Sometimes when I'm stressed out & running out of time I call it going into "Jessie Spano mode" but I had never considered washing my hair as a part of that...until I started clearing out my unsafe products. Ugh. I was NOT "so excited" to throw away all of my shampoos/conditioners. I don't know how many hours and dollars I have spent in stores like Target or Ulta (A LOT in Ulta) trying to choose just the right shampoo and conditioner for my hair. If anyone is particular about this, it is me. And this has been the most difficult thing for me to transition into safer products with, so I figured it would be a great starting point for you too. Let's just get this not-so-fun one out of the way.
We all like shampoos that lather and create bubbles, right? That's what makes our hair feel clean. Sadly, one of the main ingredients that causes shampoo to lather so much is harmful to us. But there's more than just a good lather that you want to avoid. Here are 5 major things to avoid in shampoo:
- SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate), SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulfate), and PEG's (polyethylene glycols): If you read the back of most shampoo bottles, they will likely contain one of these as the first few ingredients listed. SLS is an inexpensive surfactant (which is why it's in a lot of cheaper products - because it's cheap) that emulsifies, foams, and cleanses. It's in anything from shampoo to toothpaste to mouthwash to detergents. If it lathers, it most likely has SLS in it. The #1 concern with SLS is major skin irritation. The American College of Toxicology found that even less than 0.5% concentration of this can cause harmful skin irritation. The problem is a lot of products have WAY more than 0.5%. Shampoos and cleaning products sometimes have up to 10-20% concentration of SLS. (This is why they're usually one of the first ingredients listed. If it's at the top of the ingredients list, that means it has the highest concentration of all ingredients.) While SLS is not considered to be a cancer-causing carcinogen, there are some that say it can be contaminated with an ingredient called 1,4-dioxane. PEG's are known to be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane. With all of the things that the U.S. does NOT consider harmful, they actually DO claim 1,4-dioxane to be a probable human carcinogen. Because it's not considered federal law to remove ingredients like this from cosmetics and products, many companies don't. The FDA encourages it, but they do not require it. Other ingredients that can be in shampoos and can also be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane are ceteareth and triceteareth. So a summary of the letters to avoid: SLS, SLES, PEG's, and the -ETH's.
- Parabens: These are petroleum-derived preservatives and known endocrine disruptors that are in many shampoos. Endocrine disruptors like these mimic estrogen, which can feed breast cancer as well as cause allergic reactions and skin rashes. A study in 2011 linked BPA/methylparaben with breast cancer, and the combination blocked the effectiveness of cancer drugs like tamoxifen. Tamoxifen is the drug my sister has been on, and you can imagine that if she were using products with paraben, they would obviously be hurting her. Also, her cancer was being fed by estrogen, so it's likely that parabens could have played a role in this. You never know what's happening inside your body, and now that we know these are harmful, I'm never going near them.
- DEA's & TEA's: DEA's (diethanolamine, cocamide DEA, lauramide DEA) and TEA's (triethanolamine) can react with other ingredients to cause something called nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are known carcinogens linked to cancer. Because nitrosamines are impurities caused by the reaction of DEA/TEA with other ingredients, they're not listed on product ingredient lists but are commonly found, so it is best to avoid DEA/TEA. DEA is actually prohibited by the European Commission but I see it on products all the time here. Thanks, Obama.
- DMDM Hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15: These are all known as "formaldehyde releasers." Awesome, right? Just what I want in a shampoo: to release formaldehyde into my hair and scalp. Exposure to formaldehyde can increase the risk of various forms of cancer as well as cause headaches, joint pain, immune dysfunction, allergic reactions in the eyes, nose, throat, and skin, and it can lead to asthma. Um, no thanks. I'm good.
- Fragrance/Parfum: Ahhhh, the secret ingredient in all things. We all want our hair to smell good, of course. Most of the time when shopping for a shampoo I always smell it. Little did I know, that "fragrance" or "parfum" actually can legally hide thousands of chemicals within them. The "International Fragrance Association" currently uses over 3,000 materials in fragrance compounds. Some of these have been linked to cancer, reproductive toxicity, allergies, and sensitivities. Some also contain phthalates (another word you'll see me use a lot), which are known as one of the worst endocrine disruptors. (In case you didn't know, your endocrine system regulates ALL biological processes in the body. So, if I were you, I wouldn't want to mess with that!)
Whew. That's a lot of info and a lot of letters to remember. But the more you start reading ingredient lists, the more you'll start to recognize the same ingredients in some products. As soon as I see one of these on a shampoo bottle, I set it right back down. And I can guarantee you that 90% of the shampoos you see in stores have these ingredients in them. You have to look for the safe products.
So what am I using?
It took me awhile, guys. I struggled. I wanted so badly to go back to my unsafe shampoos. This was the hardest thing for me. I tried The Honest Company's shampoo and conditioner, and it left my hair greasy. I couldn't handle the no lather effect of the shampoo in my hair. I tried an Alaffia brand shampoo for curls, but it also left my hair greasy. I tried Dr. Bronner's all-purpose castile soap as shampoo in my hair - never again, because it felt weird, like I was pulling all the moisture out of my scalp. (Though I wish I could find a way to use this as shampoo because it's so cost-efficient!)
I like to go a couple of days without washing my hair whenever possible. I'm lazy. Judge me all you want, but I enjoy a good 2nd day hair most of the time. But everything I was trying made my hair look greasy almost immediately after blow-drying it, so there was no 2nd day hair and barely even 1st day hair! And then...I finally found the love of a lifetime. Maybe not, but I did find a shampoo and conditioner combo that I really like. I'm still anxious to try some others, but here's what I'm currently using and I love it:
This is the Acure Organics brand, which can surprisingly be found even at your local Target. However, they only seem to carry the Repairing Shampoo/Conditioner (in an orange bottle). I really like the Volume Shampoo/Conditioner because of the minty smell (of course from peppermint essential oil, not synthetic fragrances). I can get a decent lather out of the shampoo, and the conditioner actually somewhat detangles my hair in the shower, which is hard for me to find and much appreciated. These run about $9.99 apiece and are easier to find than some brands that I've only seen in health stores and online. I found this volume line in my local Lucky's Market (my favorite grocery store) and they also carry it on Amazon.
There are a lot of other great brands out there that I've seen online but haven't yet tried. If you want any of those suggestions feel free to contact me, but this is a great option to start with! I highly recommend it.
And with that said, "I'm SO excited!" that I've finally found a shampoo/conditioner that might make me want to wash my hair as much as Jessie Spano.