You do it so routinely you likely never give it a thought. Yet you’re almost surely inviting trouble. And over decades, that trouble can become serious.
Don’t expect a warning from the government. You’ll have to become your own watchdog here.
Ready to get started? Here goes. . .
Whether male or female, you probably shampoo your hair almost every day. And if you’re like most people, you’re unaware that shampoo is one of the most toxic of all the products you put on or in your body.
Right now you sit in the crosshairs of a $60 billion industry intent on giving you “better living through chemistry.”
Even if you read the labels to try to figure out if a shampoo is safe, it practically takes a PhD in chemistry to decipher them. What’s more, some of the really bad things lurking there are byproducts of the ingredients – meaning they don’t have to be listed.
So how do you know if your shampoo is actually safe to use? And that it’s not going to lead you to cancer 15 or 30 years down the road? This issue provides a quick guide.
An industry insider recently explained that every shampoo is built around four kinds of chemicals:
- Surfactants – harsh and leaves hair brittle
- Cleaning agents – strips dirt from your hair
- Foaming agents – creates bubbles
- Fragrances – give shampoo a unique identity
Here’s a major tip – and it’ll go against your common sense: If you want to buy a completely safe shampoo, skip the one with the green-sounding name that hints at botanical wonders.
The 50 or so ingredients in this “natural” wonder are linked to cancer, infertility, allergies, and dysfunction of the immune and endocrine system. Doesn’t sound so safe to me.
By contrast, one of the safe products listed on Skin Deep®, the cosmetics hazard-rating site sponsored by Environmental Working Group, contains just three ingredients – palm oil, cacao seed butter, and coconut oil.
Despite the glow of natural claims on the pretty packaging, nearly all beauty products depend heavily on synthetic chemicals. In Europe they test for “CMRs” – carcinogens, mutagens, and reproductive toxins.
But in America the beauty industry is given free reign. More than 80,000 chemicals are registered. Fewer than 500 have been safety tested – and certainly not for long-term use over a period of decades.
New chemicals constantly enter the market, so it’s impossible to know every offender. But here are the biggies. . .
A witch’s brew of toxic chemicals
Just how toxic is your shampoo? It’s probably worse than you think. Grab your shampoo bottle and check for these ingredients. Unfortunately, you should do this even if you buy your shampoo at a trusted health food store.
1. Sodium laurel sulfate (SLS), along with its cousins and cover names. Likely the most dangerous ingredient in shampoo. It’s in most shampoos, even so-called “natural” products and baby shampoos. To confuse (and hide) things even further, it’s got more than 100 names.
SLS lowers the surface tension of water so the shampoo spreads out. Manufacturers use it because most people equate lather with cleaning strength. Don’t be fooled.
SLS is extremely potent, can circulate in your body for about a week and can leave deposits on your organs. It’s linked to serious skin/scalp irritation, hair loss, and the ability to generate nitrates (linked to cancer and cell damage). SLS also causes malformations in children’s eyes.1
In Japan it’s used in research to deliberately cause mutations and change DNA. Dr. Samuel Epstein, environmental expert, links SLS to liver and kidney cancers.
Another problem: its molecular size is so small it gains easy access into skin, scalp, and pores.
SLS goes by the aliases diethanolime (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA), and monoethanolamine (MEA). It has dangerous cousins, too: sodium laureth sulfate, disodium laureth sulfosucinate, lauamide MEA, cocamide DEA, cocamide MEA, and even the innocent sounding term coconut.
Most shampoos contain about 50 percent SLS, 40 percent water, and a witch’s brew of other things.
2. SLES (sodium laureth sulfate). Though mentioned above, this chemical gets a second mention because it’s often contaminated with 1,4 dioxane – a known carcinogen suspected of causing kidney damage. But since 1,4 dioxane is a petroleum byproduct, manufacturers are shrewd enough to leave it off the ingredient list.
3. Parabens. Preservatives linked to reproductive damage and organ toxicity – even at low doses. They mimic estrogen, fuel estrogen-related cancers, and were found in the breast tissues of 99 percent of breast cancer patients.
4. Polyethylene glycol (PEG). This petroleum product makes things creamy. It too is often contaminated with 1,4 dioxane. California classifies it as a developmental toxin, i.e. a poison to growing embryos and children. PEG may also be tainted with another known carcinogen, ethylene oxide.
5. BHA. This preservative fights rancidity. Linked to cancer, organ toxicity, endocrine disruption, and allergies. It accumulates in your tissues, so the more you use, the higher your risks.
6. Fragrance. Sounds romantic, but beware. Fragrances used in shampoos (and most personal care products) are a chemical cocktail of typically 14 or more compounds from industry’s arsenal of 3100 fragrance chemicals. Says Dr. Joseph Mercola, “When you see ‘fragrance’ on a personal care product’s label, read it as ‘hidden chemicals’.”
These compounds are linked to organ toxicity (including the liver), central nervous system damage, allergies, brain fog, headache, obesity, asthma, and cancer.
If you have health symptoms you can’t explain or cure, your shampoo could be the cause, or at least one of the causes.
Unfortunately, this list could go on. That’s why…
Some people refuse to shampoo their hair
Regulation has not been effective because of a phenomenon called “regulatory capture.” Regulatory agencies are largely controlled by the industries they supposedly regulate. No need to search out conspiracies – this is just the natural order of things. Virtually ALL laws and regulations are generated by small groups that have an intense interest in the subject (or a lot of money at stake). The other 99.9% of the population simply doesn’t get involved.
And where personal care products are concerned, the story is even worse. The FDA focuses on foods and drugs, and largely lets the industry self-regulate when it comes to cosmetics and personal care products.
The best guidance you can probably get is Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep® website. It can help steer you to safer options – so you don’t have to completely skip shampooing.
Their safety guide, launched in 2004, helps you find safer products.
They check the research, crosscheck names and spellings (variations abound), and match each to databases revealing hazard levels or safety. They assign a hazard score for each ingredient, and evaluate products relative to all other products on Skin Deep®.
From this, EWG reveals one of the safest shampoos – Skin Free Extra Moisturizing Soap – with its three simple ingredients as one of the top ten brands for safety. By contrast, a brand that claimed to be environmentally sound ranked in the bottom ten of 1,051 shampoos.
Better yet, they now have an app that lets you scan the barcode to get EWG’s analysis of that product.
Finally, you can make your own shampoo. Though I haven’t personally tried it, it sounds simple enough.
Mix 1 part baking soda to 3 parts water, leaving space in the container for shaking. Shake, pour and massage into wet hair. Let sit 1-3 minutes. Rinse thoroughly.
Apply a vinegar rinse if desired… 1 part apple cider vinegar to 4 parts water. Add essential oils if desired (lavender, peppermint, and/or rosemary). Avoid getting the mixture in your eyes.
You can find other DIY options online. The biggest benefit of DIY?
You actually know what’s entering your body via your biggest organ, your skin. Some doctors say they’d never apply anything to their skin they wouldn’t be willing to eat. It sort of makes sense, because the skin is quite effective at taking in substances and letting them into the bloodstream. Most of what you rub on your skin finds its way into the rest of your body, except for the brain, which is protected from many substances by the blood-brain barrier.