How toxic is your shampoo? More than you might think! That bottle which promises you thick, luxurious lather and beautiful bubbles may not only be damaging your hair, but its ingredients could also lead to diseases, hair thinning and loss, and even scalp damage.
The culprits behind the dangers in most shampoos are surfactants called Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS) and related compounds. SLS is possibly the most dangerous ingredient a consumer can find in most shampoos. So potent is SLS, studies have linked it to serious skin and scalp irritation and disease, hair loss and damage and the ability of the chemical to create nitrate compounds which have been linked to cancer and cell damage.
SLS is often disguised by a variety of chemical names such as diethanolime) (DEA, triethanolamine (TEA) and monoethanolamine (MEA). All are common in almost all shampoos. These ingredients, plus other equally dangerous cousins to SLS, such as Sodium Laurel Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Disodium Laureth Sulfosucinate are made by separating Lauric acid from coconut oil and treating with sulfuric acid, or by making lauric acid synthetically, or Lauamide MEA, Cocamide DEA, Cocamide MEA, made from Lauric acid and ammonia. Even hair care products that label themselves as “natural” may contain these potentially fatal ingredients.
Sodium Laurel Sulfate. Three words that every consumer of hair care products should be aware of and know what they mean. Read your shampoo’s label and you’ll probably find it contains Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS), or one of its derivatives, such as Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). DEA, TEA or MEA. It is a chemically toxic surfactant, which means it is a wetting and foaming agent. The purpose of SLS is to lower the surface tension in the water, allowing the shampoo to spread out more easily and to penetrate when it is applied to the hair. Additionally, since manufacturers believe that consumers equate lots of suds with cleaning strength, SLS gives a high level of foaming power to the product. It is a chemical ingredient very similar to liquid dishwashing soap. In fact, traditionally, it was used in industrial factories as a compound to degrease engines. And consumers should be aware that compounds found in SLS are hazardous. In “Dangerous Beauty” by Mark Fearer, it is revealed that “… in tests, animals that were exposed to SLS experienced eye damage, along with depression, labored breathing, diarrhea, severe skin irritation, corrosion and death.”
The American College of Toxicology states that SLS and its cousin Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) can cause malformation in children’s eyes. Other research indicates SLS may harm the immune system, especially within the skin. Cosmetic Science reports that the detergent action of SLS may damage the derma’s cellular ability to maintain moisture. This is why there are many reports of dryness, roughness and redness and brittle skin by users of shampoos that contain this harmful ingredient. So potent a chemical is SLS, scientists in Japan have used SLS as a laboratory agent to deliberately cause mutations in test tube bacteria, changing the genetic information found in the bacteria’s DNA.
Despite the lather, products containing SLS does not mean one is cleaning the hair in a healthy fashion. The cleaning power is overwhelming, stripping the hair. This is why people often use a conditioner after shampooing with SLS, in order to put “manageability” back. And, usually, the conditioner contains more chemicals, creating a viscous cycle guaranteed to result in dry, brittle, lifeless hair and damage to the skin, scalp and hair.
SLS does more than strip the hair of its natural oils. It removes beneficial bacteria that are essential to maintaining a healthy scalp and head of hair. Once the “good” bacteria have been vanquished, harmful germs have an open playing field, resulting in rashes, hair loss and allergic reactions.
A typical shampoo contains about 50% sodium laurel sulfate, some sodium sterate and about 40% water. In addition to this brew, manufactures may add a baffling array of ingredients that read like a chemistry book. Check the label on many shampoos and any one of the following may be listed: Sodium Laureth Sulfate, MEA, DEA, TEA Laurel Sulfate, Cocomide or coconut oil. All of these compounds are commonly used surfactants related to SLS and have the same potential health dangers.
DEA and MEA are often “neutralized” in the manufacturing process. Consumers can tell if they are being exposed to these harmful compounds when names like Cocamide DEA or MEA or Lauramide DEA are listed on the label. These chemicals are capable of disrupting human hormones and may form cancer-causing nitrates. Dr. Samuel Epstien, Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Illinois has said, “repeated skin applications of DEA based detergents resulted in a major increase in the incidence of two cancers-liver and kidney cancers.”
The health evidence against SLS and related compounds grows every day. Reports in the mainstream press and scientific journals increasingly sound alarms about the damages to which these chemicals are linked. A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients by Ruth Winters states that “shampoos are among the most frequently cited complaints to the FDA. Reports include eye irritation, scalp irritation, tangled hair, swelling of hands, face and arms, and split and frizzy hair.”
In a November, 1998 report in the Wall Street Journal, a study linked SLS to cataracts and nitrate absorption. During the manufacturing process, SLS comes into contact with other chemical compounds, most notably triethanolamine (TEA) and N-nitrosodiethanolamine (NDELA). This interaction creates nitrate compounds, which can enter the body.
Chemical absorption by the skin is particularly acute with shampoos. Our skin is not a uniform barrier. Hair follicles, sweat and sebaceous glands are minute holes in the derma layer. Investigations by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee found that structural factors of the skin, such as hairiness, influence what chemicals may be absorbed into our bodies. SLS was found to increase the rate of absorption as it reacts with the chemicals, preservatives and dyes found in many hair care products. They are easily absorbed through the scalp and skin and can accumulate over time in tissue and organs, such as the brain, causing chronic toxic effects and can stay in the body for up to seven days.
Unquestionably , SLS is the most damaging ingredient found in most shampoos. It is the standard compound used in scientific testing labs as a skin irritant. Industrially, SLS is used to strip machinery of grease and is the cleaning agent found in car wash detergents. When added to hair care products, SLS and its destructive twin, SLES, have the potential to cause chronic skin irritation and strip the hair of beneficial oils and bacteria. This damage can lead to thinning hair and noticeable hair loss.
Shampoo makers are beholden to SLS because they believe the consumer wants sudsing action and, more importantly, because it is a very cheap ingredient. With almost half of a shampoo’s weight comprised of SLS, manufacturers are reaping huge profits at the consumer’s expense in the pocketbook as well as risking the long-term health of the user. It behooves anyone purchasing hair care products to be an educated buyer. Always check the label. Read the ingredients. Be aware. Ingredients such as SLS not only can cause damage to hair, but to one’s long term health as well.