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Coupon Abbreviations
  • SC = Store Coupon
  • MC = Manufacturer Coupon
  • SS = Smart Source
  • RP = Red Plum
  • PG = Proctor and Gamble
Coupon Terms
  • WYB = When You Buy
  • B1G1 = Buy One Get One Free
  • .75/1 = 75 cents off one item
  • .75/3 = 75 cents off three items
  • EXP = Expiration Date

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The following is part of an Organic Living Journey Guest Post Series now written by Mariana who has a mother’s heart and scientist’s brain.

It’s summertime. I don’t know about you, but my hair has been fighting (or giving into) the frizz lately. So this week, we’re going to give our hair a little attention and take a look at shampoo! This is an industry with thousands of choices: normal hair, oily hair, troubled scalp, color-treated, curly, dry, fine or thick. Prices range from bargain ($0.07 per ounce) to boutique ($7.00 per ounce), all essentially doing the same thing: washing your hair. There’s a lot of personal preference and individual needs that go into selecting your hair care products. I’m thankful for all the choices, but it leaves me wondering, “what am I paying for?”


We’re going to take a look at a few different things. As much as I’d like to research whether $60 shampoo is worth it, I’m going to focus on the health issues behind the products:

  • how does shampoo work?
  • are more expensive shampoos healthier and/or better?
  • what are the alternatives to traditional shampoo?

When Good Hair Gets Dirty

I used to think I had oily hair. It was long, relatively straight and kinda thick. I would wash it, dry it, and repeat…day after day. If I skipped a day, my roots would look greasy and not even a ponytail or bun would help. About 12 years ago, a friend told me that she only washed her hair once or twice a week, and if I started skipping a wash, my hair would be less oily over time. She was a model with lovely hair, but I was still skeptical and kept my washing routine.

Then I had kids.

My routine got rocked, and I ended up skipping a wash. After a few months in this new survival routine, I realized, my hair wasn’t oily anymore. Nowadays, I’m able to get 2-3 days between washes before my roots look icky. I’ve talked to other women who’ve experienced the same thing.

So, what’s the science behind this? When you shampoo your hair, soaps and detergents bind to and wash away all oils and dirt. All of ‘em. Your scalp is designed to secrete oils to protect your hair. If you wash those oils away, your scalp increases production, leaving you with more oil than normal. Fortunately, you can retrain your scalp for normal oil production and shut down the excess oil factory by stretching out the time between washes.

Overwashing strips the oil and also dries out the hair- like when you wash your favorite t-shirt to death, it wears out quickly. Traditional shampoos are detergents, designed to give you an awesome lather and a clean feeling, but they don’t leave your hair any healthier. In fact, if you are sensitive to any of the chemicals in shampoo, you can develop skin reactions like mild rashes, dry scalp, dandruff, etc. in addition to stripping your hair of healthy oils.

I love having clean, healthy hair that smells nice (who doesn’t?), but I don’t love how traditional shampoos…

  • strip my hair’s healthy oils
  • take up tons of landfill space (the bottles, obviously). One report says that shampoo bottles account for 25% of landfill usage.
  • cost $10-30 for a quality product
  • contain some questionable chemicals like sulfates (SLS), DEA/Diethanolamine, parabens, mineral oil, phthalates, fragrance, and artificial dyes [note – we discussed some of these chemicals last week, so I’m not going to bore you with those details again]. Though shampoos don’t spend a lot of time on our skin, they are still used almost every day of our lives, increasing our overall exposure. Sometimes it gets in our mouths or eyes, both highly absorbent tissues.

Is there another way to clean hair without harsh detergents and toxins? Thankfully, yes. Here are three routes to explore:

  1. Go sulfate-free – sulfate-free shampoos are becoming easy to find. Potential toxicity issues aside, sodium lauryl sulphate is a salt compound, and it will dry out your hair and scalp over time, stripping any hair dyes along with it. However, read labels closely. Many advertise “sodium lauryl sulfate free” but still use other detergents as foaming agents. Some sneaky labels will also use one of SLS’s aliases; watch for these too: Sodium Laureth Sulphate, Sodium Diethylene Glycol, Lauryl Ether Sulfate, Alkyl Ether Sulfate, Sodium Dodecyl Polyoxyethylene Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Ethoxysulfate and Sodium Polyoxyethylene Lauryl Sulfate. SLS-free products may still contain parabens, phthalates, and fragrance, which in my opinion are a greater toxicity concern.

  2. Organic or natural products – these products actually contain organic or natural (plant-derived) ingredients. This does not guarantee a 100% natural product. You’ll see some shampoos made with aloe, various oils, plant extracts, and exotic ingredients supposedly from the Amazon rainforest. As with all products, constant vigilance should be applied to organic shampoos too. Watch the ingredients list for harsh detergents, parabens, phthalates, and especially fragrance. Most of the “natural” shampoos I found were relatively “clean” but many used fragrance.

  3. No ‘poo for you – y’all, I thought this was so extreme when I first heard about it, but it seems kinda cool…you don’t need a traditional shampoo at all. The “no ‘poo” movement replaces shampoos with a solution of baking soda and water and conditioner with a water/vinegar rinse. That’s it. The baking soda is alkaline and gently cleanses the hair, leaving the natural oils and keeping the hair shaft in tact. Here is one blogger’s no ‘poo story.

Shopping Around

My patient seven year old and I spent one hour strolling through Target, reading shampoo labels. We were looking out for the four synthetic chemicals I’ve personally chosen to avoid: sulfates, parabens, phthalates, and fragrance.


In traditional shampoos, we usually found sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) listed as the second ingredient (seen above).  This was true for the $3 bottle of Herbal Essences and the $30 bottle of Bumble and Bumble! That means the the majority of these two shampoos is water and SLS.

My two cents- if I’m going to be investing more money, I want it to be worth the expense. If SLS is in your high-end shampoo, you might as well be using a bargain brand.

We kept looking for something that would meet my new requirements.

No luck in the shampoo aisle. I found an “organic” section in the beauty products aisle and finally discovered some good options. Typically, the more natural shampoos were free of sulfates, parabens, and phthalates. Fragrance was still common, even in some natural products. Bummer. There were a few brands I found on the shelf that met all my requirements. Disclaimer: I haven’t tried all these, so I can’t vouch for how good they are…or are not. Please share any other brands you’ve found yourself!

  1. Burt’s Bees Super Shiny Shampoo: I think Burt’s Bees may have recently changed their recipes. I remember checking them in the past and rejecting them for some reason. When I checked today, I was surprised: no phthalates, sulfates, parabens, or fragrance. This brand is easy to find in stores and online. This bottle was $8 for 10 oz.

  2. Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap (liquid): Yes, you can use this as a soap and a shampoo. This one I have tried. My thoughts: a little goes a LONG way. Even though this one is sulfate-free, I still get a decent lather. It’s a glorious cleanser, but it won’t do much else for your hair. If you use this, you’re probably going to want to follow up with some sort of conditioning rinse or hair product. This one was one sale, $9 for 12 ounces, $14.44 for 32 ounces.

  3. Everyday Coconut: I have never seen this brand before today. It has just 6 ingredients and is nicely priced at $10 for 32 ounces.

  4. Shea Moisture: I’ve seen this brand around Target and Walgreens. Though I personally don’t care for the scent, it meets all my requirements. On sale, this was $9.26 for 12 ounces, but I also found a few bottles in the clearance section for even less. A quick review of the entire Shea Moisture line looks like they would all be a good choice, but check the labels before buying.

Ok, so here’s the thing. I’m very nervous about messing with my hair care. My hair is long, thick, and partially curly that leans more towards frizzy. It takes a lot to make my hair look normal, let alone good. So, this will be an ongoing science project for me. One of my friends is a hair stylist and was sympathetic to my cause. She shared a few samples of a line I’d never heard of before: Nevo, a sulfate free, paraben free, DEA free, phthalate free, gluten free, and 100% vegan…but not fragrance free. The bottles are biodegradable, designed to begin attracting microbes 250 days after being thrown out.  My hair loved Nevo’s Moisture Rich shampoo, but it contains fragrance. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t mind splurging the $18/bottle for this product.

Friend Request Sent

Want to find out who your true friends are on Facebook? Ask them to go “no ‘poo” and switch from shampoo to baking soda and report back. I did just that. :) One friend said she was already ‘poo-free and loved using baking soda. One family member said her hair was already awful and had nothing to lose, so she tried it.

“Ok, I used the baking soda shampoo and vinegar rinse again this morning, and I have to say, I really like it! I still can’t believe how easy my hair was to comb through – I’m talking NO tangles. I styled my hair as usual (um, back in a ponytail as usual :-/) and it looks about the same as always but my scalp felt so cool and clean and it was just a nice feeling not having all that goopy shampoo and conditioner in my hair. :) I think I’m going to stick with this for awhile to see if I continue to like it. Just got to find some more tea tree oil (or other essential oils) to add to the vinegar rinse to make it smell good. My hair really retains the smell of the tea tree oil and I love it. There – that’s my report! ;)”

I did an internet search for anti-shampoo methods, and I found two different recipes to share with you:

Baking Soda and Vinegar – basically, you take 1 tablespoon of baking soda and dissolve it in 1 cup of water water. Shake and store. To wash- wet hair, pour and rub in the baking soda solution. Rinse. Follow with a solution of 1 tablespoon vinegar in 1 cup of water as your conditioner. This brings the hair’s pH back to desirable level, smoothes the hair cuticle, and helps prevent tangles.

  • The Pro’s: dirt cheap! You will never run out of shampoo and you will save serious $$.
  • The Con’s: it can be tricky to get the right balance of baking soda, water, vinegar for your hair. Check this site for help troubleshooting any issues.

Homemade Coconut Milk Shampoo – if you need a sudsy feel when you wash your hair, this one’s for you. Wellness Mama combines coconut milk with castile soap for a nourishing and bubbly homemade shampoo.

  • The Pro’s: homemade is always cheaper! You can make this non-shampoo for $0.01 – 0.03 per ounce. This recipe offers a good lather and is super fun to make. Get the kids involved in this project.
  • The Con’s: this is still not a traditional shampoo. I tried this one myself and found my hair more tangled than usual, but it was definitely clean and made a great lather.

Going Through “The Change”

Anytime you make major changes to your hair care, there will likely be an adjustment period; give it time. Your hair may seem oilier or dryer than usual. It may frizz more or fall limp. Here are a few tips based on my experience:

  • Daily washer? Start by skipping a wash. Just by doing that, you’re already reducing your toxin exposure by half, and that’s significant!
  • Switching brands? Check your current label and decide if you want to try a less-toxic option. Try a different brand and give your scalp a couple weeks to normalize. Maybe find some travel sizes of products you’d like to try.
  • Feeling oily? Keep some dry shampoo (or cornstarch) on hand to touch up between washes. I used this product because I had it on hand, but it does contain fragrance. You just work a little bit through your hair, focusing on the roots, brush through, and go. You can make your own too.
  • Feeling dry? If your hair is coming out drier than usual start trying out some moisturizing options. I like this homemade avocado-egg hair mask.

I hope this has given you a little information to help you take the next step in whichever direction you choose. Out of all the conventional vs. organic products available, I think shampoo and hair care products are ones that can affect our appearance the most, which makes it a difficult change for some people (me). How do you feel about your shampoo and the other options out there? Comment with any questions and share your experiences with us!

Next week…we begin unraveling the world of deodorants! We will spend some time discussing conventional antiperspirant/deodorant, how it works, and research any health concerns. From there, we’ll compare the copious natural alternatives. Thanks for reading and learning along with us!

    • lisa smith

      After suffering with horrible scalp issues I googled the problem and have been on an enlightened journey. I am sensitive and maybe even allergic to these chemicals. I switched to baking soda and my hair is gorgeous. Soft and silky. Now for a woman who had no problem spending big dollars on salon products, this was mind boggling. After years of spending thousands of dollars on my hair I am now using a 50 cent box of baking soda. My hair also only needs to be washed every 3 to 4 days and sometimes even as long as every 5 days. I have found that various products listed above work very well, while others on the same shelf do not. Some of the products on the same shelf still have other ingredients , such as fragrance that are especially irritating. My journey to purchase organic products was confusing. Not being knowledgeable was costly. Some products only have part organic products in them. Some labeled natural etc are still full of chemicals and then there are the false labels. I found a great deal on a product that is labeled to make you believe it was organic but was far from it. Several of these products are labeled with variations of the spelled word ” organic ” but are no where near being organic. That really makes me angry. My best deals are often found at a store called Ross in my area. Other daily deal sites have discounts that can be used to purchase these type products. I just purchased 60 dollars of Burts Bees for 30.00 stacking coupons at CVS. I love your articles. Thank you so much for all your help.

      • Mariana

        I know exactly which “organic” brand you’re talking about! My husband recently fell for their misspelled marketing scheme. It is upsetting, isn’t it?

        • Guest

          If it has an “x” in its name, I was fooled, too! I bought their lotion and didn’t bother reading the ingredients. About 5 months ago, we decided to go organic and had to throw away most of what we had – what a shocker when I finally read the back.. and to imagine I paid about the same amount as my REAL organic body lotion!

          • Mariana

            Which organic body lotion do you like? I’m still hunting for a good one!

            • Patagonia

              Kroger has a pretty goo selection of organic beauty products now. They have a brand in a blue bottle called mineral fusion. I have found ALBA to be the best all natural brand across the board. Their Hawaiian shampoo did AMAZING things for our hair, and we bought it at target, they have lotions as well. You if your lotions aren’t moisturizing enough, you could always buy a bottle of vitamin E, (I doesn’t have to be in pill form) and add a couple of drops to the moisturizer. It really works great at a moisturizer and skin repairer.

    • pdnr

      For all my adult life, I shampooed my hair daily and thought “yuck” to anyone who didn’t. About 15 years ago, a co-worker convinced me to switch to every other day. At first, my hair looked really bad on days I didn’t wash but after a while, that problem gradually went away. I then switched to washing it every 3 – 4 days and have had no more oily problems. Can’t wait to try the baking soda shampoo!

    • Leah

      Great information! I plan to try the no ‘poo method when I have a week with no social commitments! The shampoo I am using now has no parabens, no SLS, etc., but still has fragrance. I have trouble with dandruff, going from too dry to too oily, etc. I also have skin irritations on my forehead all the time. It gets worse if I skip a shampoo, which is weird. I’m going to keep trying things until I find what works.

    • Leah

      Great information! I plan to try the no ‘poo method when I have a week with no social commitments! The shampoo I am using now has no parabens, no SLS, etc., but still has fragrance. I have trouble with dandruff, going from too dry to too oily, etc. I also have skin irritations on my forehead all the time. It gets worse if I skip a shampoo, which is weird. I’m going to keep trying things until I find what works.

    • Julie C

      Recently, I started using Kirk’s Castile (coconut oil) soap for my hair; it lathers up nice but has all pure ingredients. I dab just a bit of coconut oil on my hair for conditioner and LOVE the results. Bye, Bye costly Aveda shampoo and conditioner!

      • Guest

        coconut oil is wonderful! I use it as a nighttime “lotion” and facial lotion (I have adult acne flareups and this works so well , as long as I do not forget!) I also use this as a deep before wash conditioner.. Just suggestions!

    • instantphoebe

      This is unfortunately not for me.

      I can maybe get on board with an organic shampoo, but I cannot wash my hair only a few times a week. I have to wash it every day. I work out and I have thin hair (born with it, it’s not thinning). If I don’t wash my hair daily, it won’t be clean. Plus, I’m a night, not morning, showerer, so I definitely do not enjoy going to bed dirty. And dry shampoo weighs my hair down and makes it feel dirtier, not cleaner.

      I am also unfortunately allergic to a lot of natural/botanical-based products. So for me, what works is the manmade, chemical-laden shampoos.

      • yourbilletdoux

        I agree! I have switched to a better shampoo (Aveda) but I can’t completely go shampoo free. It is the only thing I can use to get my hair back to normal (my hair thinned a lot because of medication I am taking) but I guess it’s better than the chemicals that I could use to cause my hair to grow again.

    • katkoupon

      I’ve been using the No Poo method for close to a year, and I love it! My hair looked terrible for the first few weeks, but I didn’t mind since I’m home most of the time, and almost all of a sudden it started looking great. I have more body in my hair than I ever have. I “wash” it about twice a month, and occasionally rinse with plain water in-between.

    • Cy

      I have a question about this. I have scalp issues (Seborrheic dermatitis) and my dermatologist says I should always use Head and Shoulders to keep everything in check. Do you think using the baking soda would work? Does anyone have experience with that?

      • Carley

        Head and Shoulders and the other dandruff shampoos have an active ingredient called pyrithione zinc; it is also an active ingredient in the Clear shampoos that advertise healthy scalp=healthy hair. I have never seen an organic product with that ingredient, but if you go to a larger organic retailer (Earth Fare, Whole Foods) that has a decent health and beauty section, look for something that is specifically formulated for anti-dandruff and try it out. My hubby has dandruff and we have tried a number of organic products as well as the no ‘poo, but it did not work for him. I hope something works for you.

    • marktars

      Two quick things: 1) There is no way that shampoo bottles account for 25% of landfill space. This is either a typo or criminal ignorance. 2) Unless you are allergic to one of the components, it is impossible for normal use of shampoo to cause toxicity, poisoning, or similar harm.

      Take a look at the trash your household produces: is there even one household in America that has 25% of its trash coming from shampoo bottles? My house uses one bottle of shampoo about every 4-6 months. Since most households produce about 3-5 bags of trash weekly, they would have to have a whole trash bag full of just shampoo bottles every single week for this stat to even come close to being true. On top of that, all trash is compacted (if only by the garbage truck itself) before going to a landfill. This means that the bottles would be crushed and by volume, they would take up much less space than many other consumer products.

      All shampoos for human use are non-toxic and must go through an LD-50 test before they are approved for the US market. In this test, a population of animals with similar toxic thresholds as humans (typically dogs or mice) are given increasing doses of the product until 50% of them die. At that point the amount of the product that was given to them is recorded. The FDA and other government agencies have established guidelines for how much is allowed. For shampoo, the level is so high and the toxicity so low, that people could swallow their shampoo each day rather than wash with it and see no negative effects whatsoever on their health or longevity.

      • mrs b

        I would have to agree on the landfill comment. Two adults throw out one bottle a month usually; disposable diapers fill a bag every 3 days (I just can’t do cloth for many reasons)