How to Choose a Chemical-Free Shampoo

Chemicals in Personal Care Products

The cosmetics industry uses thousands of synthetic chemicals in personal care products and most of these chemicals are not adequately tested before a product reaches store shelves.  While most consumers assume that the products they use on a daily basis are safe, these products may hide toxic substances linked to serious health problems. Hazardous chemicals, regardless of the concentration in personal product formulations may cause allergies, skin irritation, hormonal imbalance, or contribute to the development of cancer in people. It has been observed that even some chemicals which are present at low concentrations in personal care products can, with repeated and chronic exposure, have cumulative negative effects on the user’s health.

Harmful chemicals in personal hair care products that are absorbed through the skin, inhaled during or after hair styling, or those ingested accidentally can accumulate in the body posing serious health risks. When it comes to personal products for everyday use, special attention should be paid to the formulation of products that come in direct contact with hair and skin. One study has shown that choosing cosmetic products which carry a label that shows they are free of certain chemicals can significantly reduce personal exposure to possible hormone-disrupting chemicals.

Commercial hair shampoos frequently contain harsh detergents and other toxic and irritating compounds, and when these risky chemicals in hair shampoos have been rinsed off the hair, they end up in the groundwater and soil, eventually constituting potential environmental hazards.

How to Know that Shampoo is Safe for Your Health

Have you ever checked the list of ingredients before purchasing a hair shampoo? Reading product labels can be confusing because the ingredients are usually listed as chemical compounds and an average user is not informed about the possible side effects of all chemicals included in such commercial hair shampoos. However, this should not deter you from reading the labels before making a purchase, as there are easy ways to obtain information about the ingredients in a particular shampoo for regular use before buying them. This is a means of reducing your risk of exposure to harmful chemicals in shampoos.

The Environmental Working Group runs a Skin Deep Database which analyses personal care products to give consumers complete information about the ingredients contained in a particular product while rating the overall safety of these products.  The process is quite simple.

Visit the EWG Skin Deep environmental group’s website and type in the product that you currently use or wish to buy. When you type in the name of your shampoo, you will get a result with an assigned hazard score based on the ingredients contained in the product. The ingredients are classified as a low, medium or high health concern.

There are ten possible outcomes ranging from one to ten (with 10 being the worst score possible). The following is a general guide to interpreting the results:

  • The most toxic products appear in red (7-10) and you should stay away from them as they contain really dangerous ingredients.
  • Orange colored products (3-6) include ingredients with a moderate toxicity level
  • Green colored products or simply “green” products (1-2) contain non-toxic ingredients.

In some cases, searching on the website using the product name may not return any result because the EWG database doesn’t contain all products that are available on the market, or the product may be sold under different brand names. However, it is possible to bypass these complications by refining your search parameters; try the search again using the company name, brand or anything striking about the product. A list of products produced by the chosen company will be displayed and by taking a look at the various ratings of their products, you can form a general impression about the company and their products. This is also a great way to find out if a particular company cares about their customers’ well-being and about the planet. If your current shampoo manufacturer prefers using toxic chemicals, you should consider looking for a new one.

If you do not get any result by searching for the product, brand name, company, or anything at all, you need to take time to analyze each ingredient on the shampoo label. It may seem like a time-consuming task, but it isn’t because you do not have to go through the entire ingredient list. When you see the first two “red” or “orange” scores you may freely conclude that the product doesn’t fulfill the safety criteria.

According to online reviews, there are a few products that have an ingredient list that is not compatible with the score they have on the EWG website. Certain products that are rated “1” still contain highly toxic ingredients. This usually occurs when the product rating is based on insufficient data. In most cases you will be able to notice the lack of rated ingredients as soon as you click on the product name and in such cases, you need to check each ingredient on the label to make sure that the shampoo is free of toxic chemicals.

A helpful tip is that many of the ingredients can be classified into easily recognizable groups such as:

  • The PEG-s which are orange in color and should be avoided at all costs
  • The parabens, which are orange or red in color and are easy to spot because all of them contain paraben suffix in their name.

You can also get valuable information about personal care products safety by visiting Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Cosmetics Info websites.

After several product analyses, you will know the toxicity level of certain commonly used ingredients and you will not have to check them up again. You will only need to check those you are not familiar with.

Chemicals in Commercial Hair Shampoos that you should Avoid

Fragrances” are the biggest respiratory irritants and cancer-causing chemicals and they have also have been shown to affect the central nervous system. This highly toxic group of chemicals remains unknown to the FDA or consumers and unfortunately, “fragrance” is listed as an ingredient on the labels of most shampoos. The way out is to pick up a fragrance-free shampoo or one that utilizes essential oils from fruits and herbs to provide its scent.

The most common “red” chemicals in conventional hair shampoo formulations are benzyl salicylate, Butylparaben, Cocamide DEA, DMDM Hydantoin, Fragrance, Geraniol, Isobutylparaben, Isopropylparaben, Lilial, Methylisothiazolinone, Propylparaben, and Retinyl Palmitate.

The most common “orange” compounds in commercial hair shampoos are: Cocoamidopropyl betaine, Diazolidinyl Urea, Ethylparaben, Hexyl Cinnamal, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Lecithin, Limonene, Linalool, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylparaben, Octinoxate/Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, PEGs, Phenoxyethanol, Polyquaternium-7, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate, Sulisobenzone/Benzophenone, and Tocopheryl Acetate (vitamin E).

Many over the counter dandruff shampoos contain potentially harmful agents like coal tar, selenium sulfide, zinc pyrithione, and ketoconazole.

It is important to note that once you start to analyze shampoo labels before making a purchase, the way you buy your everyday items will change because you will always be on the lookout for the numerous toxins that are hidden in your personal care products. The advantage this offers you is that you will limit your exposure to harmful chemicals, and by using only natural and organic hair products, you will be contributing to healthy hair in the long term. In other words, the time spent checking those labels is totally worth it!


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