Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Choosing a better (and greener) shampoo

Have you ever felt confused trying to find your way among the hundreds of hair care products available in local stores and salons? I have trouble sifting through all of the ginseng-infused, vitamin B-added claims. I often associate hair washing with green washing since these front-of-the-label claims often mask the not-so-great ingredients in many shampoos, conditioners and styling products.

There are many ingredients common to hair care products that are best avoided. “Natural botanicals” or not, if your products contain sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate, phthalates (usually labeled “fragrance”) or parabens you should consider looking for another brand.

Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate (SLS) is one of the most ubiquitous ingredients in shampoos. It’s the ingredient that causes that nice rich lather you see in ads, but also dries your scalp, stripping oils that are important to a healthy scalp and hair. It has also been known to cause skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions, hair loss and follicle damage.

Phthalates are the synthetic fragrances that are known to be hormone disruptors (linked to reproductive problems, allergies and skin problems) and parabens are preservatives that mimic female hormones and have been found in breast tumor samples.

Any sort of product that you spray on is best avoided as well, since you’re bound to inhale what doesn’t land on your hair.

Also, buying health store-type brands doesn’t necessarily guarantee a less toxic product.

Health Canada requires that manufacturers list all ingredients on the product label, which sounds very responsible of them but what ordinary consumer has any clue what is and isn’t a toxic ingredient? Shampoo and styling product ingredient lists are complicated. That’s why I default to the brands that list upfront what isn’t in their product. Kiss My Face, Burt’s Bees and Desert Essence are three that are helpful in this way. Others, like Olivier (New Brunswick-made) have so few ingredients that it’s no problem at all.

The Environmental Working Group Skin Deep database (http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/) is a helpful tool for determining just how safe your hair care products are. They classify products into hazard ratings of low, medium and high based on the know ingredients.

Aubrey Organics score well in this database, as do Kiss My Face products. Burt’s Bees and Desert Essence have a hazard rating of low to low-moderate. Many regular drug store brands score middle of the road but a lot score in the red (high) zone. Shampoo bars score lowest of all. Not in the database but a great choice is Canadian-made Green Beaver shampoo.

One note about SLS-free shampoos, they often get a bad rap because they’re not as sudsy as regular drug store brands but you don’t need a thick lather to end up with clean, manageable hair.

Since all of these products get washed down the drain and into our waterways, be sure to use as little as possible. Chances are you don’t need to “apply generously” to get the job done.

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