Would you like to know what's in that supermarket shelf shampoo?


SHAMPOO IS ONE OF OUR MOST FREQUENTLY USED PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS and it's worth knowing what your body is absorbing on a very regular basis.

Many of us are already aware of the big gun toxins in shampoos -  SULFATES (that's the sly, sles, als, ales) PARABENS & PETROCHEMICALS.  I knew the names, read my labels but didn't know much else. I figure many of us are on the same page so I am taking some time here to do an overview. We selected a couple of popular brands and here goes.

Most of the ingredients below were in a single bottle of shampoo and although they are viewed as non toxic due to the quantity used, it is the cumulative affect and the widespread use of these ingredients in other products that heightens a problem.


Citric Acid

Adjusts the pH balance. Has a preservative action. 

Citric acid is a weak organic acid found in citrus fruits. It is made commercially by the fermentation of sugar (via the black mould, Aspergillus niger). Commonly used as a flavouring, preservative and as a setting agent.  Low health hazard.



Surfectant - used as a foaming and emulsifying agent to help thicken shampoo. 

Cocamide MEA is created by reacting coconut fatty acids with a chemical called momoethanolamine- produced by reacting ethylene oxide with aqueous ammonia. Ethylene oxide is a known carcinogen and traces of it, along with its carcinogenic by-product 1,4-dioxane can remain in the product. Because it is an amide, it also has the potential for being contaminated with or forming a class of carcinogenic chemicals called nitrosamines. Also causes serious eye damage and skin irritation (MSDS colonialchem).  



Surfactant - gives shampoo its cleansing and lathering properties

Derived from coconut oil and dimethylaminopropylamine. The biggest problem that cocamidopropyl betaine has is that its processing aids, amidoamine and 3-dimethylaminopropylamine, can remain in the product.  These chemicals can cause contact dermatitis, eye irritation, and other allergic reactions.  The rate of allergic reactions to these impurities is so high that the American Contact Dermatitis Society named cocamidopropyl betaine Allergen of the Year in 2004. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18627690

Because these chemicals are amines, under certain conditions can create carcinogenic nitrosamines



DIMETHICONE aka polydimethylsiloxane  


Emollient - softening or soothing

Dimethicone is a silicone oil that can make the scalp and skin incredibly dry and irritated. It forms an almost plastic-like barrier on the outside of the skin and traps bacteria, sebum and impurities with it. It is also an eye irritant and is non-biodegradable. 



PEG;   “-eth” (suffix) i.e. sodium laureth sulfate ('eth' means it 's been treated with ethylene oxide);  dashes followed by a number (i.e. steareth-20)

A surfectant. When a chemical is produced using ethylene oxide the process is called ethoxylation. During the processing, a carcinogenic byproduct is created-1,4-dioxane (highly toxic).

The number after the dash indicates how many times the substance has been treated with ethylene oxide (i.e. PEG-200 is polyethylene glycol treated with ethylene oxide 200 times).

PEG - POLYETHYLENE GLYCOL  is used as a skin conditioner; emulsifier and is contaminated with known carcinogeans 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide. The possibility of it interfering with human development.




Fragrance Ingredient; Humectant; Solvent; Viscosity controlling.

Classified as toxic or harmful (only for products for use around the mouth and on the lips). Occupational hazards. Possible kidney toxicity, cardiovascular and respiratory toxicant. Animal studies show it classified as toxic effects at moderate doses. 



Ingredients vary and are considered company privilege (secret) therefore, not necessary to disclose to consumers. Best to avoid undisclosed scent.



Emollient - high foaming capacity. Gives that pearlescent look. 

A compound based on stearic acid, a naturally occurring fatty acid. The chemical may be derived either from animal sources or vegetable sources, such as soybean oil and canola oil. It can also be produced synthetically through processing stearic acid.

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel reported no human skin irritation or sensitization from glycol distearate. The concerns with this ingredient are probably mostly focused on allergies, in that "if you're allergic, it's best to stay away.”



Dimethyl carbinol, IPA, Isopropanol, 2-Propanol, sec-Propyl alcohol, Rubbing alcohol

Antifoaming Agent. Fragrance Ingredient. Solvent - able to dissolve other substances.

Petroleum derived substance. Isopropyl alcohol is an irritant of the skin, eyes, mucous membranes, and upper respiratory tract. It has a low organ system toxicity.


Methylchloroisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone (MCI/MI), MIT

Synthetic preservative. A biocide - used to prevent bacteria/fungi from developing.

Concerns with allergies and immunotoxicity. A suspected neurotoxin - a toxin that damages or destroys nerve tissue.

Use is restricted in cosmetics.

Allergenic. Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) declared it as Allergen of the Year in 2013.


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pantothenic acid. D-pantothenyl alcohol, dexpanthenol,  DL-provitamin B5

Panthenol is a derivative of vitamin B5, used as a moisturizer and lubricating compound.  It's mostly used as a humectant, a substance that helps retain moisture. It's molecular structure allows it to attract moisture from the atmosphere and bind to water molecules. This improves the appearance of hair as it spreads evenly on the hair follicle causing it to shine  (enhancing light reflection) and makes it slippery (reducing tangles). 

Panthenol is activated once metabolized by the body. Hair follicles being dead, can’t metabolize panthenol/vitamin B so claims of moisturising the hair itself are questionable.

Topical application of panthenol and other forms of vitamin B5 can increase healing and skin barrier function, helping to repair and prevent damage from UV rays - hence scalp health can improve.

PANTHENYL ETHYL ETHER is made from Panthenol. It is a small synthetic molecule used as a hair conditioning agent ands antistatic properties.



butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben

Antifungal and used as a preservative.

Parabens are shown to mimic the action of the female hormone oestrogen, which can drive the growth of human breast tumors.

It is a known carcinogen and endocrine disruptor (any system in the body controlled by hormones can be affected by hormone disruptors).





such as butyl benzyl phthalate BBzP, DBP, DNOP, DEP etc. Check initials ending in 'P'. 

Used in fragrances as they make the scent last longer. Gelling agent.

Phthalates (pronounced "thah-lates") are chemical plasticizers that have been widely used to soften plastics. Problem is they are not chemically bound to the plastics they are added to, so continuously are released into the air or food or liquid (when plastic hardens over time it's often because the phthalates have leached out of it).

Phthalates are everywhere,  in personal care items, they're used to help lubricate other substances, help lotions penetrate and soften the skin and in fragrance. They're also used in toys, electronics (such as personal computers), car-care products, insecticides, and many household products, including adhesives, plastic wrap, plastic containers, flooring, furniture, wallpaper, shower curtains, and other things made of vinyl or PVC.  Major concerns.

Avoid products with the ingredient 'Fragrance' as phthalates could be there.

Phthalates are endocrine disruptors linked to problems of the reproductive system, including decreased sperm concentration in men and genital abnormalities in baby boys (male hypospadias).  https://www.ewg.org/search/site/phthalates





Hair conditioner. A synthetic polymer.

No reports of health issues except possible minor skin irritations.



Surfactant/wetting agent and solvent.

Skin, eye and lung irritant and possible organ system toxicity i.e. reproductive and neurotoxin. Possible carcinogen. Extended exposure to PG has also been linked to the development of asthma and allergic reactions in children. Having a small molecular weight, it can be absorbed through the skin. A MSDS warns against skin contact.



Names ending in 'one' or 'ane'. eg. Cyclomethicone, Amodimethicone, Phenyl Trimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Trimethylsiloxyilicates, Lauryl methicone copolyol, Polysiloxane

Create a coating on the hair that makes it shine. Detangles. Helps dry hair look healthy and helps hair feel soft and smooth.

Silicone builds up and the coating gets harder to get off. Build up can lead to hair loss, skin irritation, itchy scalp and dermatitis. Silicone is sealing up the hair and while some are water soluble others are not. Cyclomethicone is not water soluble and is the hardest to remove from hair.



Fragrance ingredient. Preservative.

Use is restricted in cosmetics in Japan. Low non reproductive organ toxicity. Toxic to humans at high levels. When combined with vitamin C (ascorbic acid) or citric acid, it forms benzene, a known carcinogen.  This is a common problem in soft drinks. 

https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/705989/SODIUM_BENZOATE/ - .WhFyPrZL2uo



Viscosity (thickness) regulator.

Slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of eye contact (irritant), of ingestion, of inhalation. 



Acidity regulator.

Slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of eye contact (irritant), of ingestion, of inhalation.



sodium laureate sulfate (sles);  sodium lauryl sulfate (sls); ammonium lauryl sulfate (als); ammonium laureth sulfate (ale)  

Surfectant - Foaming agent. Gives a product "a cosmetic feel".

The real problem with SLES/SLS is that the manufacturing process (ethoxylation) results in SLES/SLS being contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogenic byproduct. There is no way of knowing so best to avoid it.

ALS /ALE are considered less toxic as the molecules are larger and don't absorb as readily but hey, it's still ammonium.

Irritation of the skin and eyes; organ toxicity; neurotoxicity; developmental/reproductive toxicity; possible mutations and cancer. (EWG.com)



Surfactant - a wetting agent that helps the shampoo spreads easily.

Cosmetics Database (EWG) states "mild concerns regarding organ system toxicity and skin and eye irritation.".



(ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid)

Chelating agent and perservative made by reacting ethylenediamine, formaldehyde and hydrogen or sodium cyanide.

“Animal studies have found it to be cytotoxic (liver toxin), a genotoxic (toxic to DNA, possibly leading to mutations) through oral ingestion. It has not been found to be carcinogenic” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12396676

“By itself it's not highly absorbable through the skin, but due to its chelation properties, it is able to increase the absorption of other chemicals present.”  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12396676

“Harmful if used in a spray application, as it may cause asthma or respiratory irritation.”    



Chelating agent.

According to the MSDS: May cause irritation on sensitive skins. May cause mild transient irritation to the eyes. Avoid prolonged contact to concentrated vapours.


Worth noting...

DEA and MEA are usually listed on the ingredient label in conjunction with the compound being neutralized. Thus look for names like Cocamide DEA or MEA, Lauramide DEA, etc. These are hormone disrupting chemicals and are known to form cancer causing nitrates and nitrosamines. These are commonly found in most personal care products that foam, including bubble baths, body washes, shampoos, soaps and facial cleansers. On the show CBS This Morning, Roberta Baskin revealed that a recent government report shows DEA and MEA are readily absorbed in the skin. Dr. Samuel Epstein, Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Illinois said, "repeated skin applications of DEA-based detergents resulted in a major increase in the incidence of two cancers - liver and kidney cancers". John Bailey, who oversees the cosmetic division for the FDA said the new study is especially important since "the risk equation changes significantly for children."


There we go, as a modern, progressive society how did we get here ???  Be a label reader and get to know the brands you can trust. It's important to note that even professed organic products can include harmful ingredients. An example - http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/most-controversial/2013/1/18/an-organic-shampoo-exposed.html#comment21642036

This is an excellent website for further info   http://www.safecosmetics.org

Shine in health,


PS.  If you would like a PDF table of these ingredients pop me an email ( includes a general hazard rating).   https://organicise.com/contact/




Vera Coleman