How Safe Is Your Shampoo?

HOW SAFE IS YOUR SHAMPOO? How many skin and hair products do you think you use each day? The figure may shock you. On average, women use twelve products a day comprising 168 different ingredients, and men use six products equaling 85 ingredients!

Some of these products include shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, nail polish and remover, skin lotion, toner, moisturizing lotion, sunblock, shaving cream, bath gel, and many more. Aside from constantly subsidizing big cosmetic companies, what are the dangers of using all these products? After all, Americans have been conditioned by the media to always smell good, look clean, and seem fresh, and companies are thrilled to fill that perceived need. Attractive and sleek packaging are designed to promise beauty, youth, and sexiness.

If you have ever read the list of ingredients in some of these products, it is amazing to see how long that list can be and how many syllables an ingredient may have.

Let’s look more closely at some of these ingredients:

Parabens: This is a preservative used in skin and hair products to make them last longer. They have been associated with neurologic damage, eye and skin irritation, allergic reactions and according to a 2004 Journal of Toxicology study, “…18 out of 20 breast tumors contained significant amounts of parabens.” While further research needs to be done and is being done, just knowing that parabens can be absorbed into the breast tissue should give one pause when reading labels.

Parabens are also know as methyparaben, butlyparaben, and polyparaben.

Parabens are banned in Europe.

Propylene Glycol: This preservative can be absorbed through all the layers of the skin and has been associated with endocrine disruption and toxicity. It is non-toxic in food. Phthalates: These are found mostly in cosmetics especially nail polish and are inhaled as well as absorbed through the skin. They help products adhere to the skin. They have been linked with sperm damage and with possible fetal damage. Natural food stores sell phthalate-free polishes. Phthalates are also banned in Europe. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate: A very widespread preservative used in many products,

SLS, as it is also known, has also been associated with endocrine and reproductive toxicity and skin irritation. It is a harsh ingredient as well, having almost detergent-like qualities. For some, SLS in toothpaste has caused canker sores. When the Lauryl is converted into Laureth, the petrochemical Ethlyene Oxide is added which creates the contaminant 1,4 dioxane, a known animal and probable human carcinogen.

There are other ingredients to be aware and wary of such as mineral oil, some forms of alcohol (not stearyl or cetearyl), Triclosan (used in weed killer products), Aluminum used in deodorants and linked to Alzheimers), and Formaldehyde (in hair coloring).

Certainly many consumers purchase products based on how they smell, searching for that “fresh smell” that promises youth and cleanliness. However, fragrance is highly allergenic to those with sensitive skin and can be a neurotoxin. If you have sensitive skin, avoid products that smell citrusy or minty and seek out fragrance free ones. Even products that bill themselves as having all “natural” ingredients, have to have some preservatives in them; otherwise, they would go rancid within a few days.

Some formerly clean companies have sold out to large multi-nationals such as Aveda to Estee Lauder, Tom’s of Maine to Colgate, and the Body Shop to L’Oreal. So the resulting products may not have the same level of purity as the originals.

So where to find products that do not have some or all of the above preservatives? One place to start is the cosmetics aisle of your local health food store or a larger Whole Foods. The cosmetics store Sephora carries an enormous diversity of products some of which are free of the above preservatives. You can also order online. The website is extremely helpful in reading about this topic and suggesting appropriate products.

Some product lines that you may want to consider include:

Alba Botanicals, Avalon Organics, Jurlique, Nature’s Gate,

Boscia, Kiss My Face, Beauty Without Cruelty,

Aubrey Organics, Shikai shampoos, Giovanni, Burt’s Bees,

Jason, Dr. Bronners, Hugo, Pangea Organics, Skyn Iceland,

Korres, Ecco Bella, Desert Essence, Dr. Hauschka,

Pure Basic, Sibu, Josie Maran Cosmetics, and

Intelligent Nutrients.

You may want to try various products to see which agree with your hair and skin. The products on the above list are more well known, but there are many other lines as well.

While many well known brands found in drugstores all over are less expensive, this is a situation where you get what you pay for. For $3 you certainly can purchase a large bottle of conditioner but many of its ingredients will have unrecognizable and unpronounceable words and will be harmful to your health. These ingredients are used because they are cheap, and companies can make a large profit from mass producing them.

You and your health are worth products that are free of preservatives. If you are eating heathfully and reading ingredients in the food you buy and prepare, why not do so for your hair and skin? Unhealthy ingredients in food and cosmetics both get absorbed into the body through the skin, nose, and gut.

You can feel clean and fresh and contribute to your health and the health of the environment by using safer cosmetics.

For further information please consult these resources:

A Consumer’s Dictionary Guide to Cosmetic Ingredients by Ruth Winter (excellent and detailed dictionary of hundreds of ingredients)

No More Dirty Looks: The Truth about your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics by Siobban O’Connor and Alexandra Spunt

(breezy writing recommending clean product lines for makeup and personal care products)

Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry by Stacy Malkan

(an expose of how multinational companies keep unsafe ingredients in their products and how grassroots organizations can fight them) (environmental working group — free online information) ,

Priscilla E. Warshowsky, M.A., M.Ed., Certified Holistic Health Counselor

by Priscilla E. Warshowsky
Priscilla Warshowsky, M.A., M.Ed., is a Certified Health Counselor. She works with her husband, Dr. Allan Warshowsky, helping patients create a healthy diet, cope with food allergies, cook simple and healthful meals for their families, and advise on nutritional questions. She is also a Certified Master Gardener and often cooks what she grows for her family. She has been a vegetarian for over 30 years and has raised three healthy children as vegetarians. Prior to her career as a Health Counselor, Priscilla was a high school English teacher and an SAT tutor, something she still enjoys doing. She and Dr. Warshowsky enjoy spending time with their family, their three cats, and taking long walks.