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