We'll cut right to the chase: Chloroxylenol is most definitely NOT an ingredient that everyone should be using as part of their haircare routine. This ingredient is something meant to be used to treat the scalp, and the scalp only.
To get even more specific, it should be reserved for instances of severe scalp conditions where other ingredients aren't cutting the mustard. It's also important to mention that this really isn't an ingredient you're going to find in over-the-counter products, as it's most often found in medicated formulas you may need to get from your dermatologist or doctor.
That being said, trichologist Bridgette Hill and certified hair practitioner Gaby Longsworth, Ph.D., tell us that, when used correctly and for the right reasons, it can be a very beneficial ingredient.
Meet the Expert
Keep reading to learn about this scalp-specific ingredient.
Type of ingredient: Antimicrobial
Main benefits: Controls bacteria, yeast, and fungus
Who should use it: Those with extreme cases of folliculitis, seborrheic dermatitis, and/or dandruff, for whom other topical cosmeceutical options haven't produced the desired results, says Hill
How often can you use it: Hill says this ingredient should be used with caution—it can be extremely drying—so it's best to follow your doctor's instructions.
Works well with: Longworth says it works well with many other common antimicrobial ingredients, including ketoconazole, triclosan, and fluconazole.
Don't use with: According to Longworth, chloroxylenol doesn't work well in aqueous solutions containing ceteth-20, as it can diminish its antimicrobial activity.
Benefits of Chloroxylenol for Hair
As mentioned, it's important to remember first and foremost that chloroxylenol is an ingredient for the skin/scalp and not the hair. (We'll get to why in a moment.) Because of its antimicrobial properties, it's not only used for the scalp—it's often used as a disinfectant and preservative in things such as cosmetics and hand sanitizers, too, says Longworth. "The exact mechanism of action is still unclear, but the hydroxyl groups of the ingredient are known to interact with certain proteins in the cell membranes of microbes, leading to cell disruption and death," she explains.
So what does that mean when it comes to your scalp? Chloroxylenol's antimicrobial properties treat severe dermatitis, folliculitis, yeast, and dandruff on the scalp by ridding the tissue of the bacterial and fungal sources responsible for these conditions, explains Hill. And, when compared to other ingredients that are used for the same purpose—think things such as pyrithione zinc and coal tar—chloroxylenol can better penetrate the epidermis, dermis, and hair follicles, notes Longworth. In short, it's more effective.
Hair Type Considerations
There aren't really any specific hair type considerations to keep in mind here, because—say it with us one more time—this isn't a hair care ingredient. That being said, Hill says that in her practice she typically reserves this ingredient for men of color and/or men with coily or curly hair to help with severe ingrown hairs and painful folliculitis.
Chloroxylenol can be extremely drying on the hair, and since men typically have very short hair, they're less likely to experience dry, brittle hair fibers from the ingredient, notes Hill. "The benefit of keeping the unwanted bacteria from getting trapped in the hair follicle and creating painful and unsightly inflammation and pustules is worth the risk for this group," she adds.
How to Use Chloroxylenol for Hair
"Chloroxylenol should NOT be used on the hair fiber. Any product with chloroxylenol should be applied to the scalp only," warns Hill. It can be very drying to both the hair and scalp if overused and not followed up with products that replenish moisture, such as a hydrating scalp serum or hair conditioner, she adds.
In related news, you're very unlikely to find a shampoo on the market that contains chloroxylenol; most of the ones out there are intended for animal use, Hill points out. For that reason, she relies on antibacterial soaps and lotions that contain the ingredient. She also underscores the fact that she restricts use only to areas of the scalp affected by any of the earlier mentioned conditions, rather than applying all over. Still, the ingredient is fat-soluble, and, as such, could be mixed with hydrating, fatty-acid-based shampoos to help counteract some of the drying effects, she adds. (Though this is something a medical professional should do, and the same rules about not using it all over the hair and focusing just on the scalp still apply.)
Long story short, this isn't going to be an ingredient you'll readily find in your run-of-the-mill, over-the-counter cosmeceutical products. It's something that needs to be used with caution, and, as such, requires the assistance and guidance of a professional.
Longworth also points out that chloroxylenol can occasionally cause contact dermatitis and skin irritation: "People with known contact allergies should perform a patch test before using it," she advises.
Is chloroxylenol safe for humans?
In short, yes. A report published in the Journal of the American College of Toxicology concluded that it's safe as a cosmetic ingredient. Hill adds that another study found that it is of moderate to low toxicity to the skin, but can cause severe eye irritation.
Can I use Dettol on my hair?
Not many people know that chloroxylenol is the main ingredient in Dettol, says Longworth. (Dettol is a common brand of antibacterial soap in the U.K.) There are plenty of articles online suggesting diluting Dettol with water for a DIY scalp/dandruff treatment, but, given the potency of the ingredient, this isn't advised.
What does antiseptic shampoo do?
5 final report on the safety assessment of chloroxylenol. Journal of the American College of Toxicology. 1985;4(5):147-169.
Yost LJ, Rodricks JD, Turnbull D, et al. Human health risk assessment of chloroxylenol in liquid hand soap and dishwashing soap used by consumers and health-care professionals. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2016;80:116-124.