Whether you have long or short locks, finding a shampoo that actually works and is free from harmful chemicals can feel impossible. My own toxin-free shampoo journey has been rife with greasy hair, dandruff, and itchy scalp. I spent countless showers in hopes that a new random hippy dippy shampoo I found on Etsy would finally be my saving grace, but my early shampoo adventures wound up disappointing and left my hair feeling like it hadn’t even been washed. So why go to all the trouble of finding a toxin-free shampoo? As Part One of my Natural Hair Care Series, we are going to dive into the reasons why you should avoid these main culprits that are in generic shampoo and consider switching to a natural hair care routine. I encourage you to click the linked studies cited below and read further into the findings for yourself. Let's get started!
The Big Offenders in Your Shampoo
For those wondering what may be lurking in generic shampoo the answer is, a lot.
Sulfates, the first of these harmful ingredients you’ve probably seen declared as exiled on the label of many shampoos recently. Sulfates were developed as a surfactant, meaning they help reduce the surface tension of water and in turn loosen dirt, oil, and sebum from your hair and scalp. The issue with sulfates is they can be too good at their job, leaving your scalp overly dry, itchy, and your hair brittle and coarse. Conditioner was essentially created as a shiny aftermarket product to glean more money from consumers due to the overachieving aspects of sulfates. Did you wash your hair with sulfate-containing shampoo and it became overly dry and now you are unable to get a comb through it? Here! Buy this second product that undoes that!
Parabens are the second ingredient to avoid in your generic shampoos. Parabens have been used since the early 1950s as a preservative in hair and body care products. The issue with parabens is that they are a known hormone-disrupting chemical that we are just starting to understand. Studies have shown that parabens act on estrogen pathways, leading to a multitude of side effects such as increased sperm with abnormal morphology, shorter menstruation cycles, and insulin resistance. Most of these studies cited conclude that we need to keep studying parabens to understand their long term effects. Their presence and accumulation in our bodies is undeniable, but how exactly they affect our health over the long term is not fully known.
Now I know I’m not the only one who gets headaches or feels nauseous after being in a room with someone who has on too strong of perfume. Fragrance is the next insidious ingredient lurking in shampoos, or rather an amalgamation of over 3,100 ingredients disclosed by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) to be more exact. The term “Fragrance” on a label legally enables a company to hide the specific mix of chemicals used, deemed a “trade secret” or “proprietary information.” The list of possible ingredients used under the IFRA are regulated by, guess who, themselves! What makes this whole situation worse is that the IFRA has not even tested the majority of the chemicals on this list. Thus, a company could combine any number of chemicals (tested or untested) in their fragrance recipe and not disclose the list, it would be legal, and the FDA could not do anything about. Don’t believe me? It’s right on the FDA website.
Triclosan is the next chemical on our list. Triclosan is a vigorous anti-bacterial and has raised concerns in terms of immunotoxicity, meaning the disruption of our immune systems. It’s important to keep in mind that these bacteria-killing chemicals don’t have the ability to select the bacterial they are going to kill, they kill it all. Our bodies and our skin have an active microbial environment that is constantly trying to achieve an equilibrium. When we apply chemicals like Triclosan to our skin, we are disrupting that environment. According to a 2015 study “Triclosan has been shown to undergo dermal absorption in both rodent and to a lesser degree human skin, affording it the potential to interact with immune cells in the dermis as well as systemically.” In this study they observed that Triclosan increased the size of both the liver and the spleen in mice, demonstrating that exposure to the skin caused a significant inflammatory response in the immune system. The EPA has found that it is also is an endocrine disruptor - affecting the homeostasis of the thyroid.
When it comes to this list of chemicals, testing on humans is limited because the desire to possibly cause harm is obvious. Yet, chemicals are still widely used in our health care products without any formal testing. So essentially, we are are living out the experiment now. Did you sign up for that? I don’t think I did!
On top of the list of effects on humans, we have to extend the use of these chemicals beyond ourselves. What we use in our showers does not exist in a vacuum. What goes down our drain ends up in our oceans and waterways. It’s easy to turn off the shower and not think about what happens to all that water, but I want to challenge you to do so. All of these chemicals interact with ecosystems for better or for worse. Studies have shown more and more that the consequences are negative and cause imbalances that we have no idea how to rebalance. From the reproductive capabilities of aquatic life to showing up in high concentrations of the livers of our nation’s most respected bird, we don’t fully understand these chemicals’ long term effects.
Okay, I'm convinced, but what to do next?
Switch to a natural shampoo of course! If you haven't ventured down the natural shampoo road yet, I want to be up front and say it can be very frustrating. Luckily, the next part of my Natural Hair Care Series, The Acclimation Period - How To Make Natural Shampoo Work, primes you and your hair for success!
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