What to look for when choosing natural shampoo
- Avoid antibacterial agents: A recent study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that triclosan — the main antibacterial agent used in shampoo and other personal care products — can be linked to cancer in lab animals, may disrupt hormone function in humans, and is a non-biodegradable toxic agent that pollutes ecosystems and threatens wildlife when it is discharged into the water stream.
- Look for plant-based, biodegradable ingredients: Conventional shampoos are made from petroleum-derived chemicals that persist in the environment, creating pollution and threatening human health. It's estimated that 93 percent of shampoos contain ingredients linked to cancer and other health issues. Shampoos that use plant-based ingredients and essential oils for fragrance replace these dangerous ingredients with ones that are healthy for you and the earth. In particular, try to avoid ingredients like BHA and parabens, and seek out those labeled as biodegradable.
- Go organic: Because the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spends only a tiny portion of its budget investigating the chemical composition and toxins in personal care products, shampoos can tout their use of organic ingredients and still have up to 30 percent synthetic materials, even the ones labeled "organic" or "made with organic ingredients." The only way to be sure that the product you are purchasing is, in fact, organic is to look for the USDA Organic Seal on the label. This seal guarantees that every ingredient is organically produced as defined by the National Organics Standards Board, which bans the use of harmful pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and genetic engineering.
- Look for shampoos that do not contain animal fats or employ animal testing: While you're contemplating green attributes, you may also wish to join the cruelty-free movement. Just keep in mind: a company may claim that they don't employ animal testing for their products, but without third-party verification, it's hard to know whether these statements are in fact completely true. So stick to those products certified as cruelty-free by looking for products with the Leaping Bunny Logo or the Certified Vegan Logo. You can rest assured that no bunnies (or monkeys or cats for that matter) were harmed in the making of these non-animal-tested products.
Find it! Natural shampoosWant to green your normal, oily, or dry scalp? Look no further. The shampoos listed below boast various green attributes — organic ingredients, no animal testing, the absence of foaming, cleaning, and thickening agents that pose eco-havoc in their manufacture and when they get washed down the drain and enter waterways — so you can avoid committing both a hair and earth don't.
Before you buyKeep in mind that if you choose a specialty shampoo concocted with green ingredients in lieu of an easy-to-find variety, you'll likely be confronted with a higher price tag as chemicals generally come cheaper than botanical, organic certified ingredients. For example, at Beauty.com, an 8-ounce container of Dr. Hauschka's Nasturtium & Lemon Shampoo for normal or oily hair costs $13.00, while over at Drugstore.com, a 22.5-ounce container of Suave Daily Clarifying Shampoo for normal or oily hair costs $2.49.
Choosing natural shampoo helps you go green because
- They rely on ingredients found in nature, not in a chemist's lab. These ingredients have natural healing and cleaning properties and do not pose a risk to those with chemical sensitivities.
- Like other conventional hair, skincare, and cosmetic products, shampoos can contain petroleum-derived components. Petroleum is a non-sustainable resource with various eco-repercussions.
- Many makers of natural shampoos and hair care products also follow green business practices, such as using recycled packaging and harnessing renewable energy sources like wind power.
Supplementary preservatives in many shampoos include BHA, which has a negative impact on aquatic ecosystems and bioaccumulates in the tissues of organisms, and parabens, known endocrine disrupters that are not only detrimental to human health, but also destructive to animal hormones and development. (Studies have found higher levels of parabens in tumors from human breast tissue, but, because the potential damage to the endocrine system has yet to be proven, the controversy surrounding the toxicity of parabens is still being debated.)
Additionally, the potent synthetic antimicrobial agent triclosan, used in some shampoos and other personal care products, has been found in 55 percent of streams examined in 2002 at levels high enough to disrupt the natural life cycle of frogs. Another common synthetic to look out for in shampoo is diethanolamine (DEA), a known carcinogen, used as a foaming detergent, and TEA and MEA, which are often contaminated with diethanolamine. Lauryl/laureth sulfates are common skin irritants that can dry out the skin and hair with longterm use.
FragrancesThe fragrances in shampoo pose risks as well. Fragrances are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which add to air pollution, are persistent in the environment, and contaminate waterways and aquatic wildlife. An estimated 5.72 million Americans have skin allergies to fragrance, while around 72 percent of those suffering from asthma claim that their condition can be triggered by synthetic fragrance. Shampoos with artificial fragrances can also contain phthalates, widely used industrial chemicals that are estrogenic or anti-androgenic. Studies conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health reveal a link between monoethyl phthalate, a chemical used to preserve scent in perfumes and colognes, and sperm damage. Click here for a breakdown of the leading chemicals found in fragrance products and their related health effects.
ControversiesIn a recent study that shook the natural products industry, 100 "natural" and "organic" soaps, shampoos, dish liquids, lotions, and body washes were tested and nearly half contained 1,4-Dioxane, a carcinogenic chemical. This toxin has been found in conventional personal care products, but this study commissioned by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) was the first to test green products.
In scientific studies, 1,4-Dioxane has caused cancer in animals; scientists have not yet confirmed the long-term effects on humans. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says current levels do not pose a hazard to consumers but they have advised manufacturers to lower amounts in cosmetics as much as possible. None of the products tested that were Certified Organic by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) contained 1,4-Dioxane. In response to this study, some of the affected companies have said they will work toward removing 1,4-Dioxane from their products.
Organic labelingThe personal care industry is in turmoil trying to agree upon a set of standards for organic labeling of personal care products. While the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains clearcut standards for organic food, the same can't be said for body care products. Some companies use the USDA certified organic food standard, which requires 95 percent of the ingredients to be organic. Others use the less stringent California state standard for organic cosmetic products, which requires at least 70 percent organically produced ingredients. And still others label their products organic without meeting any external criterion. Fortunately, the guidelines for labeling a soap as "100% Organic" are strict. Products carrying this label must contain all organic ingredients.
To clear up this confusion, a nonprofit standard-setting group called NSF International has released a draft set of rules for organic personal care products and a group of 30 cosmetic companies recently devised their own set of specifications called Organic and Sustainable Industry Standards (OASIS). How it all washes out remains to be seen.
- 1,4-dioxane: A petroleum-derived contaminant classified as a probable human carcinogen by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole): A chemical preservative used in cosmetics and certain foods to prevent fats and oils from becoming rancid.
- parabens: This family of synthetic preservatives (which includes methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, and butyl-parabens) can possibly disrupt the endocrine system.
- phthalates: Phthalates are additives that are widely used in plastics and other materials, mainly to make them soft and flexible.
- triclosan: An antibacterial agent that may form dioxin and chloroform in the right circumstances, both probable carcinogens.
- volatile organic compounds (VOCs): Organic solvents that easily evaporate into the air, where they may cause immediate and long-term health problems.
- The Green Guide - Soap and Shampoo: Personal Best
- The New York Times - Is Organic Shampoo Chemistry or Botany?
- TreeHugger - TreeHugger Asks: What's a Good, Green, Cheap Shampoo?
- Organic Consumers Association - Up close & personal: "organic" shampoo defined
- Environmental Working Group - Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database Before you lather up, check out where your favorite shampoo ranks on the hazard scale.