What is lurking in your soap and shampoo?

I must admit that I have basically ignored this aspect of living healthy. Sure I buy the Whole Foods 365 brand or other health food brands when they are on sale, but what I didn’t realize is that many of the personal care products that are stocked on the shelves of health food stores are nothing more than chemical soup. The more research I did, the more I was convinced that I could find some good products that I could use on my hair and body, and still be willing to go out in public. I am happy to say that not only did I find some, but after an adjustment period of some really bad hair days, my hair is healthier and softer than it has been in a long time.

So lets get down to business. What is lurking in these products that give cause for alarm? The following list is not all-inclusive, I am not a chemist, and have to rely on others for my research, so if you know of another super scary ingredient, feel free to share those with me.

The following are some of the dirty ingredients in your soap and shampoo; they range in concern from skin and eye irritant, to allergen, to hormone disruptor, to carcinogen, to even damage of vital organs:

Cocamide DEA or MEA; lauramide DEA or MEA; phthalates; cocoamidopropyl betaine; olefin sulfonate; PVP copolymer; methyl, propyl or butyl parabens; diazolidinyl urea; triclosan;

D&C colors; synthetic fragrance; sodium myeth sulfate; formaldehyde; propylene glycol; and sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate (SLS)

SLS has had a lot of press, so I will explain it in more detail. It is a surfactant widely used in shampoos, toothpaste, and soaps to give it a good lathering or foaming quality; and that includes most health store brands. Labeling regulations allow “derived from coconut oil” which makes one think it is very natural. But in reality it is drying to skin and hair, irritating to eyes, and can cause damage like cracking, inflammation, and allergic reactions. This damage to the skin can also allow other chemicals to penetrate deep into the skin and reach the bloodstream easier. But the even bigger problem is that it has the potential to become contaminated with carcinogenic nitrosamines when manufacturers add chemicals to make the product less irritating so it won’t cause the problems listed above. So although sodium lauryl sulfate is not a recognized carcinogen by itself, the chemical is frequently combined with TEA (triethanolamine), DEA (diethanolamine), or MEA (monnoethanolamine), which can produce the formation of the carcinogenic substances known as nitrosamines).

There are so many more chemicals…way too many to list. And some chemicals go by multiple names. And if you rush to your shampoo and soap bottles, you will probably see
many of these as well as many others on the ingredient list, as I did. So I set out to find the cleanest soaps and shampoos and test them on my family. These were my results. (I
wish I could say that I was being paid by these companies to promote them, but sadly I am not)

Any truly natural shampoo is going to irritate the eyes. A no-tear formula shampoo has simply added multiple chemicals to neutralize and offset the burning sensation to the eyes; this doesn’t make the chemicals safer. So when using any of these natural shampoos, keep it out of little eyes (and yours for that matter) because it will sting.

For my son, who has a buzz cut and is also the one I want to have the safest products, I was able to use the extremely pure products from Terressentials (clay based – no
detergents), as well as Burt’s Bees Rosemary Mint Shampoo Bar and Tropical Traditions Shampoo Bar. I am thankful for these products because he also likes to sit in the bath water and play, and sometimes without me seeing, sip on the water. I finally feel comfortable that he is not poisoning himself. Although these are the best shampoos I have found, I am afraid they didn’t work so well for my hair and my daughter’s hair. I would definitely try them to see if they will work for you though.

So the next best option I found, and am very pleased with is Aubrey Organics Shampoos. The worst ingredient in this line of shampoos is hydrolyzed soy protein and carrageenan.

And although I wouldn’t eat these ingredients (although many people do), I feel okay with them on my scalp. With the natural shampoos, my daughter and I have found it necessary to use a conditioner, and Aubrey Organics conditioners are also very natural.

A few other brands are also worth mentioning. Although they contain a few skin irritants (cocamidopropyl betaine, olefin sulfonate) they are relatively clean and include Burt’s Bees liquid shampoos, Kiss My Face Organic Whenever Shampoo, and Desert Essence Organic Shampoos.

Your best bets are bar soaps. There are many brands that make a good clean bar soap. Check out Dr Bronner’s, Aubrey’s, Burt’s Bees, or check out local farmer’s markets, or do a
search on the Internet for natural soaps, just watch for added synthetic fragrances. For a shower gel try Dr. Bronner’s, these soaps are very pure and have very interesting reading material on the bottle. Aubrey Organics also makes an everyday herbal body soap gel.

If you are like me, you would prefer to have a pump dispenser of liquid hand soap at the sink. Liquid soaps are trickier when trying to avoid chemicals. Dr. Bronner’s liquid soaps are excellent, and I use them as a shower gel, but they have clogged up every hand dispenser I have. Tropical Tradition’s foaming hand soaps are great, and they don’t clog up nearly as bad. They are pretty pricey, but if you check their website periodically they will put them on sale often, and their tea tree oil hand soap is nice to have by the kitchen and bathroom sinks for killing germs.

The next best thing I have found for liquid hand soaps with only one or two chemical skin irritants are once again Burt’s Bees and Kiss My Face Organic Foaming Hand Soap (it has
to be this part of their product line, many of their other products have multiple chemical problems).

Remember, if you try these products and you are highly sensitive, some of the essential oils used in the natural soaps might be irritating to your skin. If that is the case try unscented varieties.

Now that I am done reducing chemicals in family’s personal cleaning, I am working on other ways to lighten my home’s chemical load, and have found some great alternatives to chemical home cleaners. Stay tuned next month.

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