After a day in the jungle that’s been the American Southeast this summer, nothing feels better than lathering up greasy hair with clean-smelling shampoo. However, like (some of) the best things in life, this practice probably isn’t good for you, largely because of the makeup of many shampoos you might find in your local drugstore. So what can you do to avoid potentially harmful chemicals short of letting your hair devolve into a stringy mess of unmanageable filth? While many swear by letting hair regulate itself, rinsing it occasionally and letting natural oils nourish the strands, my (very) long and (very, very) straight hair just does not allow for this method. My attempts at washing my hair less go something like this:
Day One After Washing — OK-looking side braid with questionable-looking bangs
Day Two After Washing — Questionable-looking side braid with pinned back I-have-given-up-on-you bangs
Day Three After Washing — Does not exist*; let’s be honest, I barely ever even last until day two
(*exceptions: sleeping through alarm, being lazy)
Upon doing some shampoo-related research, it seems that there are in fact alternatives to mainstream shampoos that treat your hair more gently and keep the harsher chemicals at bay. First, let’s look at the things you might want to avoid when lathering up:
- Sodium and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfates — These are the ingredients in shampoo that attract dirt and oil, washing them away. They also create the foam that many of us are used to, but which serves no actual purpose in cleansing hair. These chemicals have come under scrutiny due to the fact that they can be irritating to eyes and skin and can be harsh on hair, sometimes creating breakage and damage.
- Fragrance — Present in most shampoos, “fragrance” in mass produced products is essentially chemicals created in a lab to emulate natural smells. In fact, when you see this ingredient listed on your product, it can refer to up to 4,000 different chemicals, including acetone (yes, like nail polish remover), formaldehyde and alcohol. Like you might have already guessed, these ingredients aren’t great for your hair, stripping it of essential oils and maybe even causing damage to the hair follicle itself.
- Propylene Glycol — Allowing the shampoo ingredients to penetrate deep into the hair shaft, propylene glycol serves the purpose of making hair look shinier and healthier. However, over time this chemical has the potential to ravage the hair follicle and damage the integrity of each individual hair.
While the above information may make you want to promptly remove 90% of your shower’s contents, remember that these ingredients are more likely to cause harm over long periods of use, so your best bet may be to use up what you have and then try some of the more gentle shampoos free of major irritants to see how they work for you. In my search to find more natural shampoos, these are some that look worth trying:
- Pros: Yes, this is technically for babies, but that just makes it all the more simple, gentle and great for sensitive skin. Burt’s Bees cites this product as being 98.9% natural and is sulfate, phthalate, petrochemical and paraben-free
- Cons: Still contains fragrance
- Pros: A mild cleanser safe for color-treated hair, this product is free of sulfates, silicone and parabens; cool-looking bottle!
- Cons: Contains fragrance, although the fragrance is a “certified organic natural aroma”; and at $29, this cleanser is not exactly cheap
- Pros: This daily shampoo is said to gently cleanse hair without the use of sodium lauryl sulfate; it is fragrance-free
- Cons: Has a long list of complicated-sounding ingredients; however, many of the ingredients are certified organic
- Pros: Suitable for all hair types, this shampoo contains no laurel sulfates, is cruelty free and employs certified organic botanical ingredients
- Cons: The tingling sensation and strong tea tree smell may be off-putting to some people; some reviews report it as “drying”
What’s your favorite shampoo (all natural or otherwise)? Do you think it’s important to avoid the harsher chemicals?