We recently posted an article about the harmful ingredients in shampoos. As an active reader pointed out, we left out some important information — and just didn’t give you much help in picking a safe one. So we did a little research, and wrote this follow-up post to answer her questions.
Many of the ingredients listed in popular shampoos, such as Garnier Fructis, Suave, and Head & Shoulders are toxic. Read on for a list of specific chemicals, and make sure your shampoo isn’t exposing you to unnecessary health risks.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate is found in almost every popular brand of shampoo and body wash. This chemical, while not itself cancer-causing, is associated with probable carcinogens in some products. Coincidentally, it is also the major component of the actual hair-cleansing part of shampoo (the detergent). It is known to cause skin and eye irritation, though it varies widely, which can exacerbate exposure to other chemicals.
Methylchloroisothiazolinone (say that five times fast!) is a preservative – it keeps other stuff fresh. There’s good evidence that it harms the skin, and may contribute to immune system problems. The United States, Canada, and Japan have restricted its use in cosmetics, though it’s still present in many “wash-off” chemicals. This ingredient is often found in lots of shampoos. (See a list here!)
Ammonium Chloride can be harmful if swallowed and can cause serious eye irritation. It may also be harmful if inhaled.
Propylene Glycol, which is used to moisturize, is a skin irritant, and has been linked to increased risk of developing numerous respiratory and immune disorders in children.
Strong Fragrance or Parfum is a label often used as a catch-all on ingredient labels for many different chemicals. As a result, they can vary widely. Many are a risk for allergic reaction; some may be more dangerous.
The Bottom Line here is that some chemicals are tested, and the ones that are definitely harmful tend to be restricted — at least in countries with strong health regulations, like Japan or the European Union. But lots more are not tested, or are not tested in conjunction with each other. And always remember that different people react differently to chemicals. Your best bet is generally to opt for products with fewer, and better understood, chemicals. Or just find a brand you trust!
Garnier Fructis: What’s the Story?
Our reader asked why we singled out Garnier as a particularly harmful brand of shampoo. We used Garnier as an example of poor government testing, mostly because the brand sells and markets shampoos in which only 9 out of 22 ingredients have been assessed for safe use. To make matters worse, in one type of Garnier Fructis shampoo, six ingredients were labeled “health concerns” and three were labeled “violations, restrictions, and warnings.” Read more about Garnier’s products here.
Any time you have a question about toxics in cosmetics, we recommend the excellent “Skin Deep” database from the Environmental Working Group. For shampoo, check out their database and tips on how to find a safe brand.