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Published on December 17th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans


Organic, Natural Hair Care

With all manner of toxins invading our outside air space, homes, and offices, what is our body’s best defense against these invasive attacks? Switching to organic hair care products is one line of defense that can protect your scalp from unnecessary exposure to hundreds of known and suspected toxic substances.

Organic shampoos and conditioners that incorporate plant-based extracts provide you with healthy alternatives to harsh, synthetic chemicals so you can clean and condition your locks in true eco-beauty style.

Skin is the human body’s largest organ and its porousness is one of its primary functional features. The permeability of human skin helps to regulate the body’s internal temperature, and this feature also allows for absorption of ultraviolet rays from the sun, which are then converted into nutrients the body can use. The great ability that skin has to absorb external substances and pass them to the body’s inside can also work to the detriment of our health—many popular brands of hair and body care products contain toxic, hazardous chemicals that pass into the body through our skin.

The U.S. cosmetic industry has been primarily self-regulated since 1938. Manufacturers of personal care products are not subject to federal review or approval before marketing their products to the public. Out of approximately 10,500 chemicals used in personal care products, only 11% are tested and assessed for health and safety. Many of these chemicals are widely known to be highly toxic are still used as standard product ingredients.

Common Chemicals in Hair Care Products

Hair CareNo legislation currently requires body care product manufacturers to list the exact ingredients on product labels, and this makes it difficult for consumers to know exactly what they are putting on, and into, their skin. Even if you know to avoid certain dangerous ingredients, these can be disguised by trade names as part of a manufacturer’s “secret formula.” Many chemicals, even known or suspected carcinogens, may be added to products in what manufacturers determine to be “negligible amounts,” and are listed on labels as inert ingredients. These toxins are readily absorbed through the skin and they may accumulate in organs in significant amounts with long-term product use.

Many foam boosters, protein thickeners, coating agents, emulsifiers, preservatives, and fragrance in commercial hair care products are composed of synthetic chemicals with known toxic effects. Sodium Laurel/Laureth Sulfate (SLS/SLES) is a harsh chemical foaming agent, or detergent, commonly added to industrial degreasing formulas. SLS has been linked to hormone and nervous system disruption and various cancers, particularly when combined with other toxic chemicals found in standard industrial hair care product ingredients. Here are some other commonly-used toxic culprits to watch out for:

  • Parabens. Used to inhibit bacterial growth in body care products and extend shelf-life, these preservatives mimic estrogen in the human body and are directly linked to the development of breast cancer.
  • Propylene Glycol. A cosmetic form of mineral oil also used in brake fluid and antifreeze. It is added to shampoos and conditioners to lock in moisture and give hair a silky feel. It also happens to be a known neurotoxin and is shown to cause liver and kidney damage in animal studies.
  • Lauramide/ Lauric DEA and Cocamide MEA. All different versions of foaming agents added to create a thick and creamy lather during shampooing. These chemicals readily permeate the skin and, when combined with SLS, they cause the formation of nitrosamines, very powerful known carcinogens.
  • Fragrance. An estimated 5,000 fragrance additives may make their way to shampoos and conditioners in the name of creating a “natural, botanical” scent. Unfortunately, most of these fragrances are synthetically created from petroleum products. Perfumes may not be patented, so actual ingredients are typically kept under wraps and off of labels.

Scads of scientific data ring alarm bells concerning the health hazards of commercial hair dyes, but no warning label requirements are in place for U.S. hair dye manufacturers at this time. Health issues associated with hair coloring have mostly been linked with permanent and semi-permanent dyes, particularly the colors dark-brown and black. Keep alert for sightings of these common hair dye offenders:

  • A common petrochemical in hair dye, p-phenylenediamine (PPD), and its derivatives, 4-MMPD and 4-MMPD Sulphate, are implicated as a potential cause of several cancers and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Other suspected toxins such as diaminobenzene, ammoniated mercury, and SLS, are additional ingredients contained in most hair dyes.

If you wish to entirely avoid the potentially dangerous chemicals in these dyes, several plant-derived dyes on today’s market await your attention.

Safety Testing and Animal Research

Personal care product manufacturers are not required to safety test their products before market approval, so they escape the requirement of including a warning label on each product that has not been tested for safety. Alarmingly, all that is needed to avoid a warning label is a test of product safety, and companies are not required to disclose results of safety tests. In addition, federal regulations for the safety of cosmetic products are appallingly low. For example, a product that kills 50% of lab animals through ingestion or inhalation can still receive federal regulatory designation as non-toxic.

Much of the cosmetic industry’s research is carried out on animals. Of all animal testing carried out in the U.S. today, only 27% is used to further medical research—the other 73% is conducted to promote consumer products. You may avoid supporting the cosmetic industry’s cruel practices and bypass exposure to caustic and dangerous chemicals by using one of the many high-quality alternative hair care products currently available.

Many chemicals, even known or suspected carcinogens, may be added to products in what manufacturers determine to be “negligible amounts,” and are listed on labels as inert ingredients. These toxins are readily absorbed through the skin and they may accumulate in organs in significant amounts with long-term product use.


Green shampoos, conditioners, and other eco-beauty products incorporate natural hydrators, nutrient-dense oils, andNatural Hair emulsifiers to clean and revitalize hair. As you research organic hair care options, be aware that no FDA regulations govern the natural or organic options for shampoos and other personal care items. This means that some products will advertise as natural and organic, though they still contain dangerous chemicals.

Many commercial brands advertise as natural to appeal to consumers seeking healthier alternatives to harsh body care products, but the word natural does not guarantee that the product is safe or comprised of natural substances. If you want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt whether or not your hair care products are safe, check to see that they are listed on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep report, an online cosmetic safety index searchable by product, ingredient, or company.

By carefully researching your hair care options and choosing to support organic plant-based products, you reduce your exposure to thousands of unsafe chemicals, which reduces your risk of developing future health complications from their side effects. If you’re ambitious, you can even make your own personal care products so that you are manufacturer and regulator!

You can also improve your body’s ability to handle the elimination of toxins by maintaining an active lymphatic system through adequate exercise, a plentiful supply of water, and a green, high-fiber diet. Aside from boosting your energy, vitality, and radiance, these practices will also help you to maintain a beautiful and healthy head of hair.

Article Contributors: Julie Reid

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