What Is An Active Ingredient And Why Does It Matter?

Aug 24, 2022

When it comes to hair care, we all know it’s important but the science behind it is often overlooked.

The ingredients list on the back of a bottle can certainly be intimidating, but it holds crucial information that should help you decide if that product is the right one for your hair.

What Is An Active Ingredient And Why Does It Matter?

Shampoo, conditioners, hair masks… You name it, they’ve all got active ingredients.

So, what really is an active ingredient?

Now there is no simple answer to this question, so don’t let that scare you initially.

Essentially, an active ingredient helps fulfil the promise made by the brand. If you pick up a shampoo that says it will add volume or treat dry hair, it is the job of the active ingredient to ensure that is the result you receive.

Some do so without leading to other complications, while others can cause more harm than good, so checking the label is a good skill to have when browsing hair care items.

In complicated terms, the active ingredient has a biological function to address the targeted concern, triggering the activation (hence its name) of the combating process.

Simply put, it ensures the product does what it says on the tin.

It’s important to everyone who uses hair products, whether you have unproblematic hair or otherwise.

We all have a certain ‘type’ of hair, varying from curly, straight, frizzy, dyed, oily and otherwise, so it’s a good idea to get reading and avoid some ingredients that are known to have an adverse effect on your hair.

There are several ‘friendly’ ingredients you can expose your hair to without any problems, but there are also a handful that will have an adverse effect on your hair, lessening the benefits you can see after use.

What to look out for…


Used as cleansing chemicals, sulphates are most commonly identified as sodium lauryl sulphate or sodium laureth sulphate, both of which provide such a harsh level of cleaning to your scalp that they can cause skin irritation and worsen existing conditions such as eczema and dermatitis. As well as affecting your skin, they can strip your hair of its natural oils, leaving it dry and damaged, requiring more products to treat it and you will end up in a constant cycle trying to avoid sulphates.


Whilst this ingredient helps to improve a shelf life of a product, it definitely won’t help your hair. Previous studies have found that parabens are known to easily absorb into bodily tissues, passing through the skin and creating problems such as redness, itching and flaking skin. As they can absorb into cells so effortlessly, they can also affect hormones, potentially leading to complications with pregnancy and hormones.


A chemical compound used in skin care, shampoos and building materials. Yep, find it in your local builder’s van in the form of plywood and other concerning items. Not only is it highly flammable, known to cause allergic reactions and aggravate the likes of eczema, it’s also been listed by the Department of Health and Human Services as carcinogenic, so avoid this one like it’s the plague.

It’s not all bad, however, with many shampoos being sulphate-free due to their organic ingredient list. There are many plant-based alternatives to harmful chemicals, including aloe, green tea, coconut oil and even hemp. So keep an eye out for organic products and you should be good to go, although it is always advisable to carry out an allergy test beforehand.

Here at Savvy & Shine we only stock the best products you can find, so you won’t have to spend hours examining a piece of plastic only to find that it contains harmful chemicals.

So if you suffer from any of the above problems, check your hair care for the culprit.

Daunting contents lists can easily be skipped over, especially when some products contain upwards of 30 different ingredients, but to find (or avoid) active ingredients you just need to consider which one is scarier - reading or a lifetime of hair problems? Trust us, your hair will thank you later.