Shampoo Sucks: The Case Against the Most Overrated and Overused Shower Staple


Most people who don't live in France wash their hair every day without giving it a second thought. But shampoo as it exists today is a relatively new product that may not do your hair any favors, orgasmic commercials notwithstanding.

No, you shouldn't stop washing your hair entirely. (Gross.) Yes, you should probably read the fine print on the shampoo bottle before you lather up, because there's a good chance there's some nasty stuff in that coconut-scented lather, and it's not doing your locks any favors. Dr. Sophia Kogan, a dermatologist and consultant at Nutrafol, and celebrity hair stylists Jeorge Napoleon and Anthony Pazos of WE tv's L.A. Hair, give the scoop on why you should go 'poo-free.

man washing hair, man hair cut, man shapooing
Nejron Photo/Shutterstock

Why does it matter what I wash my hair with?

Because your body absorbs the bad stuff that's in shampoo -- especially when you're in a nice, hot shower. "Your follicles are a prime place for absorption through the skin, and when the blood vessels and pores are dilated a lot of these [ingredients] can be absorbed and create oxidative stress,” Dr. Kogan says. What kind of bad stuff? Let’s find out!

Parabens are linked to cancer

You may have heard of this chemical preservative, which is found in shampoo as well as a ton of other bathroom products, like makeup, body lotion, shaving products, and more. In addition to irritating your skin, parabens can alter your hormonal balance, according to Dr. Kogan.

"Even at very low doses, parabens have been linked to reproductive damage and organ toxicity," Pazos says. When researchers studied breast tissue from 40 women who'd had mastectomies after a breast cancer diagnosis, they found parabens in 99% of the samples. That doesn’t mean parabens caused the cancer, of course, but researchers have suspected for nearly 20 years now that parabens may play a role in breast cancer.

man shopping, man hair care
Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

Sodium lauryl sulfate can damage your DNA

Sodium lauryl sulfate is a synthetic detergent used to degrease engines, scrub toilet bowls... and make shampoo explode into thick, luxuriant lather that gives hair that squeaky-clean feeling. The only problem is you don't actually need lather to clean your tresses. "These chemicals are added to shampoo to generate a lot of bubbles," Dr. Kogan says. "We get caught up in the idea that more lather makes you cleaner, and that's not true."

Sulfates remove a lot of oil from the scalp -- which isn’t meant to be completely stripped of grease in the first place -- and consequently, your skin freaks out and goes into oil-production overdrive, which Dr. Kogan describes as starting a "vicious cycle" of hair treatment.

Oh yeah, there's one more problem. As Pazos notes, "[Sodium lauryl sulfate] has been discovered to damage DNA," and you kind of need your DNA.

"In most European countries, it’s illegal to use paraben and sulfate shampoos," adds Napoleon. You Europeans with your universal healthcare, excellent mass-transit systems, and superior chocolate... now you've got to rub your shiny, carcinogen-free hair in our faces, too?

Fragrance isn't as sweet as its name suggests

It sounds innocent, but synthetic fragrance is a toxic substance that's often made from petrochemicals and phthalates. Phthalates have “been linked to learning disabilities and other developmental abnormalities in children whose mothers had high levels in their bodies,” Pazos notes. A known endocrine disruptor, phthalates may also play a role in conditions as wide-ranging as decreased sperm counts and asthma.

Gahh! I'll never shampoo again!

Look, you can really work yourself into an unwashed, reclusive mess if you get too wrapped up in this information, but it's important to know nonetheless. You don’t have to start washing your hair with baking soda and vinegar (unless you’re into that). Just read labels and avoid the ingredients listed here. And try not to get overwhelmed.

"It’s almost impossible to completely avoid all the stressors from the environment, such as toxins found in styling and cleansing products," admits Dr. Kogan.

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Missy Wilkinson loves her sulfate-free shampoo, but man is it expensive. Follow her on Twitter at @missy_wilkinson.