What’s so bad about shampoo anyway?
Shampoo is a detergent, just like laundry detergent, dishwashing powder and the stuff you use to clean your bathroom. It cleans out the dirt in your hair, but is very harsh and also takes the natural oils that make your hair shiny, soft and strong. Shampoo wasn’t introduced until the early 20th century, before that many people used soap. Soap can wash your hair without removing as much of the natural oils that shampoo does. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stand very well in alkaline water. When mineral levels in water began to rise, that made soap a messy, poor item to wash with. It causes ‘soap scum’ rings around your tub and on your shower doors. Alkali (hard water) makes the scales on your hair stand up, feel rough and get tangled. When washing with water with a higher alkaline content and soap, the “soap scum” gets all tangled up in your hair, is much harder to wash out, and creates a big mess. Shampoo came out on the market just in time, displaying it’s only real benefit: it behaves similarly both in hard and soft water. Therefore it was a “Superior” product to an old favorite, soap. But it didn’t come without problems. Because shampoo is harsh enough to strip the natural oils from your hair, you need something to replenish them. So, conditioner was born. You need to wash your hair every day not because it gets dirty, but because the oils from the conditioner don’t last and need to be replenished.
The oils in your hair come naturally out of your scalp to nourish it. Stripping them away causes damage, and breakage over time. In a way you do need conditioner, if you use shampoo – because it covers up the damage that’s been done. But you don’t need shampoo in the first place, all you’re spending your money on is a big bottle of perfumed detergent.
Most shampoos contain mineral oil. A byproduct of the distillation of gasoline from crude oil, mineral oil is what’s left over. It’s so abundant that it costs more to dispose of it then it does to package and sell it, so it ends up everywhere. It’s added to shampoos and conditioners to give hair an artificial shine caused by coating it with a thick oil. Mineral oil cannot absorb into your skin like other oils do, so it sits on top and forms a barrier preventing oils and toxins from being released as a normal part of your skin’s lifecycle. This is one of the reasons you’ll find that the more shampoo you use, the more often you need to use it. In the long run, coating your hair with mineral oil makes it weaker, and more prone to damage.
If mineral oil doesn’t bother you, maybe the other ingredients will. SLS and SLFS (sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate) are skin and eye irritants that also acts as a foaming agent in soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, dishwashing liquid… and just about anything that produces a foamy lather. The Materials Safety Data Sheet cautions to avoid body contact with SLS, it also puts infants and children (whose eye are developing at a more rapid rate) at risk for improper eye development when it’s absorbed through the skin and accumulates in eye tissues. Because of residual levels in internal organs, it’s questioned how safe our current rates of exposure are. “Debunkers”, and companies who sell products containing these ingredients claim that the short exposure (shampoo and rinse) isn’t enough for it to build up, and that by itself, in the dilution present within the product, the ingredient won’t cause damage. This is basically true, however neither take into account recent reports (within the last five years), exposure due to the amount of products which contain SLS/SLFS and how often we use them, and the known chemical reaction with other ingredients commonly found in these products. While not carcinogens, both these substances, when mixed with other ingredients commonly found in shampoo bottles, may cause carcinogenic nitrates to form. Using it in moderation, and even in high amounts probably isn’t going to kill you – but it’s certainly not improving your health. The suggested safe percentage of SLS or SLFS to be used in products like shampoo and toothpaste isn’t adhered to as often as it should be.
In its final report on the safety of sodium lauryl sulfate, the Journal of the American College of Toxicology notes that this ingredient has a “degenerative effect on the cell membranes because of its protein denaturing properties.” What’s more, the journal adds, “high levels of skin penetration may occur at even low use concentration.”
Interestingly, sodium lauryl sulfate “is used around the world in clinical studies as a skin irritant,” notes the journal. The publication expressed additional concerns:
- Carcinogenic nitrosamines can form in the manufacturing of sodium lauryl sulfate or by its inter-reaction with other nitrogen-bearing ingredients within a formulation utilizing this ingredient.
- Other studies have indicated that sodium lauryl sulfate enters and maintains residual levels in the heart, liver, lungs and brain from skin contact. This poses the question whether it could be a serious potential health threat from its use in shampoos, cleansers, and toothpastes.
- Still other research has indicated sodium lauryl sulfate may be damaging to the immune system, especially within the skin. Skin layers may separate and inflame due to its protein denaturing properties.
- Although sodium lauryl sulfate is not carcinogenic in experimental studies, it has been shown that it causes severe epidermal changes in the area it is applied, indicating a need for tumor-enhancing assays.
- Additional studies have found that sodium lauryl sulfate is heavily deposited on the skin surface and in the hair follicles. Damage to the hair follicle could result from such deposition.