Did you know, shampoos could contain toxic ingredients -- chemicals that are found in anti-freeze, engine de-greasers and brake fluid -- which are absorbed through the skin into the body and the brain three times faster than water!
All over the world people believe that shampooing hair is an important part of hygiene. Glossy advertisements with photographs of stunning models lure many, especially impressionable teens, into believing that they too will get that lovely mane of hair if they use a particular shampoo brand. However, awareness about the ingredients present in one's favourite bottle of shampoo raises many questions. Is one's hair really clean after a fragrant, chemical shampoo? Or has this cleanliness come at a price?
Why should I be aware of this?
Cheap or expensive, modern shampoos are usually a mixture of a handful of detergents, most of which are harmful to our skin. The choice of detergents used is usually as much to do with the final look of the product as it is with its effectiveness.
Shampoos promise cleaner, softer, stronger and bouncier or dandruff free hair. Most shampoo brands are copycat hair cleansing products with the only significant differences being in their appearance, smell, packaging and marketing slogans. They contain ingredients that are harmful to health. Though harmful, these are supposedly within 'safe' limits as prescribed by regulating agencies. In fact the greatest health risks are faced by children whose immune systems are not as developed to counter the effects of these harmful products.
Then there are shampoo brands that say they are natural or herbal based or organic. These might still contain compounds that are known irritants and are generally abusive to the skin.
How does this affect me?
Doctors and researchers in USA, Japan, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Germany aver that the main ingredients that make up hair and skin cleansing products may cause cataracts, eye damage or even blindness in little children.
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or SLS damages the protein in the eyes of children. In extreme cases, this may also lead to blindness leading to corrosion of hair follicles, impairing the ability to grow and repair hair.
- Coal tar, a popular ingredient in shampoos, though effective in controlling and reducing dandruff, is a known cancer-causing agent. One should specially beware of D&C Blue, Green # 3, Yellow#5 and 6, Red # 33.
- ZPTO which is the presence of zinc pyrithione can cause severe allergic reations, headaches, nausea, fatigue, nervousness and lack of concentration
- Preservative commonly found in shampoos contain the bacteria-killing agent methylisothiazolinone (MIT), shown to restrict the growth of immature rat nerve cells. Formaldehyde used in some preservatives is also a common ingredient in a shampoo and shockingly enough in a baby shampoo. It is a neurotoxin and a known cause for cancer.
- Two ingredients, cocamide DEA and PEG-55 propylene glycol oleate, may be linked to cancer or other health problems (PEG-55 propylene glycol oleate may be linked to breast cancer).
- Four ingredients, menthol, propylene glycol, sodium laureth sulfate and tetrasodium EDTA, are penetration enhancers, and five ingredients have not been safety tested.
- The fragrance in this product may be an allergen, and four ingredients -- the parabensethylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben; and propylene glycol may pose additional health concerns.
- Baby shampoos also contain a higher level of ethylene oxide to reduce irritancy. It is an extremely harmful compound and is a known endocrine disruptor.
All about shampoo
Types of shampoo
- Children's Shampoos -- Do not go for cute looking bottles and pretty colors. Instead, look for a shampoo that is free of coloring and fragrance. Just because a product claims to be mild, does not make it so. Look at the ingredients.
- Dandruff Shampoo -- The best remedy for dandruff is to rotate three over-the-counter dandruff shampoos -- one containing salicylic acid (to exfoliate), one containing selenium sulfide (to soothe) and a third containing pyrithione zinc (an anti-inflammatory) interspersing them with regular shampoo. A trio of treatments is most effective. If you use only one the fungus could adapt and become immune to it.
- Colored Hair -- If you use hair color, you really should consider a shampoo that is specially designed for colored hair. This is because the shampoos are made to be more gentle on your hair and will contain ingredients to preserve color.
You also need to know this
- Natural products are not always safe. For example a product that is herbal based should ideally be 100 per cent soap free and certainly chemical free. It should rely on ayurvedic ingredients for its formula. But that will not give the kind of lather or fragrance associated wth good shampoos. So most herbal/natural shampoos add chemicals that boost foam; preservatives for longer shelf life and chemicals that can give long lasting fragrance which the user can associate with the natural herbs. These chemicals are harmful and consumers need to read the labels of herbal products those that are made for children.
- Do not use more shampoo than is necessary -- A small dollop or half of what most people use is enough. In fact diluting it in some water reduces the products absorption into the blood stream to a considerable extent.
- Mild shampoos also contain harmful chemicals -- Even shampoos that say that they are mild enough for every day use do contain the harmful chemicals. Baby shampoos also contain harful chemicals. Hence it is advised that people try and alternate their shampoo with a natural ingredient every now and then. This not only makes the hair healthier, plus it reduces product build up that is left behind as residue.
- Use natural conditioners -- Finally if one truly must use these shampoos, then it is wise to follow it up with a natural conditioner as an egg mask or coconut oil with lemon skins infused in them and sun dried so that the harm caused by the chemicals in the shampoos are mitigated.
- Sodium lauryl sulfate is usually accompanied by other harmful chemicals -- Presence of sodium lauryl sulfate in a shampoo formulation is a "marker" for the use of other undesirable ingredients, including formaldehyde-containing preservatives (e.g., imidazolidinyl urea); possible cancer-causing wetting agents (e.g., cocamide DEA); and nitrosamine-forming agents (e.g., triethanolamine). Also, it should be mentioned that in Germany, where there is a concerted effort underway now to label cosmetics and personal care products as certified natural, formulations containing sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate cannot be so certified,
- biodegradable products -- Sometimes a product is labeled biodegradable but in reality this describes only some of the base detergent agents while the product contains preservatives and other chemicals which are not biodegradable.
- Fragrance does not indicate the quality of a shampoo.
- Conditioning agent -- Shampoos have some type of conditioning agent typically varied based on the type of shampoo: silicones, protein, elastin, collagen, amino acids and oils.
- Many shampoos on the market claiming to cater to various types of hair and problems really all contain the same or similar ingredients.
- Some conditioning agents can build up on hair and lead to a weighed down appearance.
Application of a shampoo
A shampoo is meant to be poured onto the palm and then applied to the hair with one's finger tips. A little bit of shampoo should ideally be used each time because too much of a shampoo can make hair dry and brittle. It should also be gently massaged in and not ' wrestled into the hair' as many as prone to do. This leaves hair tangled and broken, a result that is not warranted. Care must be taken to wash it off with lots of water as any build up could have more damaging results. A conditioner may be applied thereafter if the product does not have an in built one. A cool rinse is ideal for washing off the shampoo as it closes the pores and strengthens hair roots.
Those with dry hair need more conditioning while those with oily hair need to wash their hair more frequently and hence need a milder, daily wash formula.
Healthy hair begins not just with a good shampoo. It needs to be backed by a healthy, protein rich diet. No amount of shampooing can help if the individual is physically unhealthy. Also the effects of smoking, drugs, stress, unhealthy life styles, all factor hair loss and dullness in the hair. Therefore it is very important to be conscious not only about hair styles, hair colouring trends and the products that come into the market, but it is also recommended that an individual looks after his physical and mental state and have an overall sense of health and happiness.
Shampoo and the environment
People do not think much about the environmental effects of the manufacture of shampoo and the far reaching impact of letting it go down household drains. Shampoo is after all a combination of chemical and it finds its way into our waterways and sea. According to a report from the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), shampoos, shower gels and other cosmetic products are finding their way into the environment and are posing a risk to sea life, plants as well as people's health.
The plastic shampoo bottles and caps are rarely recycled and find their way into landfills. These shampoos are manufactured at few places in each country and are transported to all the other regions -- adding to their carbon footprint. There is no study to indicate the actual cost of a bottle of shampoo -- taking into account the sourcing of raw materials; the cost to the environment in terms of air and water pollution during the manufacturing process; and the distribution of the end product.
What can I do about it?
To address both hair and environmental concerns, you can either make shampoos at home with natural ingredients or go for herbal shampoos.
Home made shampoos -- Indian kitchen recipes
Most Indians used a paste of chick pea to cleanse out the oil, sebum build up in their hair. Additionally they also used the powder of neem, reetha, shikakai (soap nuts), hibiscus, amla, henna, brahmi and fenugreek to give the hair body, bounce, vitality and sometimes even colour. Eggs, almonds, curd, buttermilk and honey were also used to nourish and strengthen hair.
One can use a paste of Fuller’s Earth, also called Multani Mitti in India to clean hair. Soak some of the mitti in water. The water is soaked by the earth so as to resemble a playdough. This can be mashed further so that it becomes a smooth paste and then massaged into the scalp. This can be rinsed away and then repeated again.
Another Indian way of cleaning hair is to use a thick paste of chick pea or besan. Also reetha, amla, shikakai, neem bark along with some honey( to trap the moisture) are used in place of a shampoo. The reetha and shikakai are soaked in water overnight, preferably in an iron bowl or ‘kadhai’.
As people shy away from chemical based products because of the effect on the hair texture, thickness and growth, they are turning to herbal shampoos. These are associated with pure ingredients, mainly plant extracts and herbs or flowers in a powdered form. They are thus free from side effects. Also they are not tested on animals.
They include includes extract of [neem], [aloe-vera] , hibiscus, bringaraj, tea tree, reetha, shikakai , amla, henna and the likes. Hair masks are made out of eggs, honey, milk cream, herbs etc, and are extremely gentle and effective on the hair.
In addition to a hair shampoo, there are shampoos for pets that cleanse, soften and act as an antibacterial agent for pets. Special formulations have come out for babies. these are non-irritating to the eyes and especially formulated for soft hair.Of late, certain investigations, done on mice have shown that shampoo affects brain development.
- Natural ingredients can irritate your skin --Despite what you may think or have been told, many natural ingredients can be irritating to scalp: These include lemon, menthol, peppermint, mint essentials, papaya other plant extracts.
- Frequency of wash -- It is believed that hair gets used to one shampoo so it should change it regularly. However, as long as it is a good shampoo suited to the user's scalp and hair type, the person does not need to change it.
- Washing hair with water -- Few people opine that washing with water is good enough. This could result in an irritated, itchy scalp and greasy, lank hair.
- Conditioners -- Some say that a person with oily hair need not use conditioners. However, the fact is that only people with very short hair do not need conditioner. The key is not to massage the conditioner into the scalp, but only apply it to the body and tips of hair.
- Rinsing with hot water -- Contrary to popular belief hot water is not a better cleanser. Rinsing with cold water makes hair shinier. Cold water helps to close the cuticle layer on the hair strand and helps conditioner work better, leaving the hair more lustrous.
Human shampoos are not recommended for pets as they are not as effective in controlling fleas, ticks and other parasites. There is also the option of going for natural shampoos for canines. One can select a natural oatmeal-based shampoo or botanical formula if the dog has dry skin.
A new study has found that a chemical commonly found in pet shampoo could play a major role in the development of autism in children. The study of how environmental factors influence the developmental disorder found that expectant mothers who used the shampoos to kill their pet's fleas were twice as likely to go on to have children with autism. 
- The amount of lather is no indication of a shampoo's effectiveness. In most cases it is an advertising myth.
- ‘Shampoo’, is a derivative of the Hindi word ‘Champo’, which means to massage or knead.
- You can undo minimize the damage done by chemicals in shampoos, by following it up with a natural conditioner as an egg mask or coconut oil with lemon skins .
- and are associated with side effects such as chest pain, memory loss, severe skin rashes, asthma, chronic fatigue, acne and even cancer.
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