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.