In December 2011, I became aware of some controversies surrounding the chemicals used in cosmetics.
Turns out, unsurprisingly when you really think about it, that there are all sorts of disagreeable chemicals and toxins in the cosmetics with which we routinely coat ourselves and our children. While I focus mainly on shampoo and conditioner in this article, it should be noted that these chemicals are found in nearly all standard cosmetics and in addition to giving up shampoo and conditioner, I have also switched to a number of single ingredient options for personal care including coconut oil as a moisturizer and hair product, fair trade unsweetened cocoa powder as a dry shampoo (for dark hair, arrowroot powder can be used or mixed in for lighter hues), herbal insect repellant, and a number of others.
There are a variety of chemicals hiding in your cosmetics under labels such as “fragrance.” The number of nasties that can sneak in and not even be mentioned because they are part of a “fragrance” is scary. Of all these sneaky compounds, three of the most worrisome are parabens, phthalates, and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES).
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
There has been some back and forth on the actual hazards posed by SLES. There are differing camps on whether or not the substance is carcinogenic or not; but the fact most experts seem to agree on is that it is an irritant to the skin and eyes, and that it absolutely should not be ingested. So why the heck is it in nearly every single cosmetic product (not to mention other products), including ones that go on your skin, can easily get in your eyes, and go in your mouth? Because it produces bubbles. It is an absolutely unnecessary ingredient that is also an irritant. I don’t care if it doesn’t cause cancer, why would I put that on (or in) my body? Or on/in my children’s bodies? And this stuff is everywhere. Check the labels in your bathroom. You might be surprised by its prevalence.
Parabens and Phthalates
Parabens and phthalates are a little more worrying because they are both proven endocrine disruptors, meaning they can, and do, interfere with your body’s hormonal balance. Phthalate exposure has been proven to contribute to infertility and poor sperm quality in adult males and the feminization of male babies when their pregnant mothers are exposed. And that’s just the beginning of the spectrum of problems that can be caused my phthalates, not just to us, but to the environment they are now saturating.
Parabens can be equally alarming. Also endocrine disruptors, parabens are believed to bind with estrogen, interfere with testosterone, and lower sperm counts. They have also been associated with breast cancer.
The most frustrating thing about all this scary stuff in all these products we use every day? It’s utterly and completely UNNECESSARY. Marketing and mainstream media have lead us to believe that we need to shampoo our hair every day, to wash with bubbly soaps and foamy toothpastes, and slather ourselves with all sorts of concoctions and potions promising results we know we will never get. I mean, let’s be honest; I can soak in a tub of beauty products up to me ears for 6 months, and I’m still not going to look any more like Zooey Deschanel when I get out.
So I gave it up. I went No ‘Poo (which I still feel is a very unfortunate, if completely appropriate moniker for the movement). I squirreled away my assortment of half used shampoos, conditioners, and body washes in the little black hole beneath the sink, and stirred up some concoctions from my kitchen. Please check out my first post for a little more about the recipes I tried and the research I did on them.
I went through a bit of a greasy phase, a side effect of having used shampoo. The chemicals you put on your scalp and body send your body signals that change the way it functions. In this case, my shampoo had been telling my scalp to produce more oil because 1) it was routinely being mildly irritated by my shampoo, and 2.) every time it produced a little oil, that oil was immediately stripped away so it just produced more and more and more. This is by design. If your shampoo makes your scalp produce more oil, you’ll be more dependent on your shampoo. If your moisturizer makes your skin drier when you’re not wearing it, you’ll wear it more. If your chapstick dries out your lips, you’ll re-apply. And so on ad nauseum.
The greasy phase, however, was not nearly as bad as I feared it would be, and was easily remedied with wearing my hair up or in messy beach waves a lot, or with a little “dry shampoo” (fair trade unsweetened cocoa powder and/or arrowroot powder).
In March, about 3 months after I quit shampoo and conditioner (among other products), I woke up one morning and my hair was awesome. I realized there was virtually no grease until I had gone at least three days without shampooing (or gone for a really good run, and even then it was minimal). My hair was soft, manageable, and fuller than it ever had been. Not only that, but it was super shiny, too! A welcome side effect of the apple cider vinegar (ACV) which closes up the hair cuticle. And my hair has been that way ever since.
There are a lot of different concoctions one can try when going No ‘Poo, but the basics – the very reliable standard – are a baking soda rinse to wash followed by an ACV rinse to condition. Other common wash ingredients include lemon juice and cucumber (see my last no ‘poo post for more on those). Other kinds of vinegar can be subbed for ACV and there are a few things you can add. It’s all very customizable, and you should experiment to find the right mix for you. I did a lot of monkeying with the dilutions of the baking soda and the ACV as well as with possible additives.
I use a mixture of about 1 ½ tbsp of baking soda to 20 oz of water (I put mine in a sports bottle for easy application in the shower) for my wash.
For the conditioner, I use about 1/3 – ½ cup of rosemary infused ACV (recipe below) to 20 oz of water. In dry weather, I also add about 2 tsps local, organic honey.
I don’t usually let the baking soda sit in my hair. I massage it in and rinse it out. I put the ACV through the length of my hair and let it sit for about 20 seconds before working it into my roots and scalp. I rinse it out after a few more seconds.
Concentrations and amount of time you leave the products on your hair will vary from person to person. I came to these standards after a number of adjustments.
In addition to all the health benefits, there are very impressive financial and convenience reasons to make the switch. If I were buying one bottle each of mid-priced shampoo and conditioner per month (which is a conservative estimate – I usually bought a little more pricey and a little more often since there were 3 people using shampoo in our house) at about $9 per month for the pair, I would have spent about $72 so far this year on just those products. A gallon of ACV is about $5, and since I only use about ½ a cup a month for my hair, I’ve spent about $1.25 this year on the ACV I used in my hair and have been able to use the rest of the gallon for the millions of other things I use vinegar for (cleaning, etc). The rosemary is free in my garden. A 4lb box of baking soda (if you get name brand, which I don’t) is $2. I use roughly 1 oz per month for my mix, meaning I’ve spent about $0.62 on baking soda for my hair so far this year. I’ve spent about $1.87 on washing my hair this year. Beats the heck out of $72 or more. And I use both the baking soda and vinegar on a ton of other things, so I save even more buying them in bulk.
The environment also benefits from that much less chemical laden residue being washed down the drain.
For more ways to replace chemical laden cosmetics with simple, real products most people already have around the house, check out Lucine’s Kitchen Cosmetics.
Hello, my name is Amanda, and I have been shampoo free for almost 8 months.
Rosemary Infused Vinegar
I am a huge fan of rosemary for many, many purposes. Among the myriad powers of the hearty plant is the fact that it is very good for your scalp. Rosemary infused oil treatments (usually olive or coconut oil) are often recommended to stimulate hair growth, health, and shine. Unfortunately, I just don’t have time to give my hair regular oil treatments. I’ve tried, and I so far have failed to fit it into my schedule. Enter: Rosemary Infused ACV a couple times a week as part of my regular cleansing rinse.
Since I store most of the things I make in 16 oz jars, I make about 16 oz of infused vinegar at a time, which makes 3 – 4 batches of rinse after it is mixed with water (after it is infused).
1. “Rough up” about three 4-5 inch rosemary sprigs by rolling them between your hands or gently battering them on a cutting board. If you plan on using any of this vinegar for eating (it makes a great salad dressing in addition to its hair benefits), do not include any woody stems. Since I make batches specifically for my hair, I leave the stems in.
2. Heat 16 oz of ACV in a small pot until it begins to steam. DO NOT boil it. There should be few to no bubbles, just some steam.
3. Add the rosemary to the hot vinegar for up to 10 minutes if desired. Pour into a jar. Store in a dark, moderately temperate place (like under the sink, in my case) for 14 days.
4. For use on hair, pour 1/3 to ½ a cup of the vinegar into a 20 oz container; fill with water.
Note: You can use any kind of vinegar for this (I don’t recommend balsamic if it’s going in your hair), but I like ACV since it’s a little more muted than white vinegar.