15 November 2011

What Everybody Ought to Know About Shampoo

There is something important you ought to know about shampoo - it is not exactly what it seems to be. In fact, the majority of store-bought shampoos contain toxic chemical compounds that contribute to cancer, liver disorders and neurological diseases.

If you think about it, this could be one of the reasons why so many allergies, asthma, reproductive problems, neurological disorders, irritations and rashes, sinus problems, seem to have sprung out of nowhere in the past 50 years.

Judging by what we see on store shelves modern marketing strategy obviously glorifies "going back to Nature"  - herbal, fruit and organic shampoos seem to be abundant, at least that is what their labels say. But the sad truth is that most of the shampoos you can buy are packed with chemicals that are not only far from Nature but are also dangerous for your health.

Most of you know that I went shampooles half a year ago but I will admit that at the time I didn't think about the dangers lurking in shampoo and I only did it out of curiosity. Washing my hair with baking soda proved an easy, eco-friendly, cheap and beneficial option for me and since my hair is getting stronger and cleaner, and I only need to wash it once a week, I don't see a reason to go back to shampoo, especially after what I have learned.

Illustration: Life is Just a Dream
But after I did some research on shampoo ingredients I find it hard to contain myself, thinking how many people intoxicate themselves and their children (!!) on a regular basis, thinking they are cleaning themselves! I know that to many of you who read Kanelstrand Organic Living that is old news but I also feel compelled to share what I have learned with those who still haven't thought about the dark side of shampoo. I find it startling that big "beauty" corporations offer us products that they know can harm us and our children.

So, to back up my words, I took two bottles of shampoo - Garnier Fructis Nutri-Repair and Head & Shoulders Anti-Dandruff Damage Rescue - and picked the toxic ingredients for you, so you get a better idea as to what you may be exposing yourself while you are thinking you are taking good bubbly care of yourself. What an irony!

Here is an alphabetical list of the dangerous chemicals I found in the 2 bottles of shampoo and which can be found in 90% of shampoo:

Ammonium Laureth Sulfate
Synthetic detergent. Apart from shampoo it is also used in bubble baths, hand wash, dish-washing liquid, also in car washes, garage floor cleaners and engine degreasers - and in 90% of products that foam. It can pose serious health threats because it could be contaminated with nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic.

Animals exposed to Ammonium Laureth Sulfate (ALS) and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) experience eye damage, central nervous system depression, labored breathing, diarrhea, severe skin irritation, and even death.

SLS and ALS may also damage the skin's immune system by causing layers to separate and inflame. It is frequently disguised in semi-natural cosmetics with the explanation "comes from coconut".

Cocamide (DEA, DEA-CETYL phosphates, DEA OLETH-3 phosphates, Myristamide DEA, Stearamide MEA, Cocamide MEA, Lauramide MEA, Oleamide DEA, TEA-Lauryl Sulfate)
These chemicals are used as emulsifiers and foaming bases in the majority of body care products. They are used in shampoos to reduce the surface tension of liquid. Since they are derived from coconuts, people often see them as harmless natural ingredients. But, they can trigger allergic reactions in the skin and lungs when used in high concentrations. Also, they may lead to formation of nitrosamines, chemical compounds that can cause cancer. If you use a shampoo that has cocamide DEA, MEA or MIPA, make sure it also contains vitamin A and C, which can serve as nitrosamine blocking agents.

In spite of the fact the the FDA (The American Food and Drug Administration) has warned the industry of their potential danger since 1979. Furthermore, in 1998 a study by the NTP (American National Toxicology Program) seriously condemned their use and designated them nitrates and nitrosamins, cancer causing elements.

Dimethicone is a silicone product that’s used as a skin conditioning agent and emollient. Since silicone emollients are occlusive, they coat the skin, trapping anything beneath it, and do not allow it to breathe. Dimethicone not only creates a kind of film over our skin and pollutes our bodies but it also accumulates in our organs. In addiction, poisonous hydrochloric gas is emitted during the chemical production of this ingredient.

Apart from shampoos, fragrance is added to most deodorants, sunscreens, skin care, body care and baby products. Fragrance is a way for manufacturers to disguise harmful ingredients and is virtually unregulated by the EPA or the FDA. Fragrance can indicate the presence of up to 4,000 separate ingredients. Almost all of them are synthetic. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing and vomiting, and allergic skin irritations. Some cause brain damage or are neurotoxins. Avoid unless you can be sure they are not carcinogenic.

Imidazolidinyl urea and DMDM Hydantoin (Germall Plus, Germall II and Germal 115)
After parabens, these are the most used preservatives. They are well established as a main cause of contact dermatitis. They contain formaldehyde, which is not only an inexpensive preservative and disinfectant but also a suspected cancer-causing toxin. It causes allergic, irritant and contact dermatitis, headaches and chronic fatigue. The vapour is extremely irritating to the eyes, nose and throat (mucous membranes).

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) together with Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are commonly used in many soaps, shampoos, detergents, toothpastes and other products because they are very effective foaming agents. But did you know that the foamy effect of shampoo is purely aesthetic? It has absolutely no cleansing properties!

SLS and SLES are not carcinogens but they are probably the most dangerous ingredients in skin and hair-care products. They can also be found in toothpaste, where according to some studies it causes the recurrence of aphthous ulcers, commonly referred to in some countries as canker sores or white sores.

SLS is found in car wash soap, engine degreaser, toothpaste, lotions and garage floor cleaners. It is most often used to degrease car engines. When used in shampoo, apart from the nice foam it produces, SLS dissolves the oils on your skin, which causes a drying effect. It corrodes the hair follicle and impedes hair growth. It has been blamed for many cases of premature hair loss. It takes hair longer to grow when it has been affected by SLS.

But wait, there is more - SLS can also be absorbed into the body from skin application. Once absorbed, SLS mimics the activity of the hormone Oestrogen, leading to different health problems from PMS and Menopausal symptoms to dropping male fertility and increasing female cancers such as breast cancer.

Although SLES is considered less irritating than SLS, and according to toxicology research it is not a carcirogen, is commonly contaminated with dioxane, which is a known carcinogen. it cannot be metabolised by the liver and its effects are even longer-lasting.

Yellow 5
You would think this is a harmless colorant but there is something more about it. Yellow 5 (together with other colors) is a coal tar derivative. The main concern about coal tar derivatives is that they cause cancer in animals, and they have also been found to cause potentially severe allergic reactions, asthma attacks, headaches, nausea, fatigue, nervousness, and lack of concentration. 

The NPF states that coal tar contains approximately 10,000 chemicals, of which only about 50% have been identified and the composition of coal tar varies with its origin and type of coal used to make it. Coal tar causes increased sensitivity to sunlight, so skin treated with topical coal tar preparations should be protected from sunlight.

These chemicals are just a fraction of the danger lurking from most "beauty" products. But looking from the positive side, there is a great number of natural body care brands, natural health stores and independent sellers that are committed to use healthy, organic ingredients and who take great care in keeping us and the earth clean. 

And, positive as I am, instead of listing the big bad brands using toxic chemicals, I will give you a short list of my favorite independent eco-friendly body care producers on etsy. Your body - your choice.

Stop on by and decide for yourself. Etsy makes it easy for you to communicate with the person behind the creation. So, you can ask them anything! I am sure they will be glad to give you an answer.

Belle Terre -  handmade soaps, shampoo bars, and related products
Cassia Aromatics - handmade soaps, scrubs and aromatherapy
Coquette Bath - handmade soaps, lotions, and lip balms
Herban Luxe - handmade herbal makeup
Larson Farm Naturals - handmade soaps with all natural ingredients
Milk and Honey Naturals - natural soap and solid body care shop

After reading this post, I urge you to do some further research yourself. Perhaps it is time you examined your personal care products a little further to see if they are having a deleterious effect on your health. We have reached the point where diet and exercise are not enough to keep healthy and we must realize that we have to monitor every aspect of your life – from what we eat through what we use, to how we clean our houses.


  1. Yikes, I may need to switch to baking soda too.

  2. Scarey!

    Half the items we purchase are bad for us. Labels ar so misleading.


    Stopping by from Blogging Buddies


  3. Thanks for all of that, but with the 2 you picked to back up your words, they are expensive name brand ones that are well-known to be full with unnatural chemicals. What we -really- need to know, is what toxic ingredients are in Original Source and Alberto Balsam - the ones that do actually claim to be organic? These are the only products I use anyway - more for their scent than anything else, I'll be honest - but are they any better than the ones you listed?

  4. I've heard talk about this before, but your breakdown was downright frightening! Would is be possible to do something similar for soaps?

  5. Paige, it is quite the same with soaps. Unfortunately.

  6. Kim, thank you for the input. I chose popular brands on the basis of their price in Europe, and here they are in fact cheap and a great percentage of people use them.

    On the other hand, I have also posted the links to websites that list the toxic ingredients found in shampoo, with the aim to enable my readers to check out their own shampoo at home.

  7. Oh my God. I just had my shampoo time twice today. I should've read this before I did the second one. Thank you for this very useful article!


  8. Another amazing wake-up call Sonya! I just started with my shampoo and liquid soap, very bad news as I expected! All the bad chemicals are right there! I am more worried about my two teenage daughters who are "hooked" on all sorts of beauty products.

    I'm off to Etsy for natural soaps and to the supermarket for lots of baking soda!!

    Thank you Sonya!!

  9. Interesting post Sonya! It's crazy how many artificial ingredients are in there!!

    Thanks too for the links to some great shops! I knew of a couple of them, but a couple are new to me. :-)

  10. Thanks for all these links, Sonya. I have been giving homemade soaps and lotions as gifts to friends and family for a long time, but I rarely buy them for myself for everyday use, but I'm thinking I should change that!!

  11. Thanks for sharing that information Sonya, interesting as always.
    Everyday Inspired

  12. Great post. I always check out the EWG's Cosmetic Database, read ingredients and try to get the least toxic cleaning products for my family. I wish more people were aware, then I wouldn't seem like such an oddball always going out of my way to get more natural items.

  13. WHOA! Total eye-opener. Had to tweet and stumble this post! I learned so much...I have to go read my shampoo bottle now!
    Thanks for another great post.
    from Blogging Buddies

  14. i've been educated last month about the hazzards of chemicals found in personal care products, that's why i have totally stopped using them and switched to real organic and natural products. thank God we have a more affordable alternative here in the Philippines.

  15. i've been educated last month about the hazzards of chemicals found in personal care products, that's why i have totally stopped using them and switched to real organic and natural products. thank God we have a more affordable alternative here in the Philippines.

  16. I switched to baking soda too. Thanks for listing the handmade alternatives!

  17. Okay - finally able to come make a comment! This is such a well written post. Not a lot of people realize what they are buying in regular shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc...I started making my own products when I was in High School when I had what I thought was acne and turned out to be an allergic reaction to synthetic fragrances. I've been making most everything for my bath and beauty routine myself since.

    I also use a great site called Skin Deep to run all of my product ingredients through as well as anything else I consider purchasing from other sources.

  18. It's even worse than I knew! Thank you for this information.

    I've been using Wen conditioner, a non-shampoo, for years now. I tried the baking soda route, but with my curly head, I couldn't figure out the right balance, and my hair became frizzier and dryer than ever.

  19. Another fabulous post Sonya! I use Dr Bronners or a handmade shampoo with baking soda and tea tree. Too many nasty chemicals in shampoo!


  20. fabo post.
    The even scarier thing is - it doesn't seem to worry many people.
    thanks for the read.

  21. It's crazy what beauty care companies can get away with putting in their products, isn't it? Horrible. I'm happy to say that my only hair care products are baking soda and apple cider vinegar! :)

  22. I've gone non shampoo! The other thing, besides all the chemicals, that most people don't realize is that most humans don't need to wash their hair everyday. It's a marketing ploy to get you to buy more of their products, which also brings more plastic into your home.

    1. You are quite right Monica! I am glad I never was the type of person to wash my hair every day! That sounds too much and I've noticed that once a week works best for my hair. How often do you wash your hair?

  23. You seem to be scaring people for no reason. Some of your information was accurate, a lot of it was not. I would suggest more thorough research next time.

    If you don't get the pH balanced with your baking soda routine, you'll find your hair to be a complete tangled mess. Make sure to use vinegar and cold water afterwards, but even then it might not be able to save your hair in the long-run.

    Good-luck. You're going to need it.