By Arwa Lodhi
While we often worry about what goes in our cosmetics and skincare, we neglect to check the ingredients of a product we all use every day: shampoo. And unfortunately, almost all commercial shampoos contain ingredients that can harm your health.
The main such ingredient is sodium laurel sulphate (SLS).
With sodium laurel sulphate, dioxins are created – and they are some of the most potentially dangerous carcinogens in the world–in fact, Agent Orange, the chemical spray used by America to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam, was made of that.
SLS is commonly used, nonetheless, because it’s cheap and has the ability to foam up when mixed with a bit of salt. Unfortunately, many consumers have the perception that lots of foam=cleaner hair, but this is not the case: the foam itself doesn’t help clean your hair much. But SLS does get rid of grease, which is why it is used for cleaning engines and in garage and kitchen floor cleaning products.
If you’ve ever wondered why shampoo labels always warn against getting the product in your eyes, it’s not because it stings–we all know that–it’s because SLS is highly irritating to all mucous membranes and the upper respiratory tract; yet avoiding inhaling droplets of it is difficult in a hot shower. It’s also damaging to hair follicles themselves.
It may sound silly, but have you noticed that homeless people are rarely bald? It may be because they don’t often use shampoo: SLS also corrodes hair follicles and impairs their ability to grow hair. One study showed that if you use pure SLS on your scalp it will cause hair to fall out! Some trichologists (hair specialists) believe that increasing use of SLS and the salt that is added to it to make it foam is leading more women to lose their hair (or to have it thin out) than ever before.
There are however other more profound health hazards associated with SLS. Scientists have studied the effects of SLS extensively, and their studies reveal compelling and alarming evidence indicating that it should be avoided. Among the findings is that SLS is rapidly taken up by eye tissue and retained; this is even more so for children. SLS is absorbed through skin contact, not just through the eyes, and has been documented to enter and maintain residual levels in the brain, liver, heart, and lungs. It can damage the immune system and cause severe inflammation of the skin, but scariest of all, the damage is accumulative, and once your immune system is damaged, it takes long time for it to recover. This can lead to a form of suppression of your body that allows you to become more vulnerable to viruses or bacteria.
Unfortunately, it’s not only shampoos we have to watch out for. SLS is in a lot of other personal care products as well, including toothpaste, hand and body soaps, bubble baths, facial cleansers, shaving gel. But don’t worry–we’ll be discovering healthier product alternatives for you over the coming weeks. In the meantime, bin the SLS-laden shampoos in your bathroom and replace them with one of the fantastic SLS-free shampoos, all of which contain at least some organic ingredients, and which we’ve tried and tested ourselves, below.
Please note: Eluxe was not paid for any of these endorsements!
Dr Organics uses a combination of bioactive, organic and natural ingredients, such as Argan oil, Manuka Honey and Aloe Vera to get your hair clean and soft, but be warned: it also contains some synthetic surfactants like cocamidopropyl betaine, which some may find irritating but which has been given a low hazard rating (4) by the Environmental Working Group. Still, Dr Organic shampoo cleanses and foams up well, and the presence of humectants like Argan oil leave hair soft and tangle free. The shampoos also have a lovely scent based on different natural ingredients such as mandarin peel oil, geranium oil, patchouli and cinnamon. Our favourite is the Manuka Honey, which really does smell like you just fell into a honey pot!
This certified organic shampoo shampoo is made of 70% organic ingredients, with coco glucoside as its main cleanser. It has a very subtle, light scent, as it is perfumed with just a touch of chamomile and rosemary extracts, so if you’re looking for a product to perfume your hair, this may not be right for you. The product creates a gentle lather with a clean finish, and best of all, doesn’t strip hair of colour or natural sheen.
This tangy grapefruit and rosemary scented shampoo has a label (and a name!) that reminds you to turn the water off whilst you’re massaging the product in. A little dollop goes a long way, rinses out easily, and leaves no stripped feeling. The main ingredient here is a coconut based one: coco glucoside, plus wheat proteins. There is a ‘parfum’ on the ingredients list, which is a bit worrying as this word can potentially refer to any kind of chemical, but as the brand claims there are no artificial ingredients, we assume it’s a naturally based citrus scent.
Rich with organic and 100% natural ingredients, Rahua oil fortifies weak, damaged strands while nourishing and regenerating the scalp and hair follicles, allowing for hair to grow longer and stronger. Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) offers delicate fragrance – providing a soothing aromatherapy experience while shampooing. Again, it’s coconut that is used to effectively remove oil, dirt and bacteria without stripping necessary nutrients, and shea butter ensures your hair doesn’t dry out. This pure, gentle formula cleanses hair with fewer suds, which means it’s not removing colour or previously applied treatments.
Apparently a fave of Kate Moss’s, this is a soothing natural shampoo for all hair types, but especially for those with skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Green People make a range of shampoos with various ingredients, and their products have no SLS or no foaming agents at all, and are also free of drying salt. Like Stop the Water While Using Me, we found a little of this lavender scented product went a long way.
This is one of our latest finds. Free from sulphates, parabens, silicones, resins, DEA, TEA, MEA, Phthalates, Petroleum products and synthetic fragrances, NATU has a comprehensive range of shampoos, conditioners and hair serums aimed at different hair issues. As well as the usual ‘dry’, ‘oily’ and ‘normal’, there’s one for colour treated hair; another for fine hair and one for super-thick hair too. The lather isn’t as rich as it would be with chemical shampoos, but there IS a nice lather. The scent is gently herbal and pleasant, and the conditioners are rich and creamy, leaving your hair totally tangle-free.
Herbs like basil and hibiscus clean and nourish the hair from the root to the tips, while added peppermint oil helps with blood circulation to the scalp, which feeds the hair shaft from deep within. Saach also uses almond oil and coconut milk in its all-natural formulations to ensure your hair doesn’t dry out or break off. This is a deeply conditioning formula that uses the power of ancient Indian Ayurvedic techniques to help revitalise dry, damaged hair.
This one’s for the luxury lovers! The herbal, SLS free formula leaves your hair suprisingly soft and bouncy after use – in fact, many people, including me, feel a conditioner isn’t even necessary! No wonder it’s become something of a cult favourite.
9. John Masters
John Masters really is the ‘Master’ of natural hair care. His wide range of shampoos, conditioners, hair masks and styling products are fully based on natural ingredients, with many of these being from organic sources. We’ve tried and tested a good many of these, and have several favourites, including this Honey and Hibiscus Shampoo. Fortified with soy, rice & oat proteins to renew and reconstruct damaged hair, this SLS-free shampoo permeates the hair shaft with nutrients and of course, the added organic honey and hibiscus make your hair smell gently wonderful!
Eco certified with organic aloe and lavender oil, this highly balanced, very mild formula was made for daily use. It adds a healthy shine to the hair, and was especially formulated to protect coloured treated hair – and natural hair, too, of course!
Main image: Beauty Press