Safe, Not Sorry, Hair: The Case for
Nontoxic Shampoos, Conditioners and
by Maureen Ryan
Marianne Kapfer, a librarian in Washington, D.C., likes a
natural look. She doesn't wear much makeup but loves to
indulge in a good shampoo and conditioner. When she
started reading labels more closely, however, "I realized
that my 'natural' shampoo wasn't so natural," Marianne
says. And that's not all. Due to labeling loopholes, many
"natural" and "organic" personal-care products in the
United States contain hazardous chemicals, some of
which, at high exposures, have been shown to cause
cancer, birth defects, damage to nervous and
reproductive systems and liver damage in lab animals.
According to "Skin Deep," a 2004 study and ranking of
7,500 cosmetic products published by the Environmental
Working Group (EWG), 100 percent of shampoos tested
contained ingredients that have not been assessed for
safety by either the Cosmetic Industry Review panel (an
industry body) or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
(FDA), which is charged with regulating cosmetic
ingredients. Other hair-raising facts:
*69 percent of hair-dye products may pose cancer risks
*76 percent of conditioners contain ingredients that are
*93 percent of shampoos possibly contain harmful
impurities linked to cancer or other health problems.
"As an organization, we urge consumers to take action
and reduce their exposure to industrial chemicals," says
Timothy Kropp, Ph.D., a senior scientist in toxicology with
the EWG. One simple way to do this: Read labels and
choose hair-care products that are free of the following
Top Four hazardous chemicals (for The Green Guide's full
"Dirty Dozen" list, see Resources, below).
Top Four Ingredients to Avoid
1. Phthalates: These chemicals get covered up on labels
by the general term "fragrance," which the FDA permits
to protect "trade secrets." But they're readily absorbed by
our fingernails, skin and lungs. This July, the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention reported finding the
metabolized forms of dibutyl phthalates, used in nail
polish and synthetic fragrance, in every person tested in
their national "body burden" study. Studies have found
that phthalates can lead to liver cancer and birth defects
in lab animals, and now research into the effects on
humans is beginning to emerge.
For example, a study from the University of Minnesota,
published in the May 2005 Environmental Health
Perspectives, found a connection between phthalates and
genital abnormalities in baby boys. Researchers measured
the level of phthalates in the urine of 85 pregnant women
and found that mothers with high levels of phthalates
gave birth to boys with one or more developmental
issues, including problems such as smaller penises and
scrotums or less developed testicles. Although Dr.
Christine Ternand, one of the study's authors and an
assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of
Minnesota, said it was "premature" to instruct women to
avoid these chemicals altogether, she added, "If I were
pregnant or trying to get pregnant, I would reduce my
exposure—and my fetus's exposure—to products
To reduce exposures to phthalates, steer clear of
shampoos and conditioners listing "fragrance" as an
ingredient. Although some manufacturers have recently
declared that they've removed phthalates from their
products (see below), in the absence of specific labeling it
remains unclear to what extent, and in which products,
this is actually the case. Instead, choose products whose
labels list only non-synthetic fragrancing ingredients, such
as essential oils of lavender, mint or verbena. And before
trying any new cosmetic product, do a touch-and-sniff
test, since natural oils can cause irritation or allergic
reactions in some people.
2. Parabens (methyl-, propyl-, ethyl- and butyl):
Some studies have shown that parabens mimic estrogen
in rodents; the chemicals also have been shown to
stimulate growth of human breast-cancer cells in the lab.
3. Coal Tar: In 1993, the FDA issued a warning to
consumers about coal tar being a possible cancer risk.
Coal tar appears in many hair dyes and strong dandruff
and psoriasis shampoos, but the FDA failed to ban it even
though studies have linked it to cancer in lab animals. The
EWG found that 71 hair-dye products contained
ingredients derived from coal tar. John Masters of John
Masters Organics, a New York City hair stylist for 30
years, says that he shuns the use of coal tars in his hair
dyes for his own safety and the safety of his clients and
staff. "The skin absorbs 70 percent of what we put on it.
It's important that people know what they're applying and
taking into their body," Masters says.
4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth
Sulfate (SLES) are found in some shampoos and
conditioners and may cause hair loss and scalp irritation.
Companies and Governments Making Healthy
If you live in Europe, you're somewhat better protected
than you are here in the States. In September 2004, a
European Union ruling went into effect banning hundreds
of carcinogens and reproductive toxins from all personal-
care products on the European market. To put that in
perspective, in its 67-year history of monitoring
cosmetics, the FDA has banned only nine chemicals.
In response to the EU ruling, the Campaign for Safe
Cosmetics is urging American companies to sign its
Compact for Safe Cosmetics pledge to stop using
dangerous chemicals. More than 150 companies, including
Aubrey, Avalon, Burt's Bees and Terressentials, have
signed. But as of July 2005, several mainstream
companies had not. "We continue to be surprised by the
lack of willingness on the part of major conventional
cosmetics companies, like Estée Lauder, L'Oréal, Revlon,
Avon, Unilever and Procter & Gamble, to make the
commitment," says Janet Nudelman, coordinator for the
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
Complicating matters is an ongoing debate as to what
constitutes a health risk. A May 2005 Journal of the
American Medical Association (JAMA) review of 79 studies
did not find "strong evidence" of a "marked increase" in
cancer among personal hair-dye users, even though risk
of some cancers was significantly, though slightly,
increased. But according to Tongzhang Zheng, M.D., head
of the Division of Environmental Health Sciences at Yale
University and an author of a 2002 hair-dye study
examined by the JAMA reviewers, "The report ignored
important information. Because [this report] didn't have
original data from individual studies, the analyses had to
select some results from each published paper," he says.
The JAMA writers chose to include studies based on
systematic criteria (such as the way the study was
designed). As a result, however, the analysis left out
some related research, such as a study Dr. Zheng
published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in
2004. "In [that] report," he says, "we found that the risk
of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was doubled for those using
darker permanent hair-coloring products for more than 25
Until scientists agree as to what's risky (which may not
happen soon), consumers can take the simple step of
avoiding potentially dangerous ingredients. Below are
some products that are in agreement with the EWG's
safety concerns and that avoid chemicals on The Green
Guide's Dirty Dozen list. "It's great to know that there are
safe options out there," says Kapfer. "I don't have to
compromise my health to look good."
Not your traditional shampoo, Terressentials Organic Pure
Earth Hair Wash in Fragrance Free, Cool Mint and three
other varieties contains no synthetic ingredients or
detergents. Made from Moroccan clay, this unique, nonlathering
mud wash was ranked number one by the EWG.
(www.terressentials.com, 8 oz., $10.75)
If you want to ditch the bottle, you can try a bar of Burt's
Bees Rosemary Mint Shampoo. It contains oat protein,
peppermint oil, nettle leaf, rosemary leaf, avocado oil and
coconut oil. Plus the smell is totally invigorating.
(www.burtsbees.com, 3.5 oz., $6)
The phthalate- and paraben-free Rosa Mosqueta shampoo
from Aubrey Organics is great for color-treated hair.
Added bonus: The rosy scent lasts all day long.
(www.aubrey-organics.com, 11 oz., $9.50)
The EWG ranked Weleda's Rosemary Phyto conditioner
number three, and it's great for treating brittle split ends.
(usa.weleda.com, 8 oz., $10)
All of Avalon Organics' products are phthalate- and
paraben-free, but the Lemon Clarifying Conditioner is one
of the best. It contains 100 percent vegetarian
ingredients and brings out your hair's natural highlights.
(www.avalonorganics.com, 14 oz., $8)
A great product that controls tangles and flyaways is
Aubrey Organics' Green Tea Finishing Cream Rinse.
(www.aubrey-organics.com, 11 oz., $9.50)
According to David Steinman, M.S., author of the Safe
Shopper's Bible, the easiest way to determine if your hair
dye is dangerous is to check for a "warning label"
instructing you to avoid the eyebrow area. This means
that the product likely contains dyes that could potentially
cause cancer, Steinman says. He adds that if you're
pregnant or trying to conceive, "This is not the time to be
dying your hair." As a general rule, avoid permanent dyes
and caustic ammonia, which can burn scalp and eyes.
Semi- or demi-permanent colors are gentler.
Aubrey Organics' henna-based dye Color Me Natural is
free of coal tar. (www.aubrey-organics. com, 4 oz.,
Light Mountain's 100 percent henna-based dye works
wonders covering up gray. (7 oz., $11)
If you'd rather hit the salon, John Masters Organic Salon,
in New York City, offers clay and herbal-based highlights
that are 100 percent ammonia and coal-tar free and
contain very little hydrogen peroxide.
(www.johnmasters.com, herbal dye starts at $90; clay
highlights start at $125)
Or try Aveda's very gentle, semi-permanent colorenhancing
shampoos and conditioners. (http://www.aveda.com,for/ prices call 866-823-1425)
For what to avoid, print out a wallet-size shoppers' card of
The Green Guide's Dirty Dozen list of chemicals.
*Also see http://www.organicconsumers.org/
For more product recommendations:
*"Beauty Secrets," Green Guide #94 and Shampoo
*The EWG's 2004 study "Skin Deep" and searchable
product database (http://www.ewg.org/)
*The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
*Breast Cancer Action's
Soap and Shampoo: Personal Best
by Diane di Costanzo
Organic Soap With Petrochemicals?
by Vincent Standley
So what did I do? I went and bought these.....
They are the Avalon Organics lemon shampoo & conditioner
I will admit I like the shampoo smell better than than the conditioner. So far, my hair hasn't been much different than before. There are also several other brands I can try out to see if they make a difference in my hair.
While I know God has a plan and knows every little detail of mine and my unborn babies life, I will still feel better thinking I could be living my healthiest life and providing a healthy life for my baby :) While, I may not have the hair off the Pantene commcerical, I will have healthy hair that isn't poisioning my body.
No, I won't be that mother that doesn't allow their kid sugar until 13 or only vegtables and fruits until a certain age. While that certianly may be some mothers choice, I don't want to feel like I'm going overboard. Overall, I know what is healthy and what is not. However, I learn something new all the time, like the article above. And this wasn't the only article I came across on the dangers in hair care products and body care, it was just an article I thought presented the info well.
Here is a list I've come across on several sites of body care products to avoid. A lot of lotions can have harmful ingredients as well. If you are like me, you lather lotion on daily.
Oh, and by the way, my face soap also had bad ingredient #4 from above in it.
Here is a link to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. You can find articles about products and ingredient lists for most products as well.
Just thought I would share!
xoxo ~ Megan :)