Are Your Hair Products Ruining Your Skin? We Asked a Dermatologist

Your skin reacts to a ton of different environmental factors each day—most of which your daily regimen accounts for. But if you've noticed irritation, sudden breakouts, redness, or a generally lackluster complexion, the cause may be your chosen hair products. Yes, your hair products. Confused? We were too. We spoke to Dr. Karen Hammerman of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City to get the bottom of the problem.

Keep scrolling for all the answers.

woman with natural makeup look

The Ingredients

Propylene glycol is found in shampoos, conditioners, and many other cosmetic products. Unfortunately, it can be irritating to the skin and in some instances cause dryness and dandruff. If you’ve found that your skin has gotten drier over time, PG could be a contributing factor—it tends to sit on the surface of the skin after you rinse it, dissolving the fats and oils your skin needs to stay nourished.

If you have acne, avoid products that add oil to your hair. If it says “oil-free,” it may still contain ingredients that cause pimples. Stay away from isopropyl myristate, oils, silicone, petroleum, mineral oil, jojoba oil, and shea butter. Not all of these ingredients are harmful, but they may be making your skin worse if you’re prone to breakouts.

This is a powerful ingredient known for moisturizing, thickening, and boosting your hair’s body quotient. Its molecular structure allows for it to attract moisture from the atmosphere and bind to water molecules. The result is that panthenol helps moisturize hair and skin and stops both from getting dehydrated. In addition, because panthenol also spreads evenly on the surface of the hair strand, it forms a smooth film over your hair cuticle that enhances light reflection and makes tresses look shinier and glossier. What’s more, the smooth film also gives hair strands “slip” to discourage knots or tangles. But some sources suggest that because it’s so moisturizing, it may also be the reason you’re breaking out. Try a panthenol-free product and you may see a drastic improvement. 

Sodium lauryl sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate are detergents that give that rich, sudsy lather when you shampoo. Some people become sensitized to it over time, which means that you can develop an allergic reaction to your favorite cleanser. If you have sensitive skin, try shopping for sulfate-free products throughout your entire beauty regimen.

What You Can Do

If you’ve noticed a lot of irritation, go with products that have a shorter and more natural ingredient list. You can also use the process of trial and error to discover possible culprits for your skin issues. By swapping things out and seeing how your skin responds, you’ll get a better idea of what is causing the problem. Look to your shampoo and conditioner first, and then follow that with your daily styling products.

Wash and condition your hair before washing your face and body to remove any residue the hair products tend to leave on your skin. Think how hard it is to get grease off dishes—it’s the same with hair products. After rinsing your shampoo and conditioner, wash your skin thoroughly with a gentle cleanser like Dove’s Beauty Bar ($5), so it’s the last thing that touches your skin.

When washing and conditioning your hair in the shower, tilt your head over to the side to keep the product's residue off your face, chest, and back as you rinse it away. And always wash your face last when you're in the shower to make sure you haven't accidentally gotten any product on your skin that could break you out later.

Keep your skin clean, clear, and wrinkle free with this guide to the best skin of all time.

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