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A good hair day can make your day, while a bad hair day can break your day. Achieving consistent daily confidence is easier if your hair is willing to come along for the ride. (Disclaimer— Please don’t use a bad hair day as an excuse not to be awesome. You can be awesome no matter what your hair looks like. Yeah, you, fabulous you!) Some people get caught in a trap when they think toxin-free hair means putting up with lifeless, sad hair. With awesomeness on the line, why would people go toxin free? Here’s what you need to know and some easy upgrades. 


In 1976 when teens had big, glorious coifs and were dancing to the Bee Gees, they realized there were a lot of chemicals in consumer products. There was already a list of over 60,000, and more were coming out daily. The government passed a new law, the Toxic Substances Controls Act, to get things under control. This act gave the EPA the authority to require reporting and testing of new chemicals. [1] 

That sounds like it would protect us, but the thing is, all the chemicals produced up until that point were grandfathered in, which means they were never scrutinized. Additionally, new ones are only restricted if there’s an unreasonable risk to public health. What’s “unreasonable”? 

With new chemicals, where do we get evidence of unreasonable risk when they’re being reported and tested by companies that want to manufacture them? They’re free to make them if they don’t show unreasonable risk. Over 20,000 chemicals have entered the market since the act took effect, so now there are over 85,000 chemicals, and over 10,000 are in the wide variety of personal care products lining the store shelves.   


This is important as you look at the long list of chemicals in your shampoo, even if the packaging looks natural and is filled with botanical images. Botanical packaging doesn’t mean you’re safe. A study done in 2008 by Citizens Campaign for the Environment and published in Sprout San Francisco found 1,4- Dioxane – a carcinogen – in 65 out of 80 household products, including shampoos that market themselves as “natural.” [2] 

Our definitions of “unreasonable risk to public health” are different. With all the chemicals out there, it’s important to reduce that risk whenever possible. You must be a diligent and informed consumer. It takes some work, but you can feel good using your healthy products. 



These preservatives are also endocrine disruptors. When these nasty chemicals get into your body, they mimic the body’s natural estrogens. How does that impact kids who have yet to go through puberty? Parabens aren’t suitable for anyone and can lead to a higher risk of breast cancer for women. A U.C. Berkeley study found parabens were associated with cancer. They also found that parabens in the tissues of women with breast cancer could lead to faster, more aggressive tumors. [3  


These are a class of compounds, also known as quats, that have anti-microbial and anti-static qualities. For that reason, they’re in cleaners, disinfectants, laundry, and personal care products. Almost every shampoo has them! They make shampooing easy by adding silkiness and making it easier to comb through your hair. They’re also known for causing asthmatic and reproductive problems, and a 2017 study found they can cause neural tube defects in rodents. [4] 

The potential effects aren’t worth the silky hair, and the positives are only short-term. These preservatives dry out and damage your hair in the long run! 


Sodium lauryl sulfate, also known as SLS, and its cousin SLES can be found in soaps, shampoos, and even toothpastes to help them “foam up.” They are chemically known as surfactants. SLES cannot be metabolized by the liver, allowing the effects to be longer-lasting. 

What concerns us about these chemicals is that surfactants can be contaminated with the byproduct 1,4-Dioxane during manufacturing. That carcinogen shows up again! 


Look for Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone on the label because these ingredients in high concentrations can cause chemical burns and skin irritation. Studies show that even low concentrations aren’t worth the risk as the chemicals can increase cell death and inflammatory response. [5] 

They can be found in many personal care products, even those that say “hypoallergenic.” Other countries, including Canada, have banned isothiazolinones. As of June 2016, the Canadian government has forbidden them from being included in children’s products sold in Canada. 


Phthalates are another endocrine disruptor found in shampoos and other personal care products. Animal studies have linked these plasticizing agents to early puberty, interfering with the hormone system and male reproductive development, low testosterone, and low sperm count. Hormones make up so much of who we are; we don’t need anything messing with them! [6] 


These products belong in your car and not in your hair. Products using petroleum (“petrochemicals”) are possible carcinogens, and there are other concerns with using petrolatum. [7] [8] Companies use petroleum because it puts a coating or barrier on your hair, keeping it shiny and preventing it from absorbing moisture. This same chemical puts a barrier on your skin, keeping moisture out and toxins in. 


“Fragrance” is the ingredient that sounds the least harmful but can be the scariest. It’s not just one ingredient – it’s whatever is needed to make that specific scent. Usually, that includes a combination of several chemicals. The EWG reports that over 3100 ingredients – or any mix, can hide under this term. [9] Some elements may be allergens, carcinogens, or endocrine disruptors like phthalates. [10] If you see “fragrance” on the ingredients list, it’s better to put the product back on the shelf. 


Looking out for the eight toxins listed can make finding decent shampoos and conditioners challenging. The good news is that we at The Wellness Way are intent on finding good, clean products for us and our families. It’s easy when you know what you’re looking for. Here are a few quick tips: 

  • Can you eat it? – Notice that we didn’t ask if it would taste good. But, if you look at the ingredients and see nothing you would hesitate about putting in your mouth, it’s a good sign it’s safe to put on your scalp. There are likely only a few commercial brands that pass this test. 
  • EWG app – This is something you’ll see come up a lot in our lifestyle articles. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a fantastic tool that you can use to scan products as you’re shopping. It can tell you which ingredients to avoid. 
  • ACV hair rinse – This is another one that may sound unbelievable, but you can wash your hair with ACV! Just be careful to find a decent recipe online because undiluted ACV is acidic enough to burn your hair. 
  • Honey Shampoo – You can wash your hair with another thing you’ll easily find in the kitchen – honey! Just dilute it (1:3) with water and add essential oils for fragrance. As additional benefits, honey treats dandruff, moisturizes the scalp, and reduces frizziness! [11] 

Contrary to popular belief, getting away from conventional shampoos is far from complex, with plenty of other options available. Switching your bathroom cupboard to cleaner products has never been easier, and your hair will thank you for it! 


It’s easy to grab a bottle that says, “no parabens or sulfates,” but that doesn’t mean you have a bottle of truly “clean” shampoo. Remember, thousands of chemicals are in personal care products. Companies can easily swap one nasty ingredient for another. So, look at the ingredients list, not just the claims on the front. Don’t worry; no one expects you to know all the chemicals out there. You can look them up on EWG’s Skin Deep or the Think Dirty App to see what the experts say.   

What’s in your bottle? Is it something that makes you feel good? Do the ingredients nourish your body without introducing harmful chemicals into the environment? Once you transition to natural shampoo, synthetic chemicals tend to lose their allure. Grow healthy hair and embrace hair care with a conscience.  


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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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