This is Part 2A about why I stopped using commercial shampoo
Part 2B will be the recipe for my homemade shampoo and the results of my experiment.
**Warning – this post is very long. So I’ve split it into two parts. The first is an executive summary for those of you who just want the brief story. After that, read on for the sad story of what I discovered was in Herbal Essences shampoo.***
For years, probably since college (so around 12-13 years), I used Herbal Essences. It smelled good, my hair felt good, and it was cheap. Perfect, right? Not so much.
Here’s why Herbal Essences and almost all other commercial shampoos (certainly all affordable ones) are really not so great:
1. SLS/SLES – Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium lauryeth sulfate are in almost anything that lathers. It’s known to irritate skin, lowers the skin’s immunological response, can interfere with the body’s hormones and cause reproductive and developmental issues. We are attempting to avoid this everywhere we can (which has necessitated buying expensive toothpaste as well.)
2. EDTA – a preservative that is terrible for the environment and is a skin irritant.
3. Fragrances/phthalates – we avoid all artificial/natural fragrances unless the label says “essential oil of [xyz]” for its fragrance source. Phthalates (also found in PVC) and known to cause cancer and a bunch of other terrible stuff are often disguised on labels as part of fragrances. Most artificial fragrances also contain other nasty chemicals that aren’t disclosed on the ingredients list. (In other words, don’t go to all those soap/lotion shops at the mall.)
4. Parabens – preservatives that we avoid at all costs (butylparaben, ethylpareben, methylparaben, propylaparaben, etc). They’re all extremely toxic. Amazingly, as you’ll see below, my particular shampoo didn’t have any parabens listed but they are frequent offenders in almost anything related to personal care. (They’re also almost omni-present in makeup, which a big reason why I’ve pretty much stopped wearing it.)
5. Artificial coloring – usually listed as a color and then a number – also not good for you.
If you’re concerned with chemicals, the five above are a really good place to start when reading ingredient labels. There’s plenty of other bad stuff too but if you avoid these five things, what you end up with will likely not have much if any of the other stuff in it either.
Here’s another good rule of thumb: If you can’t pronounce any ingredient and/or don’t know what any of the ingredients are, put the bottle back on shelf and move on.
DETAILS OF MY OLD SHAMPOO
Here are the ingredients in the Herbal Essences Body Envy Volumizing Shampoo, which I was using up until I made the switch to homemade shampoo. Next to each ingredient, I’ve listed what each ingredient is, its function in the shampoo and why I object to putting that on my body/in the environment.
I obviously didn’t know what all of these things did. I had to spend a bit of time reading and searching on the Internet to find out what these things were for. See the end of this post for my resources if you’re interested.
1. Water – can’t complain about this one I guess! Water is also the first ingredient in my homemade shampoo recipe.
2. Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) – a surfactant (causes the shampoo to lather up, creating all those nice bubbles), see above for why we avoid it.
3. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) – the same as SLES
3. PPG-2 Hydroxyethly Coco/isostearamide – lowers the surface tension/aids in even distribution of the product, I couldn’t find any health information on this one but if I can’t pronounce it and don’t understand it, I don’t want it!
4. Sodium Chloride – common table salt, used to thicken the shampoo when SLS/SLES is the main surfactant, can sting the eyes
5. Citric Acid – makes the shampoo acidic to keep the hair cuticule smooth
6. Sodium Citrate – a buffering agent that attaches to calcium ions in water to keep them from interfering with the detergent
7. Russelia Equisetiformis Leaf/Stem Extract – pink coral flower, not really sure what it helps with other than a marketing ploy
8. Prunius Persica Nectarina Fruit Extract – white nectarine extract, same as pink coral flower – another ploy to make me think I’m getting a healthy shampoo
9. Fragrance – see above for why we avoid these. And yes, all that the label said was “Fragrance” even though who knows how many chemicals actually are contained in that fragrance. And to think that’s why I loved this shampoo so much!
10. Sodium Benzoate – a preservative which kills bacteria, yeast, and fungus. It is also used in food and anti-freeze.
11. Tetrasodium EDTA – it’s a stabilizer/binder that keeps all the atoms in order in the shampoo. There are many kinds of EDTA and as a whole, it unfortunately is really bad for the environment. It also is consider a skin irritant, can cause allergies, can have reproductive effects and can cause kidney damage.
12. Polyquaternium-10 – used to thicken the shampoo, condition the hair, and reduce static electricity (this is probably part of the volumizing claim of the shampoo). I couldn’t find what this does but quaternium-15 turns into formaldehyde so I can’t think that this stuff is any good either.
13. Propylene Glycol – a humectant (draws moisture from the air) and is also a preservative. It’s what they use in fog/artificial smoke machines
14. Methylchloroisothiazolinone – a preservative, can be a skin irritant, and can cause burns in pure form, is mostly only used in products that are rinsed off.
15. Methylisothiazolinone – a preservative, has been shown in recent studies to be neurotoxic in rats.
16. Sodium Xylenesulfonate – surfactant, thickener, keeps the shampoo from getting cloudy (keeps the other ingredients in solution)
17. Yellow 10 – artificial color, see above for why you should avoid it.
18. Yellow 5 – artificial color, see above for why you should avoid it.
1. This website, “Ingredients- what’s in the stuff we buy?” was quite helpful in explaining the chemistry of many ingredients – particularly what function they play in a particular product.
2. This book, Easy Green Living, by Renee Loux has been very helpful to me in eliminating toxins from all areas of our house, including skin/hair care products. I highly recommend it! (I have it checked out from the library almost constantly.)
3. I used various other websites on the Internet to find what I couldn’t find in #1 and #2.
**Disclaimer – clearly the health claims that I’ve listed above will be disputed by some as not proven, based on bad science, etc. However, I chose to believe that simpler is better and that the fewer chemicals that are in our home, also the better. Even if other studies show that these chemicals aren’t “that bad”, I still don’t want them.
I’m amazed that you typed all this out! I’m interested to hear more about your homemade shampoo and so forth ;o)
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