It all started with vanity: I hadn’t meant to change my purchasing practices or become a “label-reader,” that’s just how it turned out.
One day I decided that I wanted to have my dream hair: long, full, and healthily growing out of my own scalp. I did some research and joined an online community of women interested in growing longer and healthier hair. Naturally, much of the discussion on these forums is about the various products and concoctions that have worked or not worked on each person’s “hair journey.”
There was always a new ingredient to look for, or rather look out for, and soon a list of products containing said ingredient would be compiled. Soon I began to notice that women were looking for “paraben free” products. Not knowing what a paraben was, but assuming it couldn’t be good, I did a quick Google search and found that parabens are cheap preservatives used in cosmetics and personal care products, and that exposure to its various forms have been linked to breast cancer. Taking a look at the commercial hair products I already owned, not a single one was free of parabens.
The search for “sulfate free” shampoos was another common source of discussion on the hair boards. Sulfates, such as the popular sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), and ammonium laureth sulfate, are detergents: they create that satisfying foam and lather you get when you brush your teeth, use soap, do laundry, or wash your hair.
Most disturbing, the power of SLS as a detergent is so strong that it is also used as an engine degreaser. In addition to being very harsh, drying, and sometimes irritating to the hair and skin, sulfates have been linked to some pretty scary health effects.
SLS is in a class of chemicals called endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals that mimic the activity of sex hormones, such as estrogen. These chemicals interfere with the sex hormones in your body and are associated with male and female infertility, male sex organ abnormalities, early onset of puberty in females, and increased rates of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there.