In Search of A Green Clean Shampoo

woman in shower washing hair

Hunky Man in the Shower!
(the caption of this stock photo reads: “Attractive male taking shower and washing his hair with satisfaction”. Indeed!)
As you may have gathered from my last post, I spend a lot of time researching many of the things that I buy in an effort to make the best possible choice for myself and for the environment. This research sometimes takes the form of reading article upon article, interviews, company profiles, and maybe watching a video here and there.

Since I’ve started learning about the ingredients and lack of regulation in the personal care products industry, I’ve been paying much closer attention to the things I put in my shopping basket. Because this industry is does not have strict regulation, companies often use highly toxic chemicals in their formulations. These products, be it make up, soap, shampoos, or lotions (the list goes on), all come in contact with our skin, our bodies largest organ, and make their way into our bloodstreams. Those with fragrance, and that’s most of them, also make their way into our lungs.  According to the Environmental Working Group – more than one-third of all personal care products contain at least one ingredient linked to cancer. Yikes!

That’s not even taking into account the neuro and developmental toxins they include either. Ninety – that’s 90%- of ingredients used in personal care products have not even been assessed for safety – even by the industry’s own safety panel! These ingredients create rich lathers, serve as emollients and emulsifiers, and a million other things I wouldn’t even begin to guess at. Even though the levels of these chemicals in personal care products are sometimes low, research shows that there may be long term, gradual effects of this kind of consistent, low-dose exposure. Some of the levels aren’t that low, as the ingredients make up the base of the entire formula – leaving us with much higher daily doses of these chemicals.

“An EWG analysis found that in its 30-year history, the CIR [Cosmetics Ingredients Review] has reviewed the safety of just 13% of the 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products. FDA does no systematic reviews of safety. That means that nearly 90% of ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by any publicly accountable institution. And as people apply an average of 126 unique ingredients on their skin daily, these chemicals are raising concerns, for their potential impacts to human health and to the environment” – Environmental Working Group – Skin Deep Database

In the United States we take the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ approach to the chemicals used in our everyday consumer products. But since there is so little testing, how are these ingredients ever going to be found “guilty”? The EU takes the opposite approach, requiring companies to prove that their ingredients are not toxic or harmful before the product reaches the consumer. Companies like Colgate-Palmolive (and all the other multi-nationals) have reformulated their products, eliminating the toxic ingredients from them… for the EU market only! That means that the same bottle of shampoo in the US is still filled with the toxic chemicals that are banned across the ocean. How is that right??

I’ve been relying on the Skin Deep database, run by the EWG for a little over a year now, looking up the products that I already have, and using it to help me find cleaner products going forward. Shampoo is a product that’s notorious for being chock-a-block with all kinds of badness – let’s look at one “luxury” brand shampoo – Fredrick Fekkai Protein Rx Reparative Shampoo, at a whopping $35 for a 16 oz bottle. The Skin Deep Database gives this product a 9 out of 10 rating, with 10 being the worst. This shampoo has an ingredient list about a mile long and has ingredients that are linked to cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity, allergies/immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and organ system toxicity. Nice. Sadly they are not alone on the bottom of the list, as most of the shampoos on the shelves are full of the same chemicals. So what do we do, not wash our hair?!?

EWG Skin Deep

I’m not about to walk around with greasy, stringy hair, so I’ve been doing a little research of my own, testing out more natural shampoos and seeing how well they tackle my mophead without leaving me smelling like a hippy, or worse, exposing me to all kinds of crazy toxins.

At my local health food store I have access to a huge array of “natural” shampoos and conditioners. But I’ve come to learn that just because it’s in the health food store, doesn’t mean it’s not full of toxic ingredients. In March of 2008 The Organic Consumers Association released a study in which they found a unlabeled ingredient – 1,4 dioxane – a carcinogen and likely kidney toxicant- in dozens of leading “natural” and “organic” beauty products. Even in the health food store, you have to read labels!!

Over the past year, I’ve tried Aubrey Organics Shampoos – rated fairly low (meaning less toxic) in the Skin Deep Database, Burts Bees Raspberry & Brazil Nut Shampoo – also rated low, and a score of others that came and went pretty quickly. Both Aubrey’s and Burts Bees felt waxy and left me feeling less clean than when I went into the shower and sometimes with hair that looked like I hadn’t showered for days!  For a long time, I was kicking it old school… like 1800’s old, and was washing my hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar, which surprisingly worked really really well. It was a little weird, and definitely annoying, but it was super cheap (box of baking soda is like $2!), and my hair was squeaky clean. (And no, I didn’t smell like vinegar! I mixed in a few drops of lavender essential oil, and since it rinses out clean, it didn’t smell at all. Over time I found that it left my hair a little too dry, so I set out to find something else.

Earth Science Shampoo

Recently, I tried Earth Science Fragrance Free Shampoo & Conditioner, which are rated a 2 on EWG’s site. While they still contain a few ingredients I’m not totally stoked on, I’m happy to say that this duo work really well for me. Obviously everyone has different hair textures and thicknesses and different shampooing needs, but for me, this one is a keeper.

My quest for knowledge, and shampoo, will likely never end, so this is hardly the end of the line. After a bottle or two, I’ll tire of it, and will go out again in search of a less harmful product to wash my hair. Until conventional shampoos, and other beauty care products are made without toxic chemicals, and until they are free from petrochemicals (see this article by Organic Consumers Association head Ronnie Cummins on the link between the oil spill in the Gulf, and the products in our bathrooms!), I’ll have to do the research on my own, finding, by trial and error and safe, green, and clean shampoo that I’m proud to use.

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