Licensee Fact Sheet 12

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Shampoo and Conditioners

How can chemicals in shampoos and conditions get into your body?

Skin & Eye Contact

  • Some chemicals may harm your skin directly and/or be absorbed into your bloodstream.
  • You may splash chemicals into your eyes.
  • You may accidentally touch your eyes with chemicals on your hands.
  • Chemical vapors in the air may get into your eyes.


  • You may breathe in chemical vapors through your nose or mouth.


  • Chemicals on your hands or in the air may contaminate your food or drink.

How can chemicals in shampoos and conditions affect your body?

Different chemicals affect your body in different ways, depending on the amount of the chemical in the product, how harmful it is, the length of time you are exposed, and other factors. Not every person has the same reaction to a chemical. Some people experience health effects when they work with a product, others never do. Health problems that may be caused by chemicals in shampoos and conditioners include:

Central nervous system effects: headache, dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, restlessness

Lung irritation: breathing difficulty, shortness of breath, coughing, swelling of lung tissue

Skin irritation and dermatitis: redness, itching, skin rash, or dry skin, which cracks and flakes - most common on the hands and arms

Eye irritation: redness, burning, watering, itching

Nose and throat irritation: runny nose, scratchy throat, burning, itching

Allergies: stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, asthma, dermatitis. If you become sensitive to a particular chemical, you will have an allergic reaction every time you use it.

Cancer: chemicals used in a few shampoos and conditioners have been shown to cause cancer if you work with them over a long period of time. This is not a common health problem.

What harmful chemicals are sometimes found in shampoos and conditioners?


  • Alcohol (ethyl or isopropyl): eye, nose, throat, and lung irritation. Central nervous system effects. Skin irritation and dermatitis.
  • Cocamide diethanolamine (cocamide DEA): Skin irritation and dermatitis. Causes cancer if exposed in high doses.
  • Colors or fragrances: allergies, including allergic dermatitis.
  • Formaldehyde: Eye, nose, throat, and lung irritation. Central nervous system effects. Skin irritation and dermatitis. Allergies, including asthma. Known to cause cancer with long-term use.
  • Parabens (group of chemical preservatives): skin irritation and dermatitis. Linked to reproductive damage and cancer.
  • Petroleum distillates, detergents, or soaps: eye irritation, skin irritation, and dermatitis.
  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG): Skin irritation and dermatitis. Liver abnormalities, kidney damage.
  • Quaternary ammonium compounds: skin irritation and dermatitis. Sodium lauryl sulfate: skin irritation and dermatitis.
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate: skin irritation and dermatitis.
  • Sodium laureth sulfate: eye and skin irritation.
  • Triethanolamine (TEA) or diethanolamine (DEA): these chemicals can combine with another substance in certain products to form nitrosamines, which are suspected to cause cancer. If TEA or DEA are in a product that also contains the chemical BNPD, nitrosamines may be produced. (The chemical name for BNPD is 2-bromo-2-nitroprone-1,3-diol.)

Not all shampoos and conditioners contain these chemicals, and some may contain harmful chemicals not listed above. Always check the productís Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for more information.

How can you protect yourself from chemical hazards?

When you work with chemicals in shampoos and conditioners, it is important to take steps to protect your health.

Avoid harmful chemicals

  • Don't use products that contain formaldehyde, or products that can form nitrosamines.
  • For any product used, read the label and Safety Data Sheet to know what is in the product and its health effects.
  • Use products with the least hazardous chemicals in them when possible.

Use safe work practices

  • Keep containers closed when you're not using them so the product doesn't spill or get in to the air.
  • Check that all containers of chemicals are properly labeled of their contents.
  • Don't eat or drink in your work area as your food or drink may be contaminated by chemicals or chemical vapors.
  • Wash your hands after working with chemicals, even if you wore gloves.

Ventilate the room

  • Always work in a well-ventilated area. If there's no ventilation system, open windows and doors to bring in fresh air from outside.

Use protective equipment

  • Wear gloves designed to protect your skin from the particular chemicals you're using.

Know your rights as a worker

  • Employers must provide workers with Safety Data Sheets if requested.
  • Employers must train workers on the hazards of the chemicals they are working with and how to protect themselves from the hazards.

Report any health problems

  • Speak up if you are experiencing symptoms of health effects so your employer can help alleviate the problem and let other employees know.
  • Seek advice from your doctor on how serious your issues are and how they should be handled.
  • You have the right to report health hazards to Cal/OSHA by filing a complaint.
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