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It’s no secret that the cosmetics industry is toxic to the environment and ourselves. The chemicals, packaging, and microplastics in these beauty products are anything but pretty. As we all try to reduce our environmental footprint and the amount of waste we produce, shampoo is a product many of us can work on our relationship with. 

Here are a few reasons why shampoo is not as clean as it is and what you can do to keep the world as clean as your freshly shampooed scalp! 

Toxic Ingredients 

We read the backs of food packaging, so why don’t we check out the ingredients in shampoo before buying it? After all, our scalps absorb even more chemicals than our skin does, which increases chemical exposure. 


Sulfates make cosmetics foamy (think of the lather created when you wash your hair). Nearly 90 percent of hair care products contain some form of sulfates. However, You still might come across shampoos advertised as “Sulfate-Free” and for good reason.  Sulfates can form carcinogens that result in kidney damage and hormone disruption. It can also acidify surface water and soil which damages surrounding ecosystems.  


Parabens have been proven to be linked to breast cancer cell growth. Although the preservative is incredibly dangerous and should be avoided, many cosmetic brands still use them in their products.

In addition to harming our health, parabens also take a toll on the planet. When released into the oceans, parabens also kill coral. They’ve been detected in surface waters, sediments, and even in marine mammals and fish — another great reason to not eat seafood! 

Triclosan (TCS)

In 2016, TCS was banned from antibacterial soaps. However, it is still widely used in shampoos and other cosmetic products like toothpaste. This ingredient turns into chloroform (which is carcinogenic) when combined with the chlorine found in tap water. Like other cosmetic ingredients, TCS can disrupt hormones and cause cancer or affect the development of a fetus. That’s a heavy price to pay for shampoo. 

In the environment, TCS can have similar reproductive effects on fish, causing developmental and reproductive delays in the animals and their eggs. 


It’s outstanding that formaldehyde is still being used in some shampoos. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that can cause or worsen asthma, and cause toxicity and cancer. Environmentally, formaldehyde is just as harmful. The chemical breaks down quickly and creates formic acid and carbon monoxide, both of which are environmentally destructive. 

If wildlife is exposed to formaldehyde they can become sick, may have trouble breeding, experience behavior or appearance-related changes, and live shorter lives. It’s also incredibly toxic to aquatic life. 

Single-Use Plastic 

We should avoid buying single-use plastic bottles of shampoo for the same reason we shouldn’t buy disposable bottles of water. Landfills and trash cans fill up very quickly with single-use plastic. 

The average British household goes through 216 plastic hair care bottles annually. Think about how many households live in one street or one neighborhood. An innocent bottle of shampoo quickly turned into a sun-blocking mountain of empty, discarded containers. 


It’s easy to conceptualize the amount of plastic we use when it comes to bottles. Microplastics, on the other hand, are nearly invisible and cause just as much, if not more, damage. Over 500 microplastic-containing ingredients are being used in cosmetics. Several of them contain the word “poly,” but many of them don’t and may be hard to spot. 

Microplastics are bioaccumulative, toxic, and are spreading like wildfire. They also pose a risk for human health, since they are so easy to consume.

How to do Better 

Feeling overwhelmed by the scary nature of the shampoo industry? Well, fear not! There are ways to be kinder to your scalp and the environment without compromising the shininess and cleanliness of your luscious locks. 

Less Hair Washing 

Washing your hair less is an easy way to consume less shampoo and even make your hair less greasy in the long run. If you’re used to washing your hair every day, try slowly extending that to every other day, then every 3 days. Your scalp will eventually stop producing as much oil because shampoo isn’t stripping it of its natural moisture as often. 

Read the Ingredients! 

Get used to reading the ingredients on shampoo bottles. You can also look up certain products and brands and find eco-ratings that tell you how harmful the ingredients are to the environment and your body. The ingredients we mentioned above are just a few to look out for, so don’t be afraid to do your research and ask questions! 

Invest in Plastic Free Products 

If you haven’t tried a shampoo bar yet, you’re missing out. Solid cleansing bars are portable, waste-free, and usually last much longer than your conventional bottle of shampoo. 

This vegan and plant-based shampoo bar is great for itchy scalps and is formulated with parabens, sulfates, and phthalates. It also contains essential oils and bio-based ingredients.

One customer said, “This has replaced my old paraben and sulfate-free shampoo and I’m so pleased! It really cleans my scalp, smells amazing, and each bar saves the equivalent of 2 plastic bottles cutting down on waste! I haven’t found [anything] I don’t like about it yet!”

Check out these DIY shampoos!

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