Why should we care about natural or synthetic? The answer is simple. Conventional hair products from the drug store as well as most of the professional ones usually contain a dangerous cocktail of chemicals that are harmful for our hair, body and nature, too.
What are the biggest evils in shampoos and other hair products?
SLS a SLES
These foaming agents create that nice foam once you start massaging them into your wet hair. However, these substances are highly aggressive and can cause allergic reactions, irritate your eyes and dry out your scalp, which can lead to a higher occurrence of dandruffs.
How do I recognize them?
There will be either SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) or SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulfate) in the ingredients list.
These cheap synthetics serve as preservatives in most cosmetic products. There are studies that link their regular usage to allergic reactions. When absorbed into the body (the highest risk is when you have an open wound or other small injury on your skin), they can disrupt your hormone's function. Some researches say they can cause breast cancer, too. Besides, parabens are not biologically degradable, which means they are bad not only for our health, but also for our nature. How do I recognize them? Quite easily, they end with the word -paraben. E.g. metylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben aj.
Silicones are widely used in cosmetics because of their softening and smoothing effect. This might look like an advantage when it comes to hair - as the silicone wraps around your hair, they become softer, glossier and even “healthier.” However, this is just a temporary illusion, because most silicones are not dissoluble in water which means that they stay on your hair even if you wash them. Sadly, longterm silicone deposits on your hair have exactly the opposite effects and cause your hair to break, tangle and dehydrate. Some silicones are linked to cancer and hormone disruption. Last but not least, they aren’t biologically degradable. How do I recognize them? They usually have the -one, -ane or -ol. ending. E.g. Cyclomethicone, Cyclotetrasiloxane, Cycloplentasiloxane, Dimethicone aj.
The fragrance of most hair products is typically created with a chemical cocktail that is hidden behind the magical word perfume in the ingredients list. Such perfume can contain phtalates and other harmful substances, cause allergies, headaches or nausea. If you want your shampoo or conditioner to smell nice, choose a natural essential oil instead.
PEG a PPG
…aka Polyethylen glykol a Polypropylen glykol. These substances serve are stabilisators and emulgators in cosmetics. They are not marked as risky or harmful themselves, but there is something dangerous about them. They allow other substances to penetrate our skin, which means that all the ingredients, including the harmful ones, get into your system more easily. Besides, they can cause allergic reactions and it is no surprise that they are not biologically degradable. How do I recognize them? They contain the abbreviation PEG or an ending -eth. E.g.: PEG-4, Ceteareth or Stereath-21.
It is important to mention that if you decide to go for a natural shampoo, you should change your other hair products, too. If you use a silicone, paraben and SLS-free shampoo, but keep putting a chemical hair mask or conditioner on your hair, it won’t change a thing.
How will I know that a shampoo (conditioner, mask) is natural?
Actually quite easily - a natural product doesn’t contain any of the above-mentioned substances. Watch out for greenwashing marketing - products labeled as natural product, planet-loving product, organic etc. which contains one or two natural ingredients but the rest are harmful synthetics. A product that contains avocado oil, aloe vera extract or camomille is not necessarily natural! Hair oil that contains argan oil but at the same time is full of silicones won’t do a good services to your hair tips (true story aka how Tereza got tricked again in the drug store).
The advice is - read the ingredients list. If you don’t know what all those weird and complicated names mean, have a look here (CZ):
Types of natural shampoos
Generally, there are three types of natural shampoos - a liquid shampoo, a solid shampoo (shampoo bar) and a shampoo soap (soapoo).
Liquid natural shampoo
Natural liquid shampoos can be found even in conventional drug stores, if you read carefully the ingredients list. It is the easiest one to use during the transition to a natural hair care. When it comes to the ingredients, it usually contains water, caring substances such as panthenol, protein or keratin, glycerin, essential oils, emulgators and preservatives. Instead of the infamous SLS, coco sulfate (sodium coco sulfate) or better sodium cocyl isethionate, coco-glucoside and sodium lauryl sulfoacetate are typically used as the foaming agents.
Shampoo bars have a different form as well as contents. They usually come as a solid rectangular or round block. To make the foam, you have to shortly massage your scalp with it. Solid shampoo bars don’t contain water and therefore the concentration of the caring substances and surfactants is higher. The higher concentrations of surfactants cause the silicones and other chemicals to wash out gradually, which means that you can see the effect immediately, but it’s not a harsh change for your hair at the same time. Coco sulfate is also used as a foaming agent here. Besides, shampoo bars are highly practical for traveling - there’s nothing to leak. :-)
Soapoo or hair soap is very similar to a regular soap - both on the inside and the outside. It contains sodium hydroxide, essential oils and/or herb extracts. Soaps have an alkaline pH, which causes the hair pores to open after washing. Consequently, your hair might seem dull, coarse or even sticky. To balance the pH, a vinegar wash is recommended (mix 500ml of water with 1-3 spoons of apple or wine vinegar and pour it onto your hair). Apart from the vinegary drawback, it takes a while for your hair to get used to the hair soap (around 1 month), because you have to wash away all the silicones and chemicals first, in order for the soap to function well. However, if you are patient enough, the soap will give your hair volume, it will make them glossy, fluffy and also prolong the washing interval.
For the brave ones only: No poo method
If you want to be ultimately zero waste and zero chemicals, you can try the so-called no poo method. It comes from the words no shampoo and I guess that I don’t need to tell you that its based on washing your hair without shampoo. Instead, you wash your hair either with baking soda, apple vinegar, herb extracts or with lukewarm water only. I actually read about washing your hair with rye flour, too. Hmm. This method is as drastic as it sounds in the beginning. I haven’t tried it myself, but from what I’ve heard, you will experience a time of really oily hair after some 6 weeks. It is not easy to pass it, especially if you were used to the nice feeling of fluffy, fragrant, freshly washed hair. Nevertheless, the oil secretion will eventually get to normal and you will be rewarded with much stronger, healthier and glossier hair that are easier to deal with. Apart from that, the big advantage of this method is that you don’t put literally any substances onto your hair and scalp.
If you care not only about what’s in your products, but also about what’s left when you finish using them, the solid variants are the best (if we rule out the no-poo method). You can buy solid shampoo and conditioner bars in most zero-waste stores without any packaging or wrapped in paper if you like. According to my observations, solid conditioners might not be for everyone though. In that case, the second best variant is probably a conditioner in a recyclable or returnable packaging. It’s obviously not 100% minimum waste, but still better than the non-recyclable and non-washable plastic shampoo bottle. Lush has the option of returning their containers, which they recycle and use for the production of new packaging afterwards. Otherwise, a glass or plastic container with an aluminium lid is a good option, if it can be fully recycled or washed and reused for something else.
We are in total 4 girls in Minimum Waste and we have all literally fell in love with the Kvitok solid shampoo bars, which we sell here. Actually, we started selling them here because one of us had already been using them and gave us the tip. Personally, I use the brown one for my long, brown hair and I’m 100% satisfied with it. As for a conditioner, I have tried a couple solid ones, too, but I didn’t like the sensation of rubbing my hair tips with it (it felt a bit like I was actually damaging them). I simply prefer creamy products that I can gently massage into my hair, which means I am not fully minimum waste here, as I use a creamy natural conditioner from Ponio. On the other hand, I reuse their containers for my own cosmetic products (I make my own lip balm, body lotion and facial mask). I might look like a coward now, but I gave up on the soapoo after two usages (couldn’t stand the sticky hair) and the no-poo method is still something alien to me. Nevertheless, I put only pure natural products on my hair and scalp and save a lot of packaging from liquid shampoos, which makes both my hair and my ecological-self satisfied. :-)
And how about you?
Author: Tereza Dohnalová