Are the Ingredients in Your Hairspray Harmful?

Blurred vision, respiratory issues and skin irritation – these are just some of the potential health risks associated with using traditional hair sprays. Yes, I know your hair spray smells like lavender fields and spring meadows, so don’t get mad at me for this one. I’m just the messenger.

Originally, I was creating a list of top chemicals to avoid when buying hair spray, but it proved to be quite exhausting – yes, that’s how many harmful chemicals are in the stuff. So, I figured it would be easier to share with you why you should reconsider your hair spray, list a few popular ingredients to avoid and then provide resources so you can look up the ingredients from the specific brand you use.

Why you should avoid hair spray:

  1. It can cause respiratory issues and trigger asthma because of the inhalation of the harmful chemicals. According to, “A research study of hair stylists found that stylists often had coughing, breathlessness, sneezing, and wheezing from inhaling these products…The study also found that some of the hair stylists had decreased lung function compared to people who did not work with these products. So while occasional inhalation of hairspray should not be dangerous, repeated exposures may have negative health effects.” If you look at the back of the bottle, in tiny print, most will say something like: “May cause respiratory irritation.”
  2. It’s a fire risk. Most of the ingredients found in hair spray can get ignited easily (remind me again, why you’re putting this in your hair?). Many bottles even come with a warning about this. Here is a warning on the can of a popular hairspray: “After application until product is dry do not smoke and avoid flame and intense heat. Can cause injury or death.” Yikes! The main flammable ingredients are propellants (this is what pushes the product out of the cans) and alcohol.
  3. Speaking of propellants, they are linked to allergic skin reactions and even heart complications.
  4. Every time you hit the spray button, you’re increasing your carbon footprint, as most contain ingredients that are linked to global warming. They release Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which is dangerous to your lungs and the environment. Inhaling too much of it can be harmful and lead to lightheadedness, choking and headaches, among other issues.

Here are some popular hair spray ingredients to avoid (this list is not exhaustive, but a good starting point):

Denatured Alcohol (may be listed as: Alcohol Denat. SD Alcohol)– First, I do want to say that the use of alcohols in beauty products is not all bad, but you want to limit your exposure to this one. Inhalation of denatured alcohol can lead to acute poisoning. Its presence in the product may also enhance skin absorption of other chemicals present in the products.

Propylene Glycol – So, this is an ingredient that is also used in antifreeze. Do I really need to explain why it’s bad to apply this to your hair?

Chemical Fragrances – Because of trade secret laws, manufactures are not required to disclose the ingredients that compromise “fragrance” on their ingredient label. Fragrance can be masking hundreds of toxic chemicals which could cause respiratory issues, trigger allergies and also may contain hormone disruptors. And, what’s most important about this, is the fact that it doesn’t apply to just you as the user, but it can affect the people standing around you as well.

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) – The National Toxicology Program noted that BHA is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in experimental animals.” The animal studies found that BHA produces malignant tumors in the stomach and liver cancer.

What about your specific hair spray?

If you want to know if the ingredients in your hair spray are harmful, visit the EWG’s website and look them up. It takes very little time. You can even look up the specific product if you don’t want to research every single ingredient on the label.

Not ready to part with your favorite brands?

If you refuse to part with hair spray, my recommendations are to try to find non-aerosol alternatives, switch to natural brands (if you can afford it) or use IT in a well ventilated space. And, never use it in public or even in your office so you don’t trigger anyone’s allergic/respiratory issues.

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