per week.
As you shampoo:
- Remember to focus on your scalp, not the length of your hair.
- Use your fingertips to gently massage your scalp.
- Rinse well with warm water.
- Gently pat your hair dry.
Keep in mind, though, that it never hurts to reach out to a dermatologist or other healthcare professional when you notice more hair than what you usually experience in your hairbrush or in the drain after a shower.
The above changes could make a difference, but they might not always help.
“The single biggest challenge with people self-managing hair loss is the lack of correct diagnosis,” Hirsch notes. “A hair loss evaluation will include an extended history, exam, and lab testing.”
Seeing a dermatologist sooner rather than later will help you identify the actual cause. This means you’ll be able to develop a specific treatment plan to combat further hair loss.
If you’re experiencing hair loss, your shampoo probably isn’t to blame.
Your best option for finding the real cause? Connecting with a dermatologist. Above all, you need to know what’s causing your hair loss before you can take steps to remedy it.
There’s good news, though: “We now have quite a few treatments that didn’t exist a few years ago,” Forman Taub says.
Jessica Timmons has been working as a freelance writer since 2007, covering everything from pregnancy and parenting to cannabis, chiropractic, stand-up paddling, fitness, martial arts, home decor, and much more. Her work has appeared in mindbodygreen, Pregnancy & Newborn, Modern Parents Messy Kids, and Coffee + Crumbs. See what she’s up to now at jessicatimmons.com.