I have always had a hard time trying to pick the “right” shampoo, spending hours (no, kidding) in the Hair Care aisle at my local Walmart. I would ask myself staring at the different brands of shampoos on the shelf: “What hair problem would I like to address this time?” There seemed to be one shampoo out there for almost every hair concern I could think of: Anti-Dandruff, Anti-Frizz, Volumizing, Anti-Hair Fall, Lengthening, Color Protectant, Shine Booster, etc.
And if this wasn’t hard enough, then there were the many different kinds of amazing scents to choose from, each with a different color! How do you know which shampoo to choose when there are so many options out there? And then there is the price tag…
Perhaps the ingredients will help? As I would read the backs of the different brands of shampoo bottles, I noticed that I did not only understand the long list of ingredients, but I could not even pronounce 95% of them! And here I am wondering why I spend so long in this aisle.
Has this ever happened to you or am I the only crazy one out there who spends an unnecessary amount of time choosing a hair shampoo? Why does it have to be this hard? They are all supposed to basically do the same thing: clean out my hair, right? Then how come they are loaded with so many hard-to pronounce ingredients?
But have you ever wondered if your shampoo is to blame for your hair problems? Choosing the wrong kind of product to wash your hair might just cause damage to your hair rather than cleaning it out. Perhaps the product that we heavily rely on to help with our hair is the exact product that is responsible for harming it the most.
In this article I will explain how commercially available shampoos are not just harmful to your hair but in what ways they may be the reason for your hair loss.
Hair & Health Damage
When you wash your hair, what you are essentially doing is washing out the dirt and debris that has accumulated on your scalp over time. Therefore, the real purpose of a shampoo is to clean out the scalp, not so much the hair (conditioner is for hair). Your scalp naturally produces oil called sebum that is meant to protect and lubricate the hair follicles from root to tip. With time, sebum causes the scalp to become oily and so a shampoo helps to clean the oils out.
Since everyone’s hair is different, their hair concerns will also be different. This is why shampoo-making companies market their products to target a whole variety of hair concerns so they can reach a wider customer base. In doing so, the products we see on the shelves are loaded with chemical-based ingredients that are not only harsh on the hair and scalp but they also compromise your overall health!
The ingredients in the shampoos have little to do with cleaning the scalp and hair. They do not remove dirt, grime, and oil from the scalp as they claim they should. Instead, they leave behind leftover chemicals that stick to the scalp and hair shaft, creating buildup. Some of these ingredients poison the scalp and vital organs like kidneys and lungs and could trigger allergies or skin irritations. Yet others are proven to be linked to cancer-formation in your body. Yikes!
When you are using commercially-available shampoos, you are at risk of exposing yourself to a large amount of nastiness that can potentially damage your body’s tissues and organs, not just damage your hair!
Harmful Ingredients To Avoid
So what are these “nasty, harmful” ingredients that I keep mentioning? If you are anything like how I used to be, the list of ingredients found at the back of your shampoo bottles are not going to make much sense to you. But let me be honest: it is worth understanding what those harsh compounds are so you can avoid them next time you are shampoo-shopping and your hair can thank you for it later (or you can thank me too!).
Let us take a look at what these ingredients are and why you don’t want them anywhere near you, let alone your hair.
1. FOAMERS & THICKENING AGENTS
Sulfates are the most damaging of all chemicals found in hair products. They are added to shampoos to create foam and lather. They are also the same ingredients used in car wash detergents and engine degreasers! Of the many different kind of sulfates, the two you must be most aware of are:
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate: these are surfactants that break down the proteins hair needs to grow, stripping the hair of its protective natural oils. In some cases, SLS can also lead to lung or eye irritation.
Sodium Chloride is commonly known as table salt (yes, you read that right- there is SALT in your shampoo!!) and it is used as a thickening agent. Although non-toxic, when it is combined with SLS, it leads to a dry & itchy scalp that further dries out the hair, making it brittle and weak and very easy to break off, mid-shaft or from the roots. There is a reason why it is said spending too much time in sea water can damage the hair!
Polyethylene glycol (PEG) (i.e. polyethylene or polyoxyethylene) is also a thickening agent used to allow shampoo to lather easily. However, it strips the hair of its moisture, removing the natural oils that work to keep the scalp and hair healthy.
Parabens are simply added in shampoos to prolong its shelf life and prevent microbial growth. However, they are known to cause hormonal imbalances and allergic reactions according to the Environmental Working Group. As you may already know, hormonal disruptions in women is a leading cause of hair loss.
Methylparaben & Propylparaben are the most common parabens found in shampoos. These ingredients are also linked to breast cancer.
Formaldehyde is a cancer-causing preservative found in numerous shampoos (and hair products) that claim to smoothen or straighten the hair. It is also known to be a skin, nose, eye, and breathing irritant when anyone is exposed to it. Formaldehyde is reported to cause your body’s organs to stiffen, leading to organ & tissue damage. This is the same substance used to preserve a dead body as well! Do you still want to put it on your hair?
3. SCALP/SKIN IRRITANTS
Chemical Fragrances & Colors are synthetic ingredients that cause inflammation and irritation of the scalp, making the hair dry, brittle and lifeless. Due to these strong chemical fragrances in shampoos, hormonal levels fluctuate, leading to hair thinning and hair loss. Next time when you choose a shampoo, know that not everything that smells good is also going to be good for you.
Propylene Glycol enhances the scalp’s ability to absorb other chemicals from the shampoo into your body. Yes, all the other nasties go into your body thanks to this bad boy and create organ toxicity. If that isn’t enough, it is classified as a skin irritant and also known as antifreeze for cars! The reason it is added to shampoos is so that shampoos don’t freeze while being in transport!
DEA (Diethanolamine) & TEA (Triethanolamine) are two chemicals that are known to cause skin irritation and the formation of cancerous cells. They destroy the protective protein called keratin, making the hair dry, brittle and unable to grow healthy.
Lanolin, Petroleum, & Mineral oil are added to shampoos to provide moisture to the hair, but in reality they have no proven hair benefits. All they do is weigh down thin hair and prevent natural oils from being absorbed into hair, impeding hair-health. The result is greasy, dirty looking hair.
5. HAIR SEALANTS
Silicone, Siloxane, & Dimethicone all claim to make the hair shiny as their main purpose is to “seal” the hair. Instead, they deprive the scalp its ability to coat the hair with natural oils, resulting in a dry & itchy scalp as well as dry hair that is frizzy and hard-to-handle. These hair sealants also fail to rinse off from the scalp and hair. Over time, this buildup leads to hair getting weak and breaking easily. No surprise there!
Relatively high concentrations of alcohol found in shampoos can dehydrate the scalp and this inevitably leads to dry hair that looks and feels straw-like and easily breaks. Surprisingly, there are some types of alcohol (i.e. Cetearyl alcohol, Stearyl alcohol, & Cetyl alcohol) that are actually ‘good’ for dry hair, relatively speaking. But the closer to the top of the label you find a listing of alcohol, the higher its percentage in the shampoo. In other words, if you see alcohol listed within the first five ingredients, you may want to avoid choosing that shampoo as alcohol concentration will be pretty high.
Alternatives to Toxic Shampoo
Wow, that is a pretty scary list if you ask me! Who would have thought that so many harmful ingredients would be found in a simple shampoo? Damaging your hair is one thing but making choices that negatively affect your health and the planet is another. Think of all this toxic chemical waste. Why does the planet need to suffer just because you want no frizz in your hair?
So what should you really be looking for when you shop for shampoos so you can avoid all this hair, health, and environmental harm?
Now I am not saying all shampoos are bad for your hair. What I am saying, however, is to do your due diligence and pick a shampoo that does not have all these harmful compounds. You can save yourself from a lot of unneeded damage now that you know what to look for in a good shampoo (or in this case, what “not” to look for).
The better alternative would be to look for a shampoo that is gentle, sulfate-free and provides cleansing capabilities. If you can find a gentle, sulfate-free cleansing shampoo, you do not need a clarifying shampoo. Most “clarifying” shampoos can make the hair feeling stripped and dry, even though they work to remove buildup on the scalp.
Stay away from shampoos that claim to de-frizz, boost shine, thicken, or any added benefit other than cleansing as they will need to leave some kind of chemical residue behind on hair in order to perform those benefits.
The shampoos that claim to be “all-natural” will most likely have little to no cleansing properties and instead be loaded with oils that will only weigh your hair down further.
If this seems too complicated, opt to make your own shampoo with products you already have at home! You will be surprised at how easy it is. You can even do a zero-waste version. Or use herbs and a mixture of essential oils. The options are endless.
Proper Hair & Scalp Care
I hope I have scared you enough to make healthy choices when it comes to your hair. Although scaring you was never really my intent, I would highly encourage you to get into the habit of really understanding what goes into a product before you bring it home and start using it. After all, your well-being is at stake!