There are times in this natural living journey where I just want to throw in the towel. Literally.
And of course, only to add fuel to the fire, I was drying my hair one day while seriously thinking about not washing my hair altogether.
(Wow, I’m really digging a hole here, aren’t I?!)
Now hear me out – I didn’t REALLY want to not wash my hair, but I was pretty darn frustrated with deciphering the yada-yada-free-this and blah-blah-free-that labels on shampoo and conditioner bottles that I was practically ready to give up and cry uncle.
Being neck-deep in researching organic foods on top of homeschooling, making meal plans, planning a three week family vacation and running a business… Couldn’t someone just cut me some slack and just tell me what shampoos were good and which were bad?
For the love of a busy work-at-home mom with kids who only wants to wash her hair without unnecessary chemicals, why in the world did there have to be so many options with pretty labels crying “Ooh, pick me! Pick me!” at the store?!
On the bright side, this hair drama forced me to figure out how to make my own homemade conditioner – which I absolutely LOVE. It’s easy, affordable (9¢ per month!) and best of all, it works!
Now several months (and even more big, calming deep breaths) later, I’ve finally found the answer to the question I had been secretly asking myself and desiring an answer to all along:
Make it easy for me: What are the top two ingredients to avoid in shampoo?
For all my fellow natural living mama’s (and their significant others), here’s the simple and straightforward answer.
The Top Two Ingredients to Avoid in Shampoo
#1 – Parabens
Parabens are an inexpensive ingredient used to prevent the growth of bacteria in various beauty and cosmetic items. They’re in 85% of the items we use on our body (lotions, lipsticks, facial cleansers, shampoos, scrubs, etc.) and are most commonly listed in the ingredients as butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben. In fact, you’ll often find more than one paraben listed in the ingredients since they’re used in tandem to cover a broader range of protection against microorganisms.
If parabens protect against bacteria, then what’s the big deal?
Until the 1990s, parabens were deemed safe for the most part. Then research found that parabens are actually xenoestrogens – an agent that mimic estrogen in the body.
Yes, you read that right. When our body comes in contact with parabens, it reacts as if it came in contact with estrogen.
Now, the Center for Disease Control says that enzymes in our skin metabolize parabens really fast, reducing the actual dose that reaches the blood stream. That’s good news.
At the same time, some people have irritating skin reactions to parabens, like hives and swelling of the skin. And some reports of anaphylactic reactions have been reported too! (source)
It’s never my goal to scare you into doing something, or to not do something, but it kinda makes you wonder if itchy skin or an itchy scalp isn’t made up in your head and could actually be related to the parabens in your shampoo…
But let’s go back to the more pressing fact that parabens are messing with your hormones.
The endocrine system is what regulates the hormones in the body (among other functions), and it is a highly tuned and very, very sensitive system.
Parabens are considered an endocrine disrupting chemical, meaning it has the potential to throw the endocrine system out of whack.
Growth, metabolism, fertility, the immune system and even behavior can all altered thanks to a signal from the brain, sent in response to the exposure to parabens (since the body thinks it’s reacting to estrogen). The level of “out of whackness” will be different for each person, and could even be nonexistent.
Or then again, it could be pretty serious. Endocrine disrupting chemicals HAVE been linked to all sorts of issues, including reproductive (deficient sperm), pregnancy (miscarriage, premature birth and birth defects), obesity and breast cancer just to name a few. (source)
Again, I’m not trying to scare you, but we should all be on the same page when I say messing with the body’s natural hormones is not a good thing, even if it’s just a little bit. That’s why I picked parabens as the top ingredient to avoid in shampoo.
#2 – Phthalates
Phthalates are most commonly found in plastics used for food and beverage containers, but they’re also perfume, hair spray, deodorant… and likely used as a gelling agent and fragrance aid in your shampoo.
Like parabens, phthalates are endocrine disruptors too, but they’re sneaky because the majority of the time they don’t show up as an ingredient on the label.
You can’t just skim through the ingredients on a label and see whether or not shampoo contains phthalates like you can parabens, because it’s most often hidden behind the generic term “fragrances.” Since fragrances are considered proprietary data from the company, your chances of truly finding out whether or not that shampoo contains phthalates is slim to none.
But I can tell you this: Have you ever been complimented that your hair smelled good? You can thank the phthalates since they’re what makes the scent last and linger longer.
If you’re feeling a bit itchy, or moody that day, you just might be able to thank the phthalates for that too!
The Bottom Line
I don’t really care if my shampoo doesn’t get all bubbly and full of lather (you can thank the sulfates for that) or if my hair is super easy to comb after the shower (that would be dimethicone at work), but I do care if my shampoo messes up my hormones!
If given the choice, avoid parabens and phthalates whenever you can. Read the label and list of ingredients for parabens, and avoid bottles containing “fragrance” for phthalates. Better yet, choose a shampoo that’s labeled paraben-free and phthalate-free if you can!
These two steps alone will go a long way in reducing your exposure to these endocrine disrupting chemicals and it’s one simple baby step towards a healthier, more natural home!
Inspiration for more natural haircare at home: