What goes into an everyday and innocuous product like shampoo? What comes in contact with the scalp at every wash could potentially affect your health, so alternatives to off-the-shelve brands should be considered.
1. Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) is a harsh detergent. SLES is frequently contaminated by a carcinogen called 1,4 dioxane, which is a manufacturing process by-product.
2. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is a detergent that causes foaming lather.
Both SLES and SLS are surfactants in commercial shampoo. Sulphates strip off the hair’s natural protection, like essential oils, and causes dullness and brittleness, especially in coloured hair.
3. Sodium Chloride (table salt) is a thickening agent. When used in combination with SLS, a dry and itchy scalp can result, as well as hair loss.
4. Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA) are ammonia compounds used as foaming agents. Though found in small concentrations in shampoo, it is useful to note that the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for these substances state that contact with the skin can produce chemical burns and may cause inflammation. Prolonged exposure can result in liver, kidney or nervous system injury. Scalp irritation and dry hair may result.
5. Parabens are preservatives to prevent microbial growth, prolonging the shelf-life of shampoo. Chemicals like methylparaben and propylparaben are known to be toxic. The US FDA has limited the usage or parabens in cosemetics up to 25% of the product. A study published in 2004 (Darbre, in the Journal of Applied Toxicology) detected parabens in breast tumors. The estrogen-like properties of parabens could cause breast cancer as estrogenic activity in the body is associated with certain forms of breast cancer.
6. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and a preservative in some shampoos. It destroys the scalp’s natural protective oils. Frequent or prolonged skin contact with formaldehyde solutions can cause dryness, cracking, and skin rash. On a side-note, this chemical is used for embalming bodies.
7. Synthetic Fragrance or Parfum are formulated in a commercial lab and mass produced. A fragrance essence could contain as much as 3000 chemicals. The synthetic material may not be skin-compatible and could cause scalp irritation.
8. Synthetic Colors are used widely in hair-care products for aesthetic purposes. Color pigments may cause skin sensitivity along with scalp irritation.
9. Mineral Oil supposedly acts as a conditioner for ethnic hair, but it offers no real moisturizing benefits. It weighs the hair down and prevents the natural oils produced by the scalp from being absorbed by the hair shaft.
In view of the chemicals discussed earlier, here are some of the ingredient lists of various off-the-shelve shampoo brands:
Surprisingly, the marketing team for Pantene listed SLS, SLES and NaCl (Sodium Chloride) as the first 3 chemicals, instantly violating the no-no list above. An informed consumer would have picked up those terms and reconsidered his/her purchase.
Dove shampoo did not fare too well either. Some 5 of the listed chemicals were found in its ingredient list. Chemical jargon aside, the bottom line is, these chemicals have a molecular size small enough to get into our skin and scalp, resulting in health issues with prolonged use. The analysis on salon-stocked shampoo yielded more promising results, in terms of the absence of harmful chemicals, such as this brand:
Aliparf is a shampoo and hair product range from the salon I frequent. It is free from sulphates, paraffins, mineral oils, colorings and allergens, and has none of the unsafe ingredients mentioned above. Every salon has their own line of hair products, so it would be advisable to check with your hairstylist on what’s best for you.
Also, 100% PURE® is an American brand that bridges the gap in the off-the-shelve shampoo market by providing 100% natural bath (shampoo) and body products. Completely free of all harmful toxins, 100% PURE® is 100% natural and 100% cruelty-free. All products are completely free of artificial colors, fragrances, synthetic chemical preservatives and all other toxins. Despite their shorter shelve-life, their products are very much in demand due to the long-term health benefits. Consumers include cancer patients who are allergic to synthetic chemicals due to chemotherapy treatment. Some of the interesting shampoo scents include Honey and Virgin Coconut Shampoo and Kelp and Mint Voluminous Shampoo:
In Singapore, their products are not commercially available in pharmacies or supermarkets, but they can be bought online and shipped to any stated address, or bought from the licensed vendor at this address: 2 Kallang Pudding Road #09-06 Mactech Bldg Singapore 349307. More information can be found at their website :
Alternatively, you could make your own shampoo if have the luxury of time and love concocting one-of-a-kind creations and relishing the fruit of your handiwork. Besides avoiding all harmful chemicals, you have the freedom of customizing the formulation according to your needs or preferences.
DIY Basic Shampoo Recipe
- Half cup distilled water
- Half cup of liquid castille soap (unscented)
- 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil
- Mix the above in a bottle, and shake before using
- For dry hair, add an additional half cup of aloe vera gel + 2 tablespoons of glycerin
DIY Shampoo for thicker hair
- 1 cup castille soap
- 1 cup of distilled water
- 6 chamomile teabags
- One and half tablespoons of glycerin
- 1 lemon
Boil the distilled water and add the 6 teabags in. Top up the mixture back to the volume of one cup. Add the castille soap, lemon juice and glycerin and shake before use.
DIY Shampoo for lustrous hair
- 1/4 cup distilled water
- 1/4 cup of liquid lemon castille soap
- 2 tablespoons of dried rosemary
- 2 tablespoons of sweet almond oil
- 1/4 teaspoons of lemon essential oil
Boil the distilled water and let the rosemary leaves steep for 4-5 minutes. Add the remaining above ingredients and shake well to use.
Video for DIY Shampoo (Credits : Mother Earth Living)
In all the DIY recipes, castille soap is the surfactant used, in contrast to commercial ones that use sulphates, as mentioned earlier. Unlike commercial shampoos, it is safe for all hair types and does not strip away the hair’s natural oils. And yes, they clean the hair satisfactorily, making all those chemicals listed above unnecessary and avoidable.