by Ross Bishop
How you look is important, and your hair is a really important part of your image. The marketers of the the skin and hair care industry are well aware of that and take full advantage of it. I’m going to use shampoo as an example of what happens throughout the industry.
We spend almost $11 billion on shampoo and conditioner each year ($40 billion globally). So soap manufacturers aren’t willing to rely on a product that merely works. Their job is to convince you that their shampoo is adding value (sex appeal) to your life. To be honest, I am not concerned about the money you waste, but when you are done with them, this chemical soup gets flushed into the wastewater stream and it doesn’t just disappear. It raises toxic hell with the downstream ecology!
Jane Houlihan, director of research for the Environmental Working Group, reported on the dangers of cosmetics and personal care products to a Congressional House subcommittee. She believes that these products, including shampoo, are the biggest source of human exposure to dangerous chemicals. According to Houlihan, “ . . .companies are free to use almost any ingredient they choose in personal care products, with no proof of safety required.” Consumers are not properly warned of possible dangers because of a “lack of standards and labeling loopholes.” And it all goes downstream! Can you detect the influence of industry lobbyists?
All but three of the typical shampoo ingredients have proven to create health and environmental problems. These known toxins are allowed because the small quantities limit your exposure. But in the aggregate, when dumped into the wastewater stream, it’s another story.
Our wastewater plants were built for another age and were designed to only deal with major pollutants. They were simply not designed to handle the diversity and volume of chemicals we dump into the wastewater stream today. That means that much of the toxicity from our chemically intense society flows untreated into our rivers, lakes and eventually the oceans.
Some of even gets recycled back into our drinking water! One study identified more than 200 chemicals that remain in wastewater, even after treatment. I was in Chicago recently and the city, like a great many others, draws it’s “freshwater” from nearby Lake Michigan, which is a toxic sewer dump for the many cities and industries (including Chicago), that release their “treated” wastewater back into the lake. Lord only knows what dissolved chemicals Chicagoans (and residents of many other cities) absorb from their drinking water every day.
Mount Sinai Hospital studied the situation and reported that 2.5 billion pounds of toxic chemicals are released into the wastewater stream each year, much of it from residential use. That is the equivalent of 37,100 tanker trucks of noxious chemicals, including 350 million gallons of shampoo and its unregulated ingredients, dumped into our rivers, lakes and the ocean, every year.
Researchers in Seattle found a troubling cocktail of over 81 drugs in the water of Puget Sound. And the chemicals had spread into the tissue of young chinook salmon. Amongst the toxic mix were cocaine, nicotine, contraception drugs, valium, cholesterol medicine and insecticides. Shampoo is known to contribute to high levels of estrogen and estrogen-like substances (endocrine disrupters) that damage fish populations and cause male fish to grow ovaries, as just an example.
In order to shampoo your hair you need one thing – detergent. As I write this, I am holding a bottle of America’s most popular shampoo and it has 22 ingredients, three of which actually clean hair. The other 19 (2/3 of the bottle), do little for hair and are intended to appeal to your vanity.
Five of the 19 ingredients thicken the shampoo. Consumers believe that thick shampoo is better. Thickness also guarantees that you will use more product. And where would we be without suds? The lather helps convince you that the shampoo is working, but don’t affect your hair much.
Lathering agents also boost the suds, and then there are dyes, fragrances and conditioners – dimethicone for example, is a silicone-based chemical that coats the hair and skin. Plus there are vitamins, minerals, preservatives and other exotic extras that as far as hair care is concerned, are mostly useless.
I have spent the last month testing various DYI recipes for non-toxic shampoos. Since I don’t have a lot of hair I’ve been pestering my roommate and friends to test various formulations. It’s become something of a standing joke amongst my friends. Anyway, what follows are some recipes that work really well and you can use to reduce your contribution to the toxic wastewater situation.
One caution – hair is sensitive to high ph so, although almost any detergent will work, a high ph detergent like Castile soap (ph 9-11.5) or baking soda will work, but they will also strip the hair and scalp. I think they are too strong for hair (which has a ph 5.5). There are a number of DYI recipes on the internet that use either one, but I have omitted them. You may disagree.
Also, since most DYI recipes don’t contain the preservatives used in commercial products, you can add some Leucidal which is an organic preservative (I get mine from Amazon) or you can just freeze the extra in ice cube trays and thaw as you need it.
The Best Shampoo
You are not going to believe this, but the hands down winner for a non-toxic shampoo was simple organic rye flour. Rye flour is loaded with vitamins, proteins and minerals. Remember all those Pantene ads that talked about the Pro-V in the shampoo? Well, the synthetic pantothenic acid they use is found in rye flour in its natural form. And talk about economical! My local health food store sells 3 lbs. of organic rye flour for $1.13.
Instructions: Mix about 3 TBS. of organic rye flour with water to make a runny paste. Rub the paste evenly onto your scalp and hair and let it sit a few minutes while you finish your shower. Then rinse off thoroughly. That’s it! I don’t even use conditioner.
Tips: Do not use if you have Celiac Disease. Make sure the flour you use is finely ground and doesn’t contain bits of husk or you’ll be brushing those out of your hair forever.
ALOE VERA SHAMPOO
Mix equal parts coconut milk (full fat) (Note: I prefer cartoned coconut milk. I find the canned milk to be too heavy.) and pure aloe vera gel (pure gel can be a little hard to find. I use a 99%). Then add 10 to 20 drops of essential oil.
Use a small amount in your hair, leave a few minutes and rinse. I don’t need conditioner after using this (I have fine hair).
This is a heavy shampoo and a little more complicated to make, but it works great! Go easy with it – use too much and you’ll end up with greasy hair!
- 1 3/4 cup (13.5 oz) full fat coconut milk – ph 6.1-7.0
- 2 Tbsp raw honey – ph 3.9
- 1 tsp jojoba oil – ph 4.21
- 1 tsp castor oil – ph 4.65
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar – ph 3.1
- 1 tsp essential oil of your choice
- Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. This stuff is thick! If you store at room temperature, this will separate some, so shake well before each use.
- To use, (and this may take some getting used to) massage a small amount of shampoo into your palm and then into your hair and scalp. Use your fingers or a comb to spread through your hair. Leave on for a few minutes before rinsing.
Shampoo Using Baby Shampoo
- 1/4 cup coconut milk (full fat)
- 1/3 cup organic baby shampoo/wash
- 1 tsp vitamin E, olive or almond oil
- 10 to 20 drops of essential oil
Mix some Apple Cider Vinegar and water. Use anywhere from 2 Tbs. to equal parts. Shake the bottle before each use and gently massage into the hair and scalp for a minute or two and rinse. After drying, your hair will not smell like vinegar! (The vinegar rinse will smooth the hair and eliminate the greasy, sticky feeling that the heavier shampoos can leave.)
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