When you hear “all-natural” or “organic” shampoo, you might think “ineffective,” “horrible smelling,” or “bad results.” I’ll be honest; I used to think that about all-natural shampoos. But how happy I am to have seen the organic self-care industry evolve over the past ten years.
Nowadays, organic and all-natural shampoos harness the powers of essential oils to get to the root of your hair and scalp issues while smelling incredible. In this article, I’m going to tell you why you need to ditch your conventional shampoo ASAP for an all-natural kind: one with ingredients straight from the earth that work to heal your scalp and hair.
First, we’ll dive into the common nasty ingredients hiding in your traditional shampoo, and then we’ll explore all the benefits of organic shampoo and a list of the top brands that you’ll love!
Conventional Shampoo is Packed With Harmful Ingredients
Personal care products and cosmetics are like the wild west of the chemical manufacturing world. The last major legislation to address and limit potential toxins in our shampoos, cosmetics, lotions, and so forth, was back in the 1930s and little has been passed since (1).
Parts of the world like the European Union and Japan have moved to reduce or eliminate the use of known toxins like parabens and phthalates, but nothing has been done in the United States. Instead, it’s up to us, the consumers, to take charge of our health!
There is a long list of ingredients to avoid in your natural shampoo, but I like to focus on the biggest, most common offenders:
Parabens are widely-used preservatives that help keep self-care products shelf-stable. You won’t just find them in shampoo; you’ll also find them in lotions, cosmetics, conditioners, and more. A good natural shampoo, however, won’t contain parabens because of their estrogenic track record (2).
Estrogenic means that parabens keep estrogen from effectively binding to your body’s estrogen receptors–which means that parabens can (and do) profoundly impact your entire hormonal system, which in turn affects everything from mood to risk of cancer.
Parabens have been found throughout the body and tend to be highly concentrated in people of color and young women–likely because the products marketed to these demographics tend to be highly toxic, putting them at higher risk (3). A 2004 study of breast tumors found parabens in most of the tumors analyzed (4).
Check your ingredient labels carefully, and look for any ingredient ending in -paraben, including:
Phthalates are a type of chemical used for a variety of reasons. They tend to be as ubiquitous as parabens but may cause more room for concern. The European Union banned the use of phthalates after tediously studying their well-known toxicity.
Like parabens, phthalates are known to disrupt hormones, but the disruption isn’t limited to adults. Phthalates may disrupt hormones in babies breastfeeding or in utero, particularly during critical development periods (5).
The Environmental Protection Agency classifies phthalates as carcinogens, which means exposure can lead to cancer (8).
Phthalates have been linked to ADHD, autism, and male and female infertility (6,7,8).
It’s important to note that many people assume that small amounts of parabens and phthalates are safe. But here’s the thing: we don’t use one personal care product a day–we use more than ten, on average (teenage girls use even more). Chronic use of small amounts of toxins, add up. (3).
Plus, parabens and phthalates are also present in plastics and have made their way into our food and water sources, so our rate of exposure is most likely much higher than we think.
How Do I Know if My Shampoo Contains Phthalates?
Unlike parabens, phthalates often won’t be listed directly on the ingredient list. Sometimes you’ll see DEP, DEHP, or DBP (7), but more often, you’ll see an innocuous-sounding phrase that has huge implications– “fragrance.”
That’s right, all those lovely floral, woodsy scents you’re used to smelling in your shampoo can be hiding some seriously nasty toxins.
Fragrance is a term the FDA allows manufacturers to use because it views fragrance as a proprietary trade secret. Manufacturers are allowed to use over 3,000 different chemicals and call them “fragrance.” The list of chemicals is deeply worrisome and includes known carcinogens like phthalates, styrene, and many more.
Frankly, any manufacturer that opts to use the term “fragrance” instead of listing the exact ingredients should cause you to question their commitment to your health. Keep in mind, lots of “natural” and “green” products include fragrance; this greenwashing underscores how important it is to read the label yourself.
Another preservative with a toxic reach, formaldehyde is tricky–manufacturers won’t necessarily use formaldehyde, itself. Instead, manufacturers use “preservative systems,” a series of chemical ingredients that release formaldehyde as the product sits on shelves. Meaning, the older the product, the more formaldehyde it may contain.
The problem with this is that formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports that both the US and the World Health Organization recognize formaldehyde as a carcinogen; the FDA also has data to show as much as 20% of cosmetic products generate formaldehyde (9).
Ready to break up with the formaldehyde? Here are the most horrific chemicals to watch out for, according to the EPA (9):
- DMDM hydantoin
- Imidazolidinyl urea
- Diazolidinyl urea
- Bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol )
Believe it or not, shampooing daily isn’t normal–or common. In the early 1900s, shampooing once a month was the norm for most women. It wasn’t until the 70s and 80s that big shampoo brands began to use targeted marketing campaigns–and enlisting celebrities like Farrah Fawcett and Christie Brinkley–to push women to wash their hair more frequently (10).
Changing American’s habits fostered huge profits for personal care product manufacturers, but it’s not doing anything good for our hair. Outside of toxins like parabens and phthalates, one of the harshest sets of chemicals that fill your conventional shampoo bottle are sulfates.
Sulfates are detergents that are also known irritants. They’re responsible for the foaming feeling in your shampoo, but the Cosmetic Ingredient Review board reports “strong evidence” that sulfates irritate the skin (11). Avoid sodium laureth sulfate or sodium lauryl sulfate in your ingredient list.
How to Find the Perfect Natural Shampoo for You
Only a decade ago, finding a natural shampoo that worked like your conventional one felt nearly impossible. Thanks to a shift in health consciousness, the industry has cleaned up its act and perfected their trade.
When looking for a natural shampoo first thing’s first: make sure there are ZERO of the toxic ingredients I mentioned above, listed on your shampoo. Second: look for ingredients that are going to foster your hair goals. If you have dry hair look for hydrating ingredients like aloe. If you have a flaky, itchy scalp look for soothing ingredients like chamomile or lavender. Or- just check out the alternatives below and find your new favorite.
Organic and Natural Shampoo Alternatives
Best Natural Shampoo for Fine Hair:
If you have fine, thin, or limp hair, many of the products used in natural shampoo formulations (coconut oil, for example) can be way too heavy for your hair.
The Vivacious Volume natural shampoo uses pumpkin seed oil to nourish your hair follicle and provide lightweight shine, while also relying heavily on aloe to soothe your scalp. In addition to being free of sulfates, parabens, and synthetic fragrance, the entire formulation is formaldehyde- and petroleum-free.
Best Organic Shampoo to Soothe & Stimulate
Laritelle is the luxury natural shampoo line for anyone looking for an organic natural shampoo. Its Herbal Magic line is trendy and for a good reason. It’s gentle enough for people with sensitive skin or color-treated hair; however organic rosemary and organic saw palmetto work together to stimulate hair growth, help with scalp issues like dandruff, and simultaneously calm irritated skin. All ingredients are also GMO-free and gluten-free.
Best Natural Shampoo for Oily Hair
Science tells us that washing hair less will help your sebaceous glands calm down and stop producing so much oil. However, if you’re looking for a natural shampoo to help you through this process, True Botanicals is perfect.
Its Nourishing line contains a natural shampoo that relies on coconut surfactants to safely build a non-irritating lather that helps you banish oils. Green tea oil and aloe leaf extracts will also help soothe your scalp.
Best Natural Shampoo for Dry Hair
Specially formulated to help treat dry hair, John Masters Organics Shampoo for Dry Hair with Evening Primrose is super hydrating and sulfate free! With ingredients like jojoba seed oil to deliver moisture to the roots and strands and avocado oil to nourish and strengthen- your hair will make a comeback. Probably the best ingredient found in JMO’s shampoo is evening primrose because of its high levels of Gamma Linolenic Acid which help your hair increase moisture levels while restoring from root to tip. If you want your hair to shine, this is the ticket.
Best Natural Shampoo for Normal Hair
I love almost all the products from 100% PURE because I can recognize all of the ingredients! It’s one of my favorite organic hair care brands. The Honey & Virgin Coconut Shampoo and Conditioner are some of the best natural hair products and include ingredients like coconut oil, honey, kelp extract, and vitamin E for a luxurious feel. The line relies on natural ingredients like honeysuckle for a beautiful, tropical smell–no synthetic fragrance in sight!
The Best Natural Shampoo for a Sensitive Scalp
When it comes to the best natural hair products, Living Libations has a whole line of fantastic products, and it’s True Blue Shampoo is one of it’s most popular options. Aloe vera, blue tansy, lavender, and German chamomile soothe a sensitive or irritated scalp, while spirulina adds volume while also helping with dry or flaking scalp. It’s safe for color-treated hair.
Best Natural Dry Shampoo
You’ve likely noticed that many dry shampoos rely on essential oils to mask the smell of dirty hair; however, if you’re concerned about adding additional oils to your scalp, you can try Dry Shampoo from Be Green Bath & Body. The formula relies on a mix of non-GMO rice flour and arrowroot as well as kaolin clay to soak up excess oil. Plus, it utilizes rose and lavender powder, instead of oil, to leave your hair smelling fresh. So you don’t need to feel bad about missing that morning shower before work.
Now that you have a list of the best natural shampoos out there, are you ready to part with you conventional shampoo? We know how hard it can be but we promise you and your hair will love one of the natural alternatives even more!
- Narayan, P. (2018). The cosmetics industry has avoided strict regulations for over a century. Now rising health concerns has FDA inquiring. CNBC. Retrieved from: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/01/fda-begins-first-inquiry-of-lightly-regulated-cosmetics-industry.html
- Stoiber, T. (2019). What are parabens, and why don’t they belong in cosmetics? EWG. Retrieved from: https://www.ewg.org/californiacosmetics/parabens
- Pestano, P., Leiba, N., & Hawkins, B. (2016). Big market for black cosmetics, but less-hazardous choices limited. EWG. Full text: https://www.ewg.org/research/big-market-black-cosmetics-less-hazardous-choices-limited
- Darbre, P.D., Alijarrah, A., Miller, W.R., Coldham, N.G., Sauer, M.J., & Pope, G.S. (2004) Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours. Journal of applied toxicology, 24(2004), 5-13. Abstract: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jat.958
- European Commission (2018). Phthalates May Affect Baby Boys. Retrieved from: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/7na1_en.pdf
- Engel, S. M., Miodovnik, A., Canfield, R. L., Zhu, C., Silva, M. J., Calafat, A. M., & Wolff, M. S. (2010). Prenatal phthalate exposure is associated with childhood behavior and executive functioning. Environmental health perspectives, 118(4), 565. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2854736/
- Kristof, N. D. (2010). Do Toxins Cause Autism? The New York Times, 219-225. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/25/opinion/25kristof.html?_r=0
- Latini, G., Del Vecchio, A., Massaro, M., Verrotti, A., & De Felice, C. (2006). Phthalate exposure and male infertility. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16905236
- Congleton, J. Exposing the cosmetics cover-up: is cancer-causing formaldehyde in your cosmetics? EWG. Retrieved from: https://www.ewg.org/research/exposing-cosmetics-cover/formaldehyde-releasers
- Aubrey, A. (2009). When It Comes to Shampoo, Less Is More. NPR. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102062969
- SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE. EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. Retrieved from: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/706089/SODIUM_LAURETH_SULFATE/