We’ve heard the news about unsafe ingredients in imported products—but what about products manufactured right here in our homeland? We thought we’d do some label sleuthing and, noticing our beach-crunchy curls, decided to start with hair conditioners. We were staggered by the parade of probable toxic ingredients listed. Here is a quickie primer on what’s wrong with many hair conditioners, and easy DIY recipes to safely soothe your summer tress stress.
Even among skeptics this may come as a surprise, but cosmetics do not require approval before they hit the market’s shelves. Here it is, straight from the website of the FDA (the agency that regulates the cosmetics industry):
“Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act, cosmetics and their ingredients are not required to undergo approval before they are sold to the public…This means that manufacturers may use any ingredient or raw material, except for color additives and a few prohibited substances, to market a product without a government review or approval.”
Gulp. Well, there are those few prohibited substances…ten of them, to be exact—as compared to 1,100 ingredients banned in cosmetics by the European Union. And while it’s good to know that the FDA is protecting us from mercury compounds and chloroform—what about the long list of other problem ingredients that are prohibited elsewhere, but allowed in our creams and conditioners?
Although hair conditioners don’t ring in at the top of the toxic list (nail polishes and hair relaxers hold that honor) there are enough questionable ingredients to pose concern. Look to avoid these top offenders commonly found in hair conditioners (and note that products labeled “natural” or “organic” often contain these as well):
These chemicals often are disguised on labels under the generic term “fragrance,” which the FDA permits as “trade secrets.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a “body burden” study and published the findings that metabolized forms of dibutyl phthalates, used in nail polish and synthetic fragrance, were found in every person tested in their national study. Best known for hormone disruption, studies also show that phthalates can lead to liver cancer and birth defects in lab animals.
Studies show a (strong and startling) potential link between products containing parabens and increased breast cancer risk—and most agree that they require further study. Parabens are commonly listed on product ingredient labels as methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben and butylparaben.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
The second ingredient in one of the leading kids’ 2-in-1 hair conditioners, SLS and SLES are used in the cleaning industry for garage floor cleaners, engine degreasers, car-wash soaps, etc. It is very corrosive and readily attacks greasy surfaces—good for oily hair, not so great for skin. Sodium lauryl sulfate is the predominant chemical used for clinical testing as a skin irritant—that is, they use it to hurt the skin to test healing solutions.
And then there’s the fact that 76 percent of conditioners contain ingredients that are known allergens. Needless to say, we’re making our own now….
1 very ripe, large banana
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 tablespoon honey
1. Mash the banana. Add the cream and honey and whisk together until smooth.
1. Apply to dry hair from the roots to the ends, cover with a shower cap, and then wrap your head in a warm towel.
2. Allow mixture to remain on hair for as long as possible–up to an hour. Rinse thoroughly with warm water, then shampoo as usual.
LUSTROUS HAIR CONDITIONER
2 ounces aloe vera gel
1/2 teaspoon oil (avocado, jojoba, or even olive oil will work)
2 ounces organic apple cider vinegar
1 ounce powdered milk
To Make and Use:
Combine ingredients in a bowl and apply to clean, wet hair.
Allow formula to remain on hair for 10 to 15 minutes, then rinse well with warm water.
ALOE MIRACLE CONDITIONER
¼ cup aloe vera gel (available in health food stores)
½ of a lemon
3-5 drops essential oils of your choice
1. Mix the aloe vera gel with the juice of half a lemon. Add the essential oils.
1. Apply to freshly shampooed hair.
2. Leave on for 3 to 5 minutes, then rinse thoroughly.
HERBAL HAIR CONDITIONER
1 cup rose floral water
1 tablespoon jojoba oil
10 drops vitamin E oil
1. In the top of a double boiler, gently warm the rose water.
2. Once rose water is warm, add jojoba oil.
3. Pour the mixture in a blender and add the vitamin E. Blend at high speed for 2 minutes.
1. Wet hair with warm water.
2. Pour the conditioner onto your hair and scalp, massaging in thoroughly.
3. For damaged hair or extra conditioning, leave on for several minutes, perhaps while bathing.
4. Rinse thoroughly with warm water.
5. Shampoo lightly and rinse again with cool water.
8 fresh strawberries
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1. Mash ingredients thoroughly
1. Massage into damp hair.
2. Cover with a shower cap and a warm towel.
3. Allow to stay on hair for at least 10 minutes, then shampoo as usual.
For more information:
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
Environmental Working Group: Skin Deep
This cosmetic safety database allows you see toxicity ratings for over 25,000 cosmetic products—including hair conditioners.