Who Put The “Poo” In Shampoo? | Hair Health Quest #2 | Ingredient Alchemy Lab #1

Do you know this Internet meme? “I put the sexy in dyslexia”, “I put the fun in funeral”, “I put the hot in psychotic”…The latter often goes with the blood-splattered American Psycho visual showing Christian Bale – mmh, Christian Bale… These are also quite pop on Twitter – sometimes funny wordsmithery, sometimes tasteless, sometimes somewhat socio-critical.

But I’m getting off the point here.
Let’s talk about what shouldn’t be but yet lurks in our shampoo bottles.

Here’s a very good explanation of what a standard shampoo is made of, provided by Wikipedia (it’s really well written; oh, and also do check the “No poo” article linked there, if just for fun.) So basically every shampoo that looks at you at the drugstore, salon or organic beauty shop is made of these:

1. A lot of water.

2. One or several surfactants/detergents.

Together, 1 and 2 form a dirt-killing liquid that gets more viscosity due to added:

3. Salt. Yup, salt.

To keep the shampoo fresh under the hot lamps in the store and in the humidity of your lovely bathroom, they add:

4. Preservatives.

And to make it smell nice, they also add:

5. Perfume/fragrance.

Manufacturers do add a lot more and we will check the fancy additives that go beyond #5 in another post, let’s just stick with these 5 guys. What will have jumped at you and yelled and waved its tiny hands is probably this question:

Can 1-5 be actually quite harmless?

I tell you what.


Next question:

So why the fuss then?

Because the standard ingredients are not at all harmless.

If you remember the first part of the “Ditch Healthy Looking Hair for Healthy Hair”-Quest, we spoke about some of the ugliest nasties. Ugliest? Ha. Not even close. A lot more crap can lurk in a fancy bottle.

While they can hardly spoil the #1 and the #3 ingredients – water and salt – or let’s say I hope they can’t, the industrial detergents are really not the best thing to put onto our skin.

To remind you, our skin absorbs stuff we put on it. Sadly, PEG-based detergents kind of “open” the skin and can help stuff actually getting into your bloodstream. Scientists do warn that this might not be a pretty vitamin cocktail but rather some ugly things like lead residue from the polluted urban air. Yikes.

Everything that breaks your skin’s natural barrier should be used cautiously, one would think. But a consumer who wants squeaky clean hair, gets product for squeaky clean hair. See, that’s why I’m all pro Enlightenment 😉 Okay, pro knowledge. Yay, Team Knowledge!

So most people know by now that (repeat after me) squeaky clean hair isn’t a symptom for clean and healthy hair, but for SLES and Co. that have stripped your scalp and hair of any fat, leaving them dry and unprotected. Duh.

NB: PEG-based ingredients are not used with certified organic shampoos.
And when I say “certified” it always means “certified by an authority” such as: Soil Accociation, NaTrue, Ecocert etc., not just adorned with a fancy green seal the manufacturer’s designers have come up with. K?

Let’s recap the known, proven facts, right?

Those common industrial detergents are irritant and strip the skin bare of all skin fat (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate) and can be contaminated with cancerogenous 1,4-Dioxane (Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate) or other irritants – for example Cocamidopropyl betaine is normally safe but it’s been reported to be irritant and can be contaminated with *fasten your belts* the alkylating agent Sodium Monochloracetate, allergenic Amidoamine (AA), hazardous Dimethylaminopropylamine (DMAPA), and Glycerol. And several PEG-derived ingredients make our skin permeable. So here’s the Question: Why do they keep using this stuff? I’ll sit here and wait for that answer.

On the + side: manufacturers in Europe slowly start ditching the “baddies” from their formulas. But this is a process.

But for now it’s “case closed”, I don’t use shampoo other than certified organic any more. NB: Not even at m hairdresser’s – their shampoos are brimmed with harsh #2s despite while positioned as a natural brand.

Let’s now talk about #4, shall we?

Preserving a shampoo is neccessary – that’s a fact. Some organic cosmetics manufacturers have tried – in the past, I’m blessed with ignorance and have no idea if they succeeded – to create potions so “pure” you had to keep them in the fridge, but that’s really too weird.

What are the most widely used “bad” preservatives in your shampoo?

Butyl-, ethyl-, heptyl-, methyl- and propylparabens are used. Well, this opens quite a can of worms, because the scientific argument re: the safety of parabens goes on and on and on. They’ve been used for decades – so the cosmetic industry claims they are safe.
On the other hand, methylparaben is reported to react with UVB modifying the DNA; to have an estrogenic quality and have been found in breast tumors. On the other hand, there is no actual evidence that they have caused those tumors.

Fights bacteria, yeast and fungi, but it’s an enviromental toxin (like our water isn’t endangered enough) and can cause burns, rashes and allergies.

Although most companies don’t use its pure form (which is absolutely and indisputably highly toxic and aggressively cancerogenous), the so-called formaldehyde donors or releasers – compounds releasing formaldehyde as they sit on the shelf – are still in use for their antimicrobial qualities.

Meet them and if you’re anything like me, DITCH THEM:
Bronidox or 5-Bromo-5-Nitro-1,3-Dioxane, Bronopol or 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol, Diazolidinyl urea, DMDM Hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-15.

Oh, this one is simply toxic. In high dosage of course – it’s harmless when heavily diluted.
But hey, do you know what? So is arsenic.

Kills bacteria and fungi. You might get the idea that it’s not exactly good for anything living either and you would be right. The highest risk is not just the proven allergenic and irritant quality of this ingredient but its effect on the evolution of resistant germs.
Can release Dioxines, which are enviromental toxins.

Mostly found in liquid soaps some can sneak into shampoo as well. They are funny to pronounce (thtá-lates) but really nasty buggers. They are alarmingly widely used (toys, plastic bottles, chalks, paint, modelling clay, textiles, pill coatings, sex toys, perfume, skin lotions, eye shadows, nail polish…) and I think I should make a post about them (and the formaldehydes, too) to show that our life in plastic ain’t THAT fantastic, but I digress. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors – means they change hormone levels or even cause birth defects and probably metabolic trouble, which in turn, is causing obesity and possibly diabetes – and they are cancerogenous. Why are they used? I don’t know, honestly.

Cetrimonuim Chloride (actually it’s used as conditioning agent with silicones, but it doubles as antiseptic): irritant.

Alcohol (various uses):
causes dryness – an effect that’s multiplied with water hardness and warm temperature that get the last bit of moisture out of the skin.

The last one will be a short one, because #5 common ingredient perfume/fragrance is really mysterious and asks for a post on its own.

Well, the ride is over for today, but here are the cliffhanger questions I’ve been asked or keep asking myself. We were talking about stuff that’s always used in shampoos (talking about types of ingredients here, not the exact ingredient of course – that choice is up to the beauty company).

So what else do they put in shampoo that won’t make us prettier? Hint: foam boosters, silicones, colourings…

What does “fragrance” stand for? What are the possible allergens?

Where do I get my daily toxic formaldehyde and phthalates fix?

What about a printable shopping help? Or any product ideas that are safe? How about product reviews?

What about my conditioner? Is hair spray safe? 

These are meaningful questions and totally keep me awake at night. So while I’m researching the whole “map” of this Quest, you can check your shampoo using EWG’s cosmetics database, or Codecheck, a German language, Swiss-based tool that spans cosmetics and food. More questions are appreciated.

15 Comments on “Who Put The “Poo” In Shampoo? | Hair Health Quest #2 | Ingredient Alchemy Lab #1

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  8. Oooh, you rock so hard we are going to have to get you an amplifier so you can play stadiums!

    So, um, no, posts not too long for me. 🙂

    Beeeecause, thanks to you I have figured out something so basic that I feel silly for admitting it: that I actually do not have dandruff *look away tg*as I never had flakes but that itchy scalp was simply dryness from the wrong products! So, as you know, I bought sulfate free shampoo and conditioner and what a difference already. I will slowly replace the rest of the hair goo as I can afford to…

    And yes please for recommendations or product reviews!! Actually, I would be so happy with a straight up list of “these are my everyday basics.”

    But maybe we will have to wait to read your book to know that? 😉

    • yaaaay, stadiums! 😀
      thank you lots and heaps, you’re soooo, so sweet and kind!!!

      your story is sadly one I hear very, VERY often. a friend of mine thought she started losing hair… I explained, and we picked her a shampoo – she then switched to Lavera I believe (not sure) – and it STOPPED.

      but scalp situations can have other reasons too, so a good doc can be really helpful. just not one on a brand’s paylist!

      • All docs in my hood are on a paylist. But I hear you. I know when my stress goes up, my hair falls out!!

        PS. Just looked on the back of one of my Caudalie moisturizers and thought that you would be happy by this:
        “o% Parabenes, Phenoxyethanol, phtatalates, huiles minerales, sodium laureth sulfate, ingredients d’origine animale…” Yippeee!

        • oh, caudalie have some amazing products. congrats on the wise choice.

          still I keep checking their INCIs – in some of their formulas I’ve found silicones or plasticizers. but I think they are changing this too.

          product tip: their crushed cabernet body scrub is the best scrub money can buy (and I’ve tested them all, healthy or plain chem lab or home-made). ze best! 😀

  9. your blog posts can be a Bit Scary.

    perhaps you could do an optional “jump down if you’re squeamish, teamgloria” *itchingscalp* and have a list of suggested products to buy Instead.

    we’d happily ditch the current products and buy your heart-healthy-earth-lovin’ stuff ideas.

    but the description makes us itch.


    • hehe terrific idea. I already thought of something similar but for the booklike app I’m on. have no idea _yet_ how to make it elegantly on the BLOG.

  10. Terrific post. Super informative. Just checked my shampoo which I thought was (at least) “all natural” which I realize isn’t anywhere near the same as Certified Organic. But seeing some of the ingredients may turn me certifiable…

    Yes, please, on the other topics you mention as being entirely worthy of their own discussions.

    And no, this isn’t too long. It’s helpful.

    One last note. I was raised with the “wash your hair every day” mantra, which somewhere in my mid-30s/early 40s I dispensed with. (Hello, Little Kids???) We think we need to wash our hair much more often than is necessary.

    • thank you for the detailed feedback! ❤

      the frustrating thing is: this is really just the very top of the iceberg. we only discussed two types of ingredients, and they do add so much more.

      and sadly, we all have been raised with some mantras that are just not true. we tend to believe they are "because mum told me so", because it worked in our childhood and we like to think back… but mum could've been just misinformed. example: my mum used to give me meds I found out were toxic later! after I explained, she stopped using this "time-proven remedy", too. there's hope for all 🙂