Synthetic Hair May Be Toxic: Here’s What You Should Know

If you’re deciding whether you want to purchase synthetic hair extensions or not, you are probably already aware of the basics—but do you know if synthetic hair is possibly toxic?

So is synthetic hair toxic? Synthetic hair is made from plastic fibers, which are designed to mimic human hair. This low-grade acrylic plastic is extremely toxic when exposed to heat. In fact, the EU banned these synthetic fibers for this reason. The fumes from synthetic fibers are not only toxic for humans, but for the environment too.

BONUS CONTENT: Looking for a safer option? Here’s a list of my favorite 12 vegan hair extensions that are natural and safe for daily use.

If this makes you feel a little more than uncomfortable, read on to find out exactly what you are exposing yourself to, and how you can protect yourself from the dangers of synthetic fibers.

How is Synthetic Hair Made?

While synthetic hair may look similar to natural human hair, synthetic hair is made up of cheap substances, primarily plastic fibers.

Synthetic hair is mass-produced in factories throughout the world and is composed of low-grade acrylic, nylon, or polyester that is heated and strung into strands to make individual hair fibers. The hair is then eventually assembled into hair extensions or wigs.

These plastic fibers are cheap to manufacture, making synthetic wigs and extensions much more affordable than genuine human hair extensions.

Synthetic hair is also much easier to maintain—the downside is that they don’t last very long. In fact, most synthetic extensions only last around 6-12 months before they are ready to be tossed.

Can Synthetic Hair Extensions Catch Fire?

One of the main concerns with synthetic hair is that it is highly flammable and non-resistant to heat. This is extremely dangerous due to the fact that most women and young girls use heat styling tools on their hair on a regular basis.

Synthetic hair extensions can catch fire if the hair is directly exposed to open flames because the hair is made up of plastic and hair products are generally flammable. That said, synthetic hair has a higher chance of melting instead of bursting into flames.

On the bright side, most of the new lines of synthetic extensions claim to have heat resistant properties. Whether you want to take their word for it or not is entirely your choice!

Does Synthetic Hair Cause Cancer?

Almost all synthetic hair has been dyed by a type of synthetic dye. Synthetic dye does contain components that are carcinogenic and can penetrate the skin quite easily.

4-MMPD, 2,4-diaminoanisole is one example of a common synthetic dye used that has been proven to cause cancer in laboratory animals—not a good omen.

In terms of the synthetic fiber used, there are many studies that slink acrylic materials found in synthetic hair extensions to cancer.

Not to mention polyester, another component of synthetic hair, is known to irritate the skin due to the fact that it is a low-quality material. This can result in all kinds of rashes, itchiness and general feelings of discomfort.

Warning – Contains an ingredient that can penetrate your skin and has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.

US Food and Drug Administration.

Another study conducted by France Labreche, MD, of the Institut de Recherche Robert Sauve in Montreal, exposed the alarming facts that young women exposed to synthetic fibers such as acrylic and nylon were shown to be at greatest risk for breast cancer.

The researchers also mentioned that synthetic fibers are often treated with several chemicals, such as flame retardants, delustering agents, and dyes which all have been shown to have carcinogenic properties.

Can Synthetic Hair Cause Breakouts or Acne?

While synthetic hair can be advantageous due to the fact that it is relatively affordable and has a similar appearance to real hair, it certainly has some unfortunate downsides.

Synthetic hair can cause acne or breakout on people who have very sensitive skin. In some cases, synthetic hair can cause itching, rashes, breakouts, and acne. In more severe cases, the entire neck and face can become itchy and infected with pimples if not treated.

Another word for this condition is contact dermatitis, as the synthetic hair continuously rubs against the skin and leaves scratches that eventually become abrasions that swell and cause bumps.

The only way to avoid this is to either opt for natural hair extensions or make sure the hair is connected as far away from the scalp as possible when applied.

There is, however, ONE other option you can try…

How To Remove Chemicals from Synthetic Hair?

That nasty, itchy feeling that you are getting from your hair is usually caused by one thing—the alkaline base on your extensions. This is especially common in extensions made from a popular synthetic material called kanakelon.

The good news is there is a way you can remove these chemicals.

The best way to remove chemicals from synthetic hair extensions is with apple cider vinegar. First, fill a sink with warm water, then add 2/3 of a cup of apple cider vinegar. Now submerge synthetic hair in the water and swish hair around for a minute. Leave to soak for 15 minutes. Finally, shampoo and condition the hair with fresh water, and allow to dry.

The itchiness can be made worse when the hair has been left on for too long as the moisture and bacteria will only aggravate your scalps reaction to the chemicals—your best call to action would be to remove the hair as soon as you possibly can.

This constant, uncomfortable itch is more common than you think and affects people even if they do not have sensitive skin. It can be especially upsetting for young women who start breaking out unexpectedly and have no idea why or how to remedy the problem. Luckily, there is a method to get rid of this once and for all.

Here’s how to remove chemicals from synthetic hair:

  • Fill your sink with clean, warm water
  • Fill 2/3 of a cup with apple cider vinegar
  • Mix in with the warm water
  • Submerge your hair into the water and swish around
  • Allow the hair to soak for 15 minutes
  • Once the hair has been stripped, refill the basin with clean water and shampoo and condition the hair until clean (and to remove the smell).
  • Simply hang your extensions to dry

And there you have it! Your hair extensions will be completely itch-free!

IF your scalp is still itchy after this process, you can try spraying your scalp with a mixture of water, glycerine, and tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is especially well known for its refreshing, soothing effects on the skin.

How Can I Tell If Extensions are Synthetic?

If you are looking to purchase a new wig or set of extensions, you are most likely going to want to know how to differentiate between real human hair and synthetic hair so that you can make an informed decision. Here’s a quick, informative video differentiating between real human hair and synthetic hair:

Table Showing the Key Differences Between Human Hair and Synthetic Hair:

APPEARANCE: Natural Appearance Flat, single-toned
TEXTURE: Soft and Silky Unnatural shades
DYING: Can be dyed Cannot be dyed
TANGLING: Less prone to tangling Tangles easily
HEAT-STYLED: Can be heat styled Cannot be heat styled


Synthetic hair, when exposed to certain conditions, can be very toxic to your health in the long-term. This is because of the harsh chemicals that are used to produce synthetic hair at a cheaper price. If you have the choice it may be wiser to opt for natural hair for health reasons and in terms of quality. If you do choose synthetic hair, follow the safety tips above and always be cautious.

Related Questions

Is it safe to dye my synthetic extensions? You cannot dye any kind of synthetic hair, nor can you bleach it. This is because most hair dyes contain ammonia or bleach and these chemicals will destroy your hair. It is best to be sure of the colour of your synthetic extensions before you purchase them, as it is next to impossible to change the colour without severely damaging them.

Can you be allergic to synthetic hair? Certain people can be more responsive to the chemicals found in synthetic hair. While some people are able to wear synthetic hair without any issues, others may experience severe reactions.


Hey, I’m Jodie, the gal behind CraftyHairHacks. I have a deep passion for hair extensions, hairstyles, and almost anything that has to do with hair, which leads me to the writing and research I do for this website daily. Our site is still small, however, we’re pushing to get the best hair hacks out to as many as people as possible. ENJOY!

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