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A LOOK AT SHAMPOO

The word shampoo comes from the Hindu word champo that means to squeeze or massage. The purpose of shampoo is to remove dirt and oil from the scalp and hair and leave the hair soft and manageable for combing. We expect shampoo to be creamy, smell good, produce a nice lather, not be too harsh, have nice packaging and be affordable. Well, manufacturers sure deliver don’t they? Unfortunately, the affordable price is in monies only because the potential cost to our health, from the impact of some ingredients found in shampoo, can be extensive.

There are many common ingredients used by most manufacturers in shampoo preparation. What makes a particular brand of shampoo better than the other is in the specific formulation of the ingredients. For the sake of keeping this article a readable length, only a few recognizable and common ingredients will be examined. A typical shampoo formulation requires: water, cleaning agent, special additives, preservative, and Ph balancers. Many manufacturers will add other ingredients to specialize their product such as conditioners, fragrance, herbal extracts, protein, or medicated ingredients.

Water:

Purified or deionised water is shampoo’s main ingredient.

Cleaning Agent: (Otherwise known as a surfactant, detergent, or surface-active agent.) A couple commonly used surfactants in many shampoo’s are the dreaded sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and its’ sister sodium laureth sulphate, otherwise known as sodium lauryl ether sulphate (SLES) as well as their cousins the ammonium versions. In spite of surfactants enhancing waters washing ability they also damage hair follicles and cause further loss to the user because their main function is to clean through the process of corrosion. The process strips skins surface protective lipids and prevents it from regulating moisture. Surfactants aid in split ends and the sulphates impede the growth cycle of hair. Not only do these ingredients seem counterproductive to the reason they are intended but there is also a great debate as to their health impact. Do a little searching on the internet and you will find articles on either side of the spectrum regarding the impact these ingredients have on your health. So, let’s start with what the heck sodium lauryl sulphate is anyway and then you can make your own mind up about what you consider safe. Sodium lauryl sulphate is the combination of sulphuric acid, lauryl alcohol, and sodium salt. Lauryl alchohol is derived from coconut or palm kernel oil through a couple of steps, esterification and reduction. (FYI, watch out for labels that use synonyms to confuse you and follow the name with brackets (derived from coconut oil).

Technically the labels are not wrong but you can see that companies are using a marketing technique to misguide unsuspecting consumers into thinking the whole ingredient is somehow natural.) SLS can be converted to SLES via a step called ethoxylation. Ethoxylation is a process where SLS is mixed with ethylene oxide and potassium hydroxide in a reactor, pressurized and heated to 150 degrees Celsius. In this process of conversion a substance 1,4-Dioxane can be produced. The U.S. Protection Agency lists 1,4-Dioxane as a carcinogen(cancer causing). In 2002, David Steinman, co-author of Safe Shopper’s Bible, purchased 24 baby products and had them tested for two carcinogens 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide. (Ethylene oxide will be mentioned later) 18 out of the 24 products contained the pre-mentioned carcinogens. Agencies such as OSHA, Cosmetic Toiletry and Cosmetic Agency, and American cancer society all agree through toxicology reports that SLS and SLES are not directly carcinogenic. So, the reports tell you that SLS and SLES are not carcinogenic but do they mention during their synthesis a hidden cancer causing 1,4-Dioxane can be released? The food and Drug administration encourages manufacturers to remove 1,4-Dioxane but it is not required by federal law. Lovely!

Special Additives

Another common ingredient used in conjunction with the SLS family is Terasodium EDTA. EDTA is a strong chelating agent. Chelating means, in this case, it binds well with calcium and magnesium from hard water. This is desirable because the calcium and magnesium will react with the detergents to form soap scum, and nobody wants soap scum stuck on their hair and scalp. EDTA is produced from ethylenediamine, formaldehyde, and sodium cyanide in basic solution. During the production of EDTA a couple of substances are released: glycine and nitrilotriacetic acid. The international Agency for Research on Cancer found that nitrilotriacetic acid causes cancer in animals and is possibly carcinogentic for humans. The main ingredient EDTA in animals was found to be cytotoxic and gynotoxic meaning toxic to cells and disruptive to genetic material in cells respectively. HMMMMM!!

Another common ingredient used in conjunction with typical surfactants is foaming agents. Although surfactants generally produce lather, additional foaming agents are used to aid in just the precise amount of lather because consumers generally equate lather to cleansing ability even though this is not the case. A common foaming agent used in shampoo is cocamide DEA (MEA or TEA). In the case of DEA, it is also used as a thickening agent; it makes shampoo feel creamy. Cocamide DEA is produced from the mixture of coconut fatty acids and diethanolamine (DEA). DEA itself is a known carcinogen and its derivatives are known skin irritants. DEA can combine with nitrite preservatives, contaminants, or with nitrogen oxides in the air to produce NDELA on the skin. NDELA is the potent carcinogen nitrosodiethanolamine.

Propylene glycol is a colorless, nearly odourless liquid used in shampoos as a humectant (absorbs moisture) as well as a preservative with the ability to spread evenly to the skin at a low evaporation rate. Many ingredients used in shampoos and other products are functional outside of the personal skin care arena. Propylene glycol is one such ingredient. It is also used as a component in automotive antifreezes and plane de-icers. It is produced from propylene oxide at high temperatures or at lower temperatures using sulphuric acid. Propylene oxide is a probable human carcinogen. Even though propylene glycol is less toxic than its’ carcinogenic alternative ethylene glycol, it still can cause a host of potential health risks. It causes eye and skin irritation, tearing, burning, in high doses it can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It is generally regarded as safe by the food and drug administration. Here is an example of something that is confusing to me. If a substance causes nausea, vomiting, burning and irritation, how can it be safe? You make the decision for yourself!

Preservatives

Preservatives prevent a product from spoiling from fungus or bacteria. Common preservatives used in shampoos are what are called formaldehyde releasers. The way these preservatives work is to gradually transform to formaldehyde when stored. Some common formaldehyde releasers are DMDM-hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl urea and Quaterniums. As mentioned before, amines such as DEA can react with formaldehyde agents to form the carcinogenic substance NDELA.

PH-Balancers

Shampoo Ph level for acidity and alkalinity demonstrates how well the product can clean or destroy hair and scalp. A Ph value above 7 means a more alkaline shampoo and the more alkaline the shampoo the more damage that is done to the hair and scalp. Stronger Ph level opens hair cuticles, gradually destroys the shaft of the hair, and then creates a rough and rather dull look. A shampoo with a Ph value below 7 keeps the hair cuticle closed and keeps the hair shiny and smooth. Unfortunately, detergent’s alkaline Ph value causes further damage. Well, in a lot of cases manufacturers will use citric acid. They actually got this one right! Citric acid is non toxic and biodegradable. There are a whole host of other toxic ingredients used not only in shampoo but in many personal care products. Many of these ingredients are directly toxic, others have hidden toxicities released in their synthesis, and others combine in the products to produce toxicities. However it happens, manufacturers are not required to get FDA approval for their products because the FDA does not regulate the cosmetic industry. In fact, manufacturers can use any type of raw material without seeking FDA approval. (FDA, 2002) The FDA allows the cosmetic industry to determine what they need to incorporate into their products to make them work and will only perform investigations in the wake of massive consumer complaints and health cases. Obviously, this self-regulation has manufacturers formulating products using chemicals with toxic or systemic (affecting the body as a whole) effects to humans, without consequence. Since there is no governing body watching out for us, it is up to us to watch out for ourselves in this manner. No more being complacent, get informed and READ YOUR LABELS.

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