How Bad is Shampoo for the Environment?

Growing up, you've probably learned that you need to wash your hair with shampoo for a variety of reasons — the main reason being that your hair won't get clean otherwise. More and more companies have started to promote their shampoo's as being without any harmful ingredients. That raises the question: what's so harmful about shampoo?

Why do we use shampoo?
One of the most common reasons to use shampoo is because it removes any build-up of sebum from your scalp. Sebum is an oily or waxy excretion made by tiny glands in your skin. Its primary purpose is to make the skin and hair of mammals waterproof. The sulphates in shampoo dissolve this sebum. Also, people with more sensitive skin, dandruff or allergies can make use of special shampoos to treat their symptoms.

The history of shampoo begins in India, where people used various herbs mixed with boiling water and dried Indian gooseberry to wash their hair. Western traders used these practices to indulge themselves and then brought them back to Europe.

Harmful ingredients in shampoo
When we want to get rid of oil and wax in our hair, we use the best smelling, prettiest looking shampoos. However, the only ingredients that actually clean our hair are Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate and Ammonium Laureth Sulphate. All other ingredients are to add to the experience of washing your hair, but they can also be harmful.

Before we move on to that, it's important to note that the two ingredients that get rid of oil and wax are also the most dangerous ones for your hair, health and the environment. Sulphates are known for being added to cleaning products and are also often used in pesticides. Does that sound like something you want to put on your head? Since they are present in pesticides, you know what they can do to insects. When this substance gets into the water, where it will spread through rivers and oceans, it can have much more significant impacts on the wildlife living there. The ammonium component of these sulphates is also known to cause cancer, skin rashes, diarrhea when ingested, and eye damage if it comes into contact with your eyes.

Next up is the substance that makes your shampoo foam: Cocamidopropyl Betaine. This substance is considered to be safe but causes an allergic skin reaction to most of its users. Ever had the feeling your hair was even oilier or dryer than before washing? That's probably the result of this foaming agent.

Preservatives in shampoo are also not as innocent as they may seem. Both Phenoxyethanol and Potassium Sorbate cause skin irritations and Phenoxyethanol can even cause severe organ damage when (accidentally) ingested.

Dimethicone is a substance that makes your hair feel soft, but it actually creates a plastic-like layer on your hair and scalp, drying it out immensely. This substance is not degradable and therefore is harmful to the environment when rinsed down the drain.

What should I use?
Most often, when two/thirds of the ingredients listed on a shampoo bottle are incomprehensible due to the number of scientific-sounding names, it's not as good for your hair as you may think. Your hair doesn't need these chemicals to keep it clean. Our ancestors didn't have these kinds of shampoos and they did fine, so why can't we?

If you're thinking about changing shampoos, there are many options you can choose from, which are all better for your hair and the environment.

Natural shampoos are often overlooked because they're more expensive than the rest. However, they often only contain nature-based ingredients, essential oils for perfume and no sulphates. Most of these shampoos are available at your local pharmacy or box store. Though their packaging is a plastic bottle, their ingredients are better for yourself and nature, allowing you to make an impact.

Shampoo Bars are fairly new to the market, but certainly not one to forget. Containing natural oils (like shea butter, coconut oil, rapeseed oil), and other fresh ingredients they are great for your hair and do not damage the environment. These bars last about 40-60 washes and they smell great. The only downside of this type of shampoo is that your hair needs about 2 to 4 weeks to get used to the difference in ingredients. You can see how natural the ingredients are in this one.

Homemade so-called shampoos or cleanses work well too. Vinegar is a natural detergent that removes any sebum from your head and hair, and green tea offers antioxidants and soothes the scalp. There is no need for fancy scents, although you may not love the smell of vinegar. In that case, you can buy essential oils from the local pharmacy and a couple drops into the mixture. To finish off, you can then use a tiny bit of olive oil to comb through your hair instead of conditioner. It is advised that you do this at the beginning of your shower session to make sure you won't be left with oily hair once you get out.

Another homemade remedy is pure baking soda or baking soda mixed with water/green tea. The baking soda helps to neutralize the pH of your scalp, and it treats sebum as well as vinegar. Some people do not like the sensation of the dry baking soda on their head, that's why it's recommended to mix it with a neutral liquid substance.

Most regular shampoos bought in the supermarket or pharmacy are harmful to both yourself and the environment. Considering that almost all of these shampoos contain non-degradable ingredients, it's safe to say that finding an alternative to your regular shampoo will have a positive impact on the earth. It's also better for your hair and health!


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