The Detox Series: Detox your hair Part I

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It's funny isn't it? Considering our hair is composed entirely of dead cells, we spend an awful amount of time and money taking care of it... brushing, washing, conditining, colouring, straightening, styling. We even risk our health for it. I'm not suggesting for a minute that we shouldn't take pride in our hair. Those of us who have it are extremely grateful. We've all fought back tears after a bad haircut (haven't we?). For most of us, our hair is one of our most important features. Ergo haircare products are high up on our list of personal care must-haves.

The problem is that the majority of haircare products out there make our hair shinier, smoother, softer or lighter to the detriment of our health. The EWG assessed over 7500 cosmetic products for safety back in 2004 and found this:

  1. 93% of shampoos contain potentially harmful toxins linked to cancer or other health issues
  2. 76% of conditioners contain allergens
  3. 69% of hair dyes may pose cancer risks. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, women who dye their hair five times or more per year are twice as likely to develop ovarian cancer.

Essentially, conventional shampoos are cheaply made coloured, highly perfumed detergents containing petrochemicals and coal-tar based ingredients that strip our hair of its natural oils, its natural conditioner (sebum). Afterwhich conventional conditioners step in to coat the hair shaft and make it appear smoother and silkier. 

Modern shampoo (and conditioner) is a cocktail of chemicals known to be harmful to human health. Hair styling products like wax, gel, mouse and spray are equally toxic. Hairspray  is particularly worrying - it's basically liquid plastic (and given it's a fine mist, it's easily absorbed via our lungs as well as skin). 

Some of the worst offending ingredients found in haircare products include:
  • SLS & SLES (sodium lauryl sulphate & sodium laureth sulphate), harsh surfactants which can mimic oestrogen and can form carcinogens
  • Parabens - methyl, butyl, propyl - which can also mimic oestrogen and interfere with reproduction and immune system function. Parabens have been found in breast tumours
  • Cocamide DEA, with can react with SLS and SLES to become carcinogenic
  • Phthalates, synthetic perfumes that cause endocrine problems and have been found in breastmilk. Also know that 'unscented' on a label can mean the product has no odour, but does not guarantee that fragrance hasn't been added to mask the smell of other ingredients
  • Propylene glycol, which has been linked to allergies, skin, eye and lung irritation and has the ability to enhance skin absorption (so our skin absorbs the other chemicals more easily)
  • FD&C blue 1, found in conditioners and linked to cancer
  • FD&C yellow 6, again a colourant in conditioners and found to cause cancer when applied to the skin.

Even many 'natural' and 'organic' shampoos and conditioners contain harsh chemicals. I gave an example previously, here.

Considering your scalp has 20 blood vessels, 650 sweat glands, and 1,000 nerve endings that can soak in toxins, it's wise to be cautious, no?

Scarier even is the fact that many of these compounds can build up in our bodies.

And this: we breathe in many of the toxins as vapour when we shower with hot water.

What isn't absorbed by our bodies goes down the gurgler, literally, and contaminates our waterways.

And let's not forget that shampoo and conditioners come packaged in plastic bottles. 

Not to mention the many pollutants released into our environment during the manufacturing processes (of both the shampoo/conditioner and the bottles).

And no product derived from petroleum is a sustainable product.

Tomorrow I'll post on how to ditch shampoo and conditioner for good. I did it two months ago and haven't looked back. My hair is now softer and shinier than ever, although there was a bit of an adjustment period (a couple of weeks where my grease levels soared through the roof as my pores adjusted).

If you're wondering how you'd survive without shampoo and conditioner, know this: the first synthetic shampoo wasn't introduced until the 1930s, by a company called Drene.

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