You are probably reading this article because you are concerned for yourself and your family’s health and well-being. Shampoos, Conditioners, and styling products are often a substantial monthly investment for healthy, beautiful hair maintenance, but unfortunately, these products can become a liability (in the form of health issues) due to concentrations of dangerous toxins in your Hair Care products. Many chemical toxins in shampoos and conditioners have been implicated in health problems such as skin or eye irritation, asthma, rashes, hormonal problems/endocrine disruption, liver damage, dermatitis, clogged pores, and even neurological problems and cancer.
Most Common Chemicals in Shampoos and Conditioners
1. Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
If you are using any of the top commercial brands, it’s almost certain your product contains SLES and SLS (and that’s just a start!). Both SLS and SLES are actually chemical surfactants that are found in most cleaning products (Yes..The very same ones you clean the floor with!). These chemicals can cause scalp irritation and damage to hair follicles, resulting in thinning hair with prolonged usage. Synthetic surfactants strip away the natural oil from your hair. Also, Ethyloxylates surfactants along with Dioxanes are potent carcinogens.
Organic Alternatives – Natural surfactants (foaming agents) such as Yucca Root Extract, Castile Soap, African Black Soap, and Soapwort.
2. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)
PEGs have been shown to exaggerate the risk of liver diseases, rheumatoid joint inflammation, Crohn’s diseases and even Cancer. It is also a skin irritant. It is used in shampoo to keep your scalp moisturized and hydrated as well as to work as an emulsifier, however, more often than not, PEGs clog pores, and can be found in your bloodstream where they can cause systemic organ toxicity.
Organic Alternatives – Aloe Vera and Coconut Milk are the best known natural alternatives to PEGs.
3. Parabens and their Derivatives
Parabens and their derivatives are used in hair care products as preservatives to increase their shelf life. Parabens are xenoestrogen compounds which can disrupt your hormonal balance and prolonged accumulation in the body can even lead to cancer. Some other synthetic preservatives that are commonly used in shampoos and conditioners are: Imidiazolidynil Urea, Benzalkonium Chloride, Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), DMDM Hydantoin and more.
4. Synthetic Alcohols and Mineral Oils
Both of these compounds can be found in shampoos and conditioners and serve as emollients. Emollients help to prevent dryness and promote suppleness, as well as protect the skin barrier. Certain partially-natural emulsifiers such as Cetearyl Alcohol when used in formulations, even at concentrations less than 2%, are detrimental for your scalp in the long run (especially if you have a Sensitive skin).
Organic Alternatives –Truly Natural emulsifiers such as Aloe Vera, Honey, Nut & Seed Oils, Shea Butter and botanical extracts of Horsetail, Sage, Oregano, Thyme, Lavender and Peppermint.
5. Artificial Fragrances
While we understand that fresh smelling hair is a wonderful part of your everyday grooming routine, 90% of shampoos and conditioners utilize artificial fragrances in their formulas. Artificial fragrances in beauty products are in the form of Synthetic Musks, Acetaldehyde, Benzophenones, Formaldehyde etc.
Organic Alternatives – Natural Fragrance Rich Steam distilled essential oils (Peppermint, Calendula, Evening Primrose, Lemon, Lavender, Orange, Chamomile etc) are the best alternatives to artificial fragrances, not only giving you amazing smelling hair but helping you preserve your health naturally!
6. Cocamidopropyl Betaine
The compound is associated with skin and eye irritation, allergies, eczema, psoriasis, and contact dermatitis. Although many manufacturers and even the FDA, regard it as a safe ingredient, many people who actually use it as an alternative to SLS literally feel the negative aspects of this ingredient. It is also a surfactant derived chemically from coconut and some of its variants are Tegobetaine L7, Coconut Oil Amidopropyl Betaine, Cocyl Amide Propyldimethyl Glycine – all of which should be avoided.
Often found in hair conditioners, Polysorbates leave residues on your scalp and hair which can disrupt the skin’s natural pH balance. It gives the product a creamy consistency (works as an emulsifying agent) making it easier to use and apply. Polysorbate-80 is amongst the worst in the group.
Organic Alternatives – Beeswax, Lecithin and some oils such as Virgin coconut oil.
8. Diethanolamine (DEA)
This is another class of synthetic surfactants. All compounds listed as TEA (Tri-Ethanol-amine), DEA (Di-Ethanol-Amine) and their derivatives such as MEA, are skin irritants and when combined with Nitrogen compounds, they become extremely potent carcinogens. DEA is highly absorbable in the skin and can affect your liver, stomach, bladder and esophagus.
How to choose Safe Products for Haircare?
- Go to the company’s website and look for their mission statement. It’s best to choose product lines and approaches from companies that comply with green practices uses organic ingredients from farm-to-bottle or Free-Trade/Sustainable Wild-Crafted ingredients from reputable sourcing and is also Cruelty-Free.
- Read the labels of each individual product carefully. Even if the product says that it contains botanical ingredients, make sure the plant-sourced active ingredients in the Organic Shampoo or the Organic Conditioner are in the highest concentrations and are mentioned on top of the list.
- Certain terms, such as ‘Natural’ are totally ambiguous and even the FDA or the USDA state this. Certified Organics, Wild-Crafted, Locally Grown and Free Trade practices on the product labels can be a safe pick.
Note: In general, ‘Natural’ means that the product was derived from a natural source, while ‘Organic’ means that the product was grown without the use of Chemicals, Pesticides, Hormones, GMOs etc.
- Some commercial brands practice ‘Green Washing’ in which the active ingredients are only added in a minuscule amount. A ‘natural product’ or, ‘Made with Organic Ingredients (70% Organic)’ labels can even mean that the active ingredient was derived after chemical modification and added at some stage of the production for it to be a usable formula, but not good enough to showcase some effective results.