Know Your Shampoo

Shampoos are cleaning formulations used for a wide range of applications, including personal care,  pet use, and carpets. Most are manufactured in roughly the same manner. They are composed primarily of chemicals called surfactants that have the special ability to surround oily materials on surfaces and allow them to be rinsed away by water.



New shampoos are initially created by cosmetic chemists in the laboratory. These scientists begin by determining what characteristics the shampoo formula will have. They must decide on aesthetic features such as how thick it should be, what color it will be, and what it will smell like. They also consider performance attributes, such as how well it cleans, what the foam looks like, and how irritating it will be. Consumer testing often helps determine what these characteristics should be.

Once the features of the shampoo are identified, a formula is created in the laboratory. The more important ingredients in shampoo formulations are: water, detergents, foam boosters, thickeners, conditioning agents, preservatives, modifiers, and special additives. Below are some of the most commonly used shampoo ingredients:


  • Parabens

Parabens act as an anti-microbial preserving agent in products. Multiple parabens are often used in a single product: the most common are methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. These chemicals are of concern because they are found in cancer patients, but they are also found in urine samples of U.S. adults without cancer.

  • Phthalates

Phthalates are what give the gel-like consistency to many shampoos and compose of a shampoo’s  ‘fragrance’.  It may be shocking to note that the same phthalates that are used in your cosmetics are used in plastic wrap, wood furnishing, lubricants, insecticides, and detergents. Additionally, they are thought to be endocrine disrupters, and animal tests have concluded that phthalates negatively affect hormones and contribute to an early onset of puberty.

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate The chemical that makes your shampoo lather, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or SLS, can produce allergic reactions, drying of the skin, and irritation. The chemical assists in the removal of dirt and oil from the skin and can have a lasting effect on the epidermis of the skin by damaging the hair follicles.



To assess a new product/formulations safety animals are used in tests that attempt to evaluate the hazards of consumer products and their ingredients. In an effort to measure toxic effects, rats, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs and primates are forced to swallow or inhale massive quantities of a test substance or have a chemical smeared in their eyes or on their skin. It is now evident that tests on animals often do not predict outcomes in humans, and many non-animal test methods are available and continue to be developed.

To determine the danger of a single short-term exposure to a product or chemical, the substance is administered to animals, without any pain blockers, in extremely high doses via force-feeding, forced inhalation, and/or eye or skin contact. Animals in the highest-dose groups often endure severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, convulsions, seizures, paralysis, or bleeding from the nose, mouth, or genitals before they ultimately die or are killed.


 Now, you have probably looked at the back of your shampoo and noticed parabens, phthalates, and sodium lauryl sulfate. While they might seem like non-assuming chemicals, these items can pose a serious threat to aquatic life.

Personal care products are one of the major pollutants that make their way into the environment by way of household drains. After shampooing, the chemicals are washed down the drain and enter the waste water system, which usually filters into a local treatment plant. However, these chemicals persist through the water treatment process and end up discharged from water treatment plants back into surface and ground water.

The EPA has identified personal care products as “emerging contaminants of concern” for aquatic life, especially since persistent use and washing down of such chemicals will bioaccumulate over time.

Like the animals these chemicals were testing on, at a high enough concentration, these chemicals can cause harm to fish. This can lead to reproductive and behavioral disorders, a compromised immune system, neurological problems, and even cancer. As other animals consume fish that are poisoned with these chemicals, they bioaccumulate up the food chain and increase in toxicity.  This can damage an entire ecosystem, and if humans eat these fish directly, it doesn’t bode well for them either.

Remember, we’re all connected somehow and every chemical we put out into the environment will come right back to us in some way, shape or form. It’s time we started putting out good stuff instead.

Sources: madehow.com, onegreenplanet.org, peta.org