Quantcast

Is Your Shampoo Toxic?

Health + Wellness

Last year, in a story that attracted lots of attention on EcoWatch, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) revealed that cancer-causing chemical cocamide diethanolamine (cocamide DEA), a chemically modified version of coconut oil used as a thickening or foaming agent, was an ingredient in 98 shampoos, soaps and other personal care products. CEH brought lawsuits against companies in California whose products included it without a warming label as required by the state's consumer protection law.

It's always a good idea to read the list of ingredients on shampoo and other personal care products. For one, be sure that the cancer-causing chemical cocamide diethanolamine (cocamide DEA) is not in your shampoo.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

That revelation caused enough of an uproar that CEH reached an agreement with the companies to remove the chemical from their products in California, with the expectation that they would stop selling them nationwide. It's a good idea to check to be sure—you definitely don't want that in your shampoo.

But if you ever read the list of ingredients on the label, you probably found the list was so long you didn't notice this one. With so many chemicals with mysterious names, what else is there in your shampoo that might be a problem?

Some chemicals are added to shampoos to make them all fizzy and frothy and give you the feeling that there's some high-energy cleansing going on. Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate are common chemicals used as foaming agents in shampoos. But like many such additives, they are harsh detergents that pull the oils from your hair and dry it out. Ammonium lauryl sulfate is another variation with similar properties. All of them can leave your hair dry, dull and lifeless in the long run. Some studies have suggested that if absorbed through the skin these chemicals could be carcinogenic. That hasn't been proven for sure but why take a chance? Go with a little less fizz in the shower.

Thickeners are put into shampoos to make them feel rich and creamy and give you the sense that they are packed with moisturizers, but like foaming agents, they give you the sense that something healthy is going on which isn't necessarily the case. Polyethelyne glycol (PEG) and sodium chloride—basically just salt—are among them, but both have drying properties and can leave your hair brittle and flat, the opposite of what you think they're doing. And PEG can cause allergic reactions and has been implicated in causing cancer as well. If the bottle boasts that the product is a "volumnizer," you might want to go over the ingredient list carefully.

Of course you've seen the products that boast about leaving your hair glossy, with a shine that will light up the darkest nightclub. Chemicals like dimethicone, a form of silicone, act by coating the surface of the hair shaft and locking in the moisture. That coating is also how these haircare products "mend" split ends. But some people don't react well to this chemical and it's been known to cause rashes and irritated, itchy skin. And because it can block the pores and prevent the skin from breathing, it can cause breakouts and acne.

Parabens like methylparaben, butylparaben and propylparaben are added to shampoos and a host of other personal care products to prevent bacteria growth and make them last longer, but they can also be scalp irritants for some people. And because they mimic estrogen, there's been a heated debate about whether they're implicated in breast cancer. The research leans toward "probably not," but if you're worried, many companies now make products advertised as "paraben-free."

There's almost always fragrance of some kind in hair products, intended to make the product seem fresher and healthier by evoking the natural scents of fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers or a tropical beach. But the composition of any given fragrance, a concoction sometimes made up of hundreds of chemicals, is usually a "trade secret." Yet fragrances are often the culprit behind skin irritations and allergic reactions, including asthma, dizziness and headaches. Without knowing precisely what's in them, you'll never be able to pinpoint the exact cause. It's why some people prefer unscented products. If you're exceptionally sensitive—or merely cautious—that may be the way to go.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

10 Simple Ways to Skip Toxic Skin Care

22 Cosmetics Companies File for ‘Trade Secret’ Status to Skirt Toxins Law

3 Herbal Recipes for Beautiful Hair

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Tim P. Whitby / 21st Century Fox / Getty Images

The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.

Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.

The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.

Read More Show Less
A protest march against the Line 3 pipeline in St. Paul, Minnesota on May 18, 2018. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Collin Rees

We know that people power can stop dangerous fossil fuel projects like the proposed Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota, because we've proved it over and over again — and recently we've had two more big wins.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Scientists released a study showing that a million species are at risk for extinction, but it was largely ignored by the corporate news media. Danny Perez Photography / Flickr / CC

By Julia Conley

Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.

Read More Show Less
DoneGood

By Cullen Schwarz

Ethical shopping is a somewhat new phenomenon. We're far more familiar with the "tried and tested" methods of doing good, like donating our money or time.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

Summer is fast approaching, which means it's time to stock up on sunscreen to ward off the harmful effects of sun exposure. Not all sunscreens are created equally, however.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images

The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.

Read More Show Less
Flooding in Winfield, Missouri this month. Jonathan Rehg / Getty Images

President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.

"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.

Read More Show Less
Reed Hoffmann / Getty Images

Violent tornadoes tore through Missouri Wednesday night, killing three and causing "extensive damage" to the state's capital of Jefferson City, The New York Times reported.

"There was a lot of devastation throughout the state," Governor Mike Parson said at a Thursday morning press conference, as NPR reported. "We were very fortunate last night that we didn't have more injuries than what we had, and we didn't have more fatalities across the state. But three is too many."

Read More Show Less