Synthetic vs. Natural Hair Care Products: What’s the Difference?

Written by: Rebecca Eaton



Time to read 9 min

You’ve heard the old saying, “Not all products are created equal,” right? Unsurprisingly, this is nowhere more accurate than in the world of hair care products. 

From long, scientific-sounding ingredients to vague marketing spiels splashed over product bottles, it’s no secret that many of us blindly trust the products we see on the shelves without giving them a second thought. Yet, how confidently do you understand what your hair care products do to your hair? 

With a growing trend favouring a more natural approach to optimal hair health, let’s deep dive into the different types of products to help you better understand the difference between synthetic and natural hair care and which is most beneficial for the long-term health of your luscious locks. 

Close up photo of a lady’s side profile and brown hair

What are synthetic hair care products?

As the name suggests, synthetic hair care refers to products — i.e., shampoo, conditioner, leave-in treatments, and more — that contain artificial ingredients and chemicals. Most commonly, you’ll notice ingredients such as parabens, sulphates, propylene glycols, phthalates, and synthetic fragrances listed on the ingredients panel of your bottle. 

What are the pros?

Many generic supermarket brands we see on the shelves fall into this category. While it’s easy to assume that since they’re well-known brands that are easily accessible, they must be of high quality. Sadly, there isn’t much truth to this. 

While you may feel immediate gratification from using synthetic products, as they will likely make your hair feel smooth, silky, and easy to brush, the reality is, they’re doing far more damage than good. Aside from their convenience and affordability, there isn’t much to be said about the benefits of synthetic hair care, as the consequences far outweigh any small wins. 

What are the cons?

To put it simply, synthetic hair care products are extremely harsh on your hair in the short and long term. Not only do they damage your hair health, but they also impair the hair follicle over time. Let’s take a closer look at the consequences of opting for a synthetic hair care solution:

1. It leaves a harmful coating on your hair

You know that smooth, silky feeling we spoke of earlier? Well, contrary to how it might make your hair feel, it’s highly damaging to your hair’s health. Artificial products coat your hair with a substance that builds up over time and is challenging to remove. 

2. It minimises nutrient nourishment

Let’s say you’re trying to counteract the poor quality of your synthetic shampoo and conditioner with a premium serum and leave-in conditioner. Did you know that the artificial coating left on your hair essentially blocks other ingredients from deeply penetrating your hair and scalp for optimal health? The result is weak, lifeless hair that needs repair. 

3. It impacts our internal health

Our skin is our body’s largest organ, meaning anything we put on it basically ends up in it. This includes your scalp. If you regularly wash your hair with harmful chemicals and artificial ingredients, you best believe your body is absorbing them and suffering the consequences. We’ll touch more on these ingredients below. 

What ingredients are commonly found in synthetic hair care products?

While formulas will vary from brand to product, as mentioned above, many synthetic hair care products will contain a mixture of parabens, sulphates, synthetic colours and fragrances, phthalates, and more. Let’s delve into what havoc these ingredients wreak on your hair and overall health:

  • Parabens — Often found in hair care and skincare products to inhibit the growth of bacteria in the formula (i.e., to extend the product’s shelf life), parabens have a range of detrimental health consequences, both small and more significant. While it’s commonly known that parabens dry your hair out, irritate your scalp, and enhance hair loss, on the more extreme end of the spectrum, research also suggests they may contribute to hormonal imbalances, interfere with fertility and reproductive organs, and potentially increase the risk of cancer. Look out for ingredients such as methylparaben, ethylparaben, benzyl paraben, and butylparaben, and avoid them at all costs.
  • Sulphates — Known for their ability to help attract and break down dirt, sulphates strip your hair of moisture and impair protective barriers. The cherry on top? They can increase skin irritation.

  • Fragrances — While the delicious scent of your hair care products might be the very thing that attracted you to them in the first place, anything that adds unnecessary ingredients should be avoided. Unfortunately, brands often use pleasant fragrances to distract from the scent of more detrimental chemicals.
  • Phthalates — Often used in hair gels, mousses, hairsprays, shampoo and conditioners, phthalates are used to help improve product spreadability, increase the softness and flexibility in plastics, and prolong fragrances. Unfortunately, this harmful substance has been linked to endocrine disruption, infertility in men and women, allergies, and more. Always opt for a phthalates-free label, as this ingredient isn’t always listed on the bottle.
A lady squeezing Dr Tanya Holy Basil Shampoo into her hand

What are natural hair care products?

On the contrary, natural hair care products refer to those made from all-natural ingredients, ranging from herbs and oils to fruits and antioxidants. Unlike synthetic products, natural hair care avoids using harsh or artificial ingredients that will cause damage to your hair and wreak havoc on your internal health. 

What are the pros?

When it comes to natural hair care, the benefits are endless. Let’s take a closer look at why hair and health experts globally are in favour of a natural approach:

1. They don’t contain harsh chemicals or artificial ingredients

As you’re now aware of the damage such ingredients can cause, this point likely requires little explanation. Natural hair care products allow you to nourish your hair and scalp while offering premium protection, repair, and long-term shine.

2. They’re suitable for people with skin allergies

When you replace the nasty chemicals with natural alternatives, you’ll likely notice your skin feels less inflamed, irritated, and itchy, as natural ingredients are far more gentle on the skin and won’t strip your natural oils. As aforementioned, synthetic ingredients like fragrances, sulphates, and drying alcohols are linked to skin and scalp allergies. Thus, removing these is a great way to prioritise your skin health. Whether you struggle with skin or scalp irritation, we recommend making the switch to natural hair care today and observing the changes for yourself. 

3. They’re better for your overall health

Did you know your skin can absorb up to 60% of what you put on it? That’s a frightening statistic when you consider the damaging impact of synthetic ingredients. Switching to natural hair care will give you added reassurance that what you use topically won’t hurt you internally. 

4. They will deeply nourish your hair and scalp

Remember how synthetic ingredients coat and seal your hair cuticles, which stops nutrients and moisture from deeply penetrating? Thankfully, you won’t have that same issue with natural ingredients. While this synthetic process may make your hair feel softer and silkier initially, the long-term effects are undeniable. Naturally-derived ingredients deliver a quality supply of nutrients required for proper nourishment.  

5. They minimise the risk of hair loss

As aforementioned, many synthetic ingredients have hair loss side effects. These poor-quality ingredients, coupled with a lack of nutrients penetrating the hair follicle, can directly impact hair loss. However, natural hair care are designed to deeply nourish and strengthen the hair follicles, offering many benefits that improve hair thickness and fullness. 

6. They’re much better for the environment

If it isn’t enough that these incredible products are better for your hair and skin health, they’re also much better for the environment. Wondering why? When you wash your hair, the excess chemicals not absorbed into your body are excreted down the drain. Unfortunately, this means they’re entering our waterways and contaminating our soil. The domino effect of this can be extremely detrimental. 

7. They aren’t tested on animals

The harsh reality is that many hair care brands still test their products on animals. Thankfully, most natural hair care brands, including Dr Tanya, stand firmly against this practice. As always, we recommend reading the label first. 

What are the cons?

Thankfully, there are no real cons to switching to natural hair care. While there will be an initial adjustment period as your hair transitions to a completely different standard of ingredients (we’ll touch more on this below), the health and hair benefits are undeniable. 

Our only advice is always to read the labels to ensure you’re investing in a natural hair care brand, not just a synthetic brand that’s done a great job of marketing itself. 

What ingredients are commonly found in natural hair care products?

  • Glycerin — This simple chemical compound consisting of Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen is loaded with plant and animal fats. Glycerin is used in many natural formulas owing to its incredible ability to draw in moisture from the air, helping to nourish and hydrate the hair deeply. It is also suggested to help reduce hair breakage and improve scalp dryness and irritation.
  • Green Tea — A game-changing ingredient that helps to fight scalp dryness and dandruff while preventing hair loss. Green Tea helps improve the overall texture of your hair.
  • Licorice Root — This botanical herb is used in many natural formulas to help alleviate a dry, irritated scalp, owing to its calming, healing benefits. The cherry on top? It opens pores and helps to strengthen weakened hair follicles to prevent hair loss and repair damaged hair.
  • Vitamin E — Known for increasing hydration, Vitamin E stimulates hair growth, strength, and shine while improving scalp health. This antioxidant-rich ingredient helps to protect, repair, and nourish your hair and scalp.

  • Vitamin B3 — Niacinamide is important in boosting hair strength and growth due to its circulation and strength-boosting properties. It enhances the appearance and texture of hair by increasing body, suppleness, and sheen. It also improves the health of physically and chemically damaged hair by helping to build Keratin.
  • Pro Vitamin B5 — This hydrating vitamin is suggested to reduce hair thinning as it deeply penetrates the scalp, intensely moisturising the cells.
  • Ocimum Tenuiflorum Oil (Holy Basil) — While this one may not be commonly found in hair care products, its benefits are undeniable, making it a must-have for anyone serious about their hair health. An ancient potent botanical offering abundant benefits when treating scalp and hair conditions, Holy Basil is an adaptogenic antioxidant-rich herb that strengthens hair follicles and stimulates growth, revealing healthy bodily hair.
A lady shampooing her hair in the shower

What to know before making the switch to natural hair care products 

1. There is an adjustment period

It may take a few months to fully reap the reward of natural hair care products, especially if you’ve been using synthetic ingredients for a long time. But, be patient with the process and know to expect this phase. We promise it’ll be worth it in the end!

Wondering why exactly? Natural ingredients won’t strip your scalp of protective oils like synthetic products. As such, in the initial transition stages, you may experience an oilier scalp as your hair adjusts to your new ritual. This period won’t last long, but it’s important to stick through it rather than assuming your hair isn’t suited to natural ingredients. 

2. Not all products are created equal

Be sure to do your due diligence when choosing the right natural hair care brand. Always inspect the ingredients panel to ensure they don’t contain harmful synthetic ingredients (use the above list as a guide), and opt for ones that clearly state they’re paraben and sulphate-free (like Dr Tanya’s hair care range). 

Secondly, focus on what’s written, not how the bottle appears. Many artificial products are marketed to look natural (i.e., they might use natural-looking imagery or contain one natural ingredient that they highlight on the tub), yet, their formulas are far from it. 

We recommend the Dr Tanya Hair Wellness Trio if you’re looking for a safe, effective, and 100% natural brand. Consisting of a Holy Basil Shampoo, Conditioner, and Hair Serum, our holy hair wellness trio is intended to nourish you from the scalp down. Containing natural ingredients like Licorice Root, Green Tea, and Silk Amino Acids, this ultimate hair care bundle does all the hard work for you while you feel like your best self with lush, silky soft hair. All Dr Tanya products are Australian-made and owned, manufactured in a six-leaf energy-rated commercial facility on the Gold Coast, and 100% cruelty-free. 

3. Your hair care products won’t feel the same

It’s important to recognise that synthetic and natural products don’t only differ in quality and benefits, but also in texture and consistency. 

For example, natural ingredients won’t lather up or foam like an artificial product. The sulphates found in conventional products are responsible for lathering up the formula, which often gives the impression the product is hard at work. However, this isn’t the case. 

Due to the milder ingredients used in natural products, we recommend always washing your hair twice. Once to remove any dirt and grime and the second time to cleanse the scalp and nourish the hair. Don’t worry; this doesn’t mean you need to use more of your product — use your normal amount and divide it in two.