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Toxic Shampoo!

By Karina | August 17, 2009

Last week I read this article about TOXIC SHAMPOOS, and I have to say, it’s really reset how I think about these personal care items. Go on and read it yourself – it’s quite good. Basically, it points out that there are two major aspects to a shampoo: the part that cleans, and the part that makes you feel like it’s cleaning and prettifying. So in order to clean there is generally a detergent, and in order to prettify, there are ingredients added to add shine to your hair, thickness to the shampoo, lather to the product, and color, smell, coatings and other exotic ingredients to make you feel you’re getting the prettiest experience you can. And after adding all these additional factors, you have to put in some heavy duty kills-every-bug type of preservatives to keep your shampoo long-lasting on the shelf.

The problem with all of this is that many of these ingredients are toxic to varying degrees! They are commonly used components in plastics, silicon, and even herbicides.  And they’re all fairly unregulated, because the quantities that people use in shampoos are so small they aren’t expected to harm the individual. But then as the article states: “In May, 2008, Jane Houlihan, director of research for the Environmental Working Group, reported on the dangers of cosmetics and personal care products to a House subcommittee. She believes that these products, including shampoo, are the biggest source of human exposure to dangerous chemicals.”

WELL. that’s kind of a big deal. Of course my personal strategy is all things in moderation, and also Tiny Choices all the way! But this article, I will say, definitely gave me pause. I do try to keep dangerous chemicals in check – see the whole moderation thing – and I think more importantly to me is the whole “end of sewer pipe issue” – again, as the article points out:

Mount Sinai Hospital reports that 2.5 billion pounds of toxic chemicals are released in the U.S. each year, the equivalent of 37,100 tanker trucks of noxious chemicals. A lot of these chemicals are released from homes every day. Daily, 45 billion gallons of wastewater go down the drain to be treated at one of the 16,000 water treatment plants in the U.S. But wastewater plants are designed to handle only the major pollutants. They can’t remove the diversity of chemicals that humans flush every day.

This is the big problem with the shampoo ingredients: When a man rinses his hair, all the ingredients wash down the drain, carrying the grease to boot. And as one man’s shampoo travels down the pipe, it meets up with a woman’s, and so on, and so on, and so on. At least 350 million gallons of shampoo and its unregulated ingredients flow down U.S. drains every year. And many of these chemicals flow straight into our freshwater systems.

As I’ve written before, there are a bunch of untreated chemicals ending up in our drinking water. And beyond that, there are lots of chemicals turning up at the outlet of waste water treatment plants that are affecting aquatic receptors.I generally try to prevent stuff like that from ending up in the sewers, but I had never considered the types of chemicals that have been washing down my shower drain seriously before! I’d been casually happy to choose “natural” products and sort of assumed they were in general safe to use.

I have to confess, anyway, that I may be kind of obsessed with shampoo myself! After all, last year at about this time I was deep in the middle of a survey of shampoos. I tried out several versions but since then I’ve settled on the J.R. Ligget shampoo bar. Originally I wanted to use a shampoo bar because it’s easy, travels well, and most importantly, it keeps all of those plastic bottles from cycling in and out of my bathroom. But now that I’ve thought about this toxic shampoo article, I am even more happy with my choice – the ingredients listed are so simple: “Olive Oil, Castor Oil, Coconut Oil, Sodium Hydroxide (lye) and pure Spring Water….and a mixture of mild natural fragrances This is just soap, plain and simple. It’s a mild soap but there are no additives to make it stiff, or thick, or foamy, or colorful. It doesn’t have any toxic preservatives in it because soap doesn’t go bad. I follow up with a diluted apple cider vinegar rinse, and I’ve found I don’t need much more of a conditioner than that. Occasionally I’ve used Nature’s Gate conditioner, which I can get in bulk at my favorite food co-op, but I just checked their ingredients list and there are lots of unpronounceables in there that I think I need to spend a little time figuring out if it’s worth it or not.The same goes for my deep-conditioning treatment of choice, from Burt’s Bees.

How about your shampoo choices? 

[[Photo from flickr user lucepotabile via creative commons license.]]

Topics: Health, Home | 19 Comments »

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Comment by Jenn S.
2009-08-17 09:06:14

I read that article last week, too – and found it kind of scary as well! I’ve been using the LUSH shampoo bars, which aren’t quite as natural as your JR Ligett bar, but not too bad either. For conditioner, I’ve been using the Trader Joe’s Tingly Tea Tree, which has a couple un-pronounceables, but mostly natural ingredients.

Comment by Karina
2009-08-17 20:34:03

Some lush bars have SLS, but others don’t – you just have to check! otherwise they’re in general pretty good.

Comment by Robin
2009-08-17 15:11:39

Timely post — I am nearing the end of my plastic shampoo bottle [finally! I only wash my hair about every 5 days so with my use-it-up policy with questionable products I have been eager to see the last of this] and starting to think about shampoo. I like the idea of the bars as well so I might try Ligett. I’m still hesitant about vinegar only as a conditioner for my thick hair but maybe I’ll try that next [when that bottle is emptied]. However, I am very happy with my new deep conditioning treatment — Coconut oil. Work it through dry hair and leave it in a while. I’ve used a shower cap but find if I pin my long hair up so it is close to my warm scalp that that works well. The only issue is that it sometimes takes more than one shampooing to get enough of it out so you don’t feel like you have ‘product’ in your hair. I usually try to do it when I won’t mind having some left in my hair after the first shampooing for a couple of days then shampoo again. The ends of my hair looked like straw in color and texture but after treating with coconut oil they are the same smooth dark brown as the rest of my hair. I’ve heard that shea butter is also a good deep treatment but haven’t tried it myself.

Comment by Karina
2009-08-17 20:33:26

I have really thick hair too, and I was really pleased at how well the vinegar works. like you – I also only wash every 4 days or so. I do blow dry, though, but so far it hasn’t made my hair dry out. if it does this winter, I”ll know to try the good old shea butter!

Comment by Elizabeth B
2009-08-17 16:32:44

I’m kind of stuck because I have really sensitive skin. I’ve tried some of the more natural shampoos–Liggett, ABBA Pure, etc.–but they either don’t get my scalp clean or strip the moisture right off my back as they wash by. If I don’t get my scalp extremely clean, unfortunate things ensue. So I kind of hate it, but I’m still using Matrix Biolage and other things containing the ingredient “fragrance” (which pretty much means pthalates. DAMMIT).

Same goes for my face: I have to use Cetaphil, which contains all kinds of parabens, because even the super gentle natural stuff does Bad Things to my face. Aveeno is a J&J product line, and J&J tests on animals (GRR), but their soothing moisturizer is the only thing that doesn’t leave my eczema flared up.

A manager at Body Time in Berkeley once explained it to me this way: All of the non-natural products are in widespread use because they contain petroleum products, which for most people are “neutral”–they don’t interact with the skin the way plant-based products do, they just kind of sit there. And I have allergies, and eczema, so I’m pretty much screwed. It sucks.

Comment by Randi
2009-08-17 20:11:29

Actually, you’re not screwed. A lot of your skin problems might be cleared up by a simple change in your diet. I have skin issues too, exzema included! If I eat vegan I have ZERO issues with it! And no skin problems to speak of! As for my face, I find a simple exfolient, like salt or baking soda, works wonders! Great for your skin and for the drain! So hang in there, all is not lost!

Comment by Karina
2009-08-17 20:28:42

actually you wouldn’t even have to go vegan – a good friend of mine went gluten free and dairy free and it addressed a number of her sensitivities and allergies.

plus – I would never question your tried and true skin regimine because you know it works for you! but I guess the big question is – if you want things to not interact with your skin, but rather sit there and protect it – would you be able to go all the way and just not use soap at all? if you don’t use soap than you may not need to moisturize as much.

I’m well familiar with eczema and know what a frustrating condition it can be. so really, do what works for you. this is a place to exercise tiny choices!

Comment by Jenn S.
2009-08-18 12:18:22

Yep, diet change will certainly improve your skin – I’m gluten-free, and my eczema/acne issues have disappeared. Gluten may or may not be a problem for you, but something else may be – dairy, sugar, stress – everyone is a bit different in food sensitivities. Remember that your skin is an organ in your lymph system, which is in charge of eliminating waste from our bodies. When the liver/nervous become overwhelmed, our bodies will dispose of excess wastes through the skin.

Comment by Elizabeth B
2009-08-18 14:14:00

Thanks, ladies. I guess I needed the encouragement. :)

Comment by michelle
2009-08-19 10:36:19

Hey Elizabeth–I am the friend Kari mentioned…one thing i want to point out is that my gluten and dairy levels never came up in the allergy range. Instead, they just added an additional stressor to my body . Since eczema is an auto-immune response reducing these things may help. HOWEVER, I too, have to use certain not-as-natural items…after several eczema-free years it has recently flared up (on my face of course!) as well as an acne flare up and i suspect it is due to mold. i have been using all sorts of herbal and natural internal stuff and creams to no avail. I have given in to using, sigh, cortisone cream on occasion. JR Liggets has worked for me, however, conditioner is another situation. I tried to switch and broke out in painful pimples along my hairline, neck and back (similar to your washing down effect). I went back to the chemical laiden one that I know isn’t as offensive to my body (especially in light of the eczema situation). One thing that I’ve found to help is to wash and condition my hair (I don’t do these everyday) and then wash my body with Dove (that’s the only cleansing product that works for my face and body) to help get remove any of the chemicals my body might not like but my hair and scalp do. (Oh yeah, I am totally on board with needing to clean my scalp thing, as with this current eczema tiff, I have it in my scalp too). Also be sure you are getting enough Omega-3′s. Having not eaten meat or fish for years, I’ve weighed the pros and cons and followed my naturopaths advice and started taking fish oil each day. (The way I see it, the chemicals and cortizones and all of that are likely tested on animals and I can minimize the chemicals and number of ingredients by taking a sustainably harvested fish oil, which is absorbed substantially better than plant-based sources. Algae is another great source and may be absorbed the best if all.) Anyhow, if you have questions you can email me… schwinnin@yahoo.com

Comment by Elizabeth B
2009-08-23 16:56:48

Hey, Michelle. Thank you so, so much. I’ll e-mail you–it really helps to talk to other people who’ve gone through the same things, you know?

Comment by Maggie
2009-08-17 21:00:28

Ooh! I’m so excited this conversation is happening right now! I’ve tried the bs/acv routine before for a few weeks, hated it because it made my hair completely unmanageable (I went from never using a brush to not being able to get my tangles out in 2 seconds flat), and immediately returned to my normal shampoo/conditioner routine. A few weeks ago, this Japanese lady I’d just met gave me a special little handmade Japanese organic cotton face/hair towel. She told me that it had all these little fibers I couldn’t see coming off the fibers I could, because of the entirely hand made nature of the thing. It also advertises that once it loses effectiveness as a washrag, it can turn into a normal rag and then you can bury it to let it biodegrade, which is pretty cool.

Anyhow, I decided to go with that, and then I decided to take it one step further. For the last few weeks, I’ve completely gone off all soap and shampoo in the shower (I’ll still wash my hands with soap). My hair has gone through a few phases, right now it’s not so tangly, a teeny bit frizzy, and a bit greasier than I want it on the top of my head – but It could take up to three months, I hear, for my grease to even out. I’ve had a bit of an issue with pimples as well, but not nearly as large as I expected and I get about half as many pimples while using face soap. On the rest of my body I’m using a hand mitt I picked up while living in Korea, which is basically an exfoliator. Instead of soap I’m just scrubbing myself down with that, and I feel clean.

I’ve done some ‘hot’ (Bikram) yoga and gone running, biking, and hiking since starting this experiment. I’ve also used herbal armor bug spray on my body; no issue getting that off. I find the more I sweat, the cleaner I get in the shower. This especially applies to my hair – I think the salt in the sweat has some sort of degreasing effect. I also had heat rash before starting this experiment, and that is virtually gone.

I’m very excited to continue my experiment, and I’d love to hear from anyone who’s done the same!

Comment by Maggie
2009-08-17 21:03:52

When talking about the little towel, I forgot to add what it’s supposed to do! If you scrub it into your face and scalp when you shower, the little teeny cotton fibers are supposed to pick up the dirt/grease etc. and eliminate the need for soap. The lady told me she’d been using cloths like that for years and she had really healthy looking skin and hair. I’m not sure how important the towel is, but I’m using it – why not, right?

2009-08-18 12:23:18

that’s awesome and crazy at the same time! so, do you just wash the towel frequently to get the stuff out of it? Is it generally like a microfiber cloth?

Comment by Maggie
2009-08-18 19:57:35

I think the idea is really similar to that of a microfiber cloth, but it’s a loose cotton weave. I’d be interested in trying out a microfiber cloth to see if I get different results – I’ve never used one, so I can’t make comparisons.

If I start to feel the cloth is getting dirty, I was told I could boil it. If it’s *really* dirty, I was told I could throw some salt in when I boil it. When all that fails, it turns into a rag. I think there are more instructions on the use and washing of my little towel in a booklet that came with it, but they’re in Japanese (which I don’t read).

The woman that gave it to me said it would be a really cool thing for a little women’s microenterprise group in a third world country to make – they pride themselves on being organic and having every single step of the process, from harvesting to packaging, being done by hand. I don’t precisely know how all this transportation would negate the environmental benefits of cottage industry, or if it would be cost effective (I don’t even know how much one of these little cloths cost) – but I thought it was an interesting idea.

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2009-08-21 10:31:53

[...] Toxic shampoo (!) at Tiny Choices. [...]

Comment by Kelsi
2009-08-22 17:36:03

I’ve been no-poo for a year now and love it. i wash my hair every 5-10 days and my hair usually looks great (I’m still having problems dealing with chlorine from occasional pool visits). Sometimes I use bs/vinegar, sometimes I use Dr. Bronner’s and vinegar, and sometimes I just rinse it with water.

Oh, and if anyone is looking for help with their face, I just clean my dry skin with a few drops of tea tree oil every 2-3 days and my face is clear. If a spot starts to appear, I dab a bit of the tto on it and it is gone in 24 hours.

Best of luck to those losing the ‘poo!

2009-08-23 06:02:07

[...] Toxic Shampoo! [...]


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