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10 Natural and Cruelty-Free Shampoos and Conditioners

Image credit: Jason Tester/Flickr

Checking the ingredients list of popular shampoos and conditioners reveals a lot of harmful chemicals that are anything but natural. These are not only a health risk for us, but also for the environment and other species. In a regular bottle of shampoo and conditioner we can find toxins such as oxtinoxate, sodium laureth sulphate, stearalkonium chloride, and triclosan, as well as various parabens, petrochemicals and phthalates.

Triclosan is used in shampoo for its antibacterial properties, and resembles the plastic additive bisphenol A (BPA) as well as dioxins. It poses a risk to our health, as well as others, because it can alter hormone function, such as the thyroid hormone system which regulates development and the metabolism.

Both coal tar and salicylic acid are added to anti-dandruff shampoos, despite being classified as harmful. Coal tar is a known carcinogenic, while salicylic acid can cause difficulty breathing or dizziness. Deemed beneficial in the protection against UV rays, octinoxate is also added to some shampoos, which can build up over time and act as an endocrine disruptor.

Parabens, such as butylparaben and methylparaben, are used for their antibacterial, antifungal, and preservative properties but are one of the most harmful ingredients. They are considered carcinogenic, as well as endocrine disruptors. Another preservative found in shampoos is methylchloroisothiazolinone which harms the skin and is thought to contribute to immune system problems.

Sodium laurel, sodium laureth sulphate, or lauryl sulfate (SLS) – also known as sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) – penetrates the skin and helps other ingredients to do the same. In combination with other chemicals, SLS turns into nitrosamine, which is a potent carcinogen and possible cause of hair loss! Despite all of this it is the actual detergent used in shampoo.

Found in both shampoo and conditioner, petroleum products such as mineral oils, paraffin, and petrolatum coat the hair and scalp. These cause a build-up of toxins, cellular development to slow down, and disruption to hormones. Some shampoos and conditioners also contain conditioning agents propylene glycol and stearalkonium chloride, the potential negative effects of which include allergic reactions and rashes, as well as immune and respiratory disorders.

All of these chemicals are released into the atmosphere upon application, as well as the water supply, making their way into rivers, lakes, and oceans. This undoubtedly affects fish and other wildlife. Furthermore, the bottles tend not to be recyclable and therefore end up in landfill, further polluting the environment due to residue left on the in- or outside.

We need also to consider the testing process. Does it hurt when shampoo and conditioner runs into the eyes? Of course it does! Before all of these items end up on the store shelves, the ingredients (and final product) are tested on animals.


If you’re feeling adventurous, make shampoo and conditioner from scratch, as it’s the cheapest and easiest way to clean and condition hair. If looking for an off-the-shelf solution, however, it is worth selecting a plant-based product. The easiest way to find something cruelty-free, eco-friendly, and natural is to check the ingredients! If you’re unsure about whether something is safe to use, consult the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetics database, Skin Deep. The website provides listings of almost every ingredient and product available, grading each one on a scale of zero to ten dependent upon how toxic it is.

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