Do you know what’s in your Shampoo?


Cheryl Hoard


Do you read the labels of your shampoos and soaps? If you do read the ingredient list, do you know what all those chemicals are and what they do for your skin and hair? Did you know that the surfactant, sodium laureth sulfate (SLS), is not actually made from coconut oil like the label says? Sometimes we are distracted by advertising slogans depicting all kinds of “actions” the product apparently can accomplish. Reality reveals an industry producing a seemingly endless stream of copycat hair care products with the only significant differences being in their appearance, smell, packaging and marketing slogans. With an air of innocence and trust in regulating agencies like the FDA (Food and Drug Administration, which knowingly allows the SLS deceit as noted above) many of us have assumed our body care products are safe and only act on our hair or greasy skin and have no other activities on the rest of our bodies inside and out. For years many of us have not thought much about the environmental effects of the manufacture of these products and the effects when we let them go down our household drains. Sometimes a product is labeled biodegradable but in reality this describes only some of the base detergent agents while the product contains preservatives and other chemicals which are not biodegradable.

Cosmetic chemists formulate products from a huge selection of synthetic chemicals that are known by doctors and the FDA to be unhealthy for human use. It is hard not to notice the intensely strong fragrance in our body care products, laundry and household cleaners. These are synthetic fragrances and are a leading cause of allergic reactions. Sometimes a product will have as many as 5 different chemical preservatives. Methyl and propyl paraben are common preservatives that are strong sensitizers and cause dermatitis. Sensitization is an insidious problem that occurs after repeated use, sometimes after years of use, and can show up as mysterious skin afflictions in places where the product may never have touched.

Surfactants, inexpensive synthetic agents that make up the base of most liquid soaps and shampoos, are harsh on the hair and skin. Many of the harsh surfactants deplete natural fats and phospholipids from the epidermis that weakens the skin allowing toxins and bacteria to invade. A great many of them have been invented, creating a huge and very profitable industry. Only after the industry flourished, flooding the market with many varieties creating a vast environmental problem, did the governments of many countries in the 1960’s ban the most harmful ones. No long-term effects of these surfactants were studied on the human skin. The first surfactants were so cruel to skin that people using them everyday developed eczema and dermatitis. The medical profession finally spoke up and the most damaging ones were taken off the market. That was possibly the largest unauthorized test on an innocent public that has ever occurred. Some think the same kind of unauthorized testing is still going on with many people suffering from various skin conditions.

I remember when I was a teenager and pHisohex, an antibacterial cleaner, was all the rage. We used it to wash our faces, bodies and as hand soap at the sink. It contained hexachlorophene, which in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s became linked to infant deaths and brain damage. This prompted warnings on products containing hexachlorophene to read “not to be used on babies”. PHisohex was eventually taken off the market due to toxic reactions.

Safety is determined by exactly what percentage contained in a product will cause immediate symptoms of health problems. Less than the lowest percentage that caused an adverse reaction is not always what manufacturers are allowed to use. Sometimes they are allowed to use more. I can’t help but to imagine that could be because a company can come up with a study where a more resilient animal tolerated a higher percentage of the nasty substance. The FDA’s GRAS stands for “generally recognized as safe”, is a list that seems to be more protective for the chemical companies than for your safety.

The products concocted don’t just offer a basic, gentle cleaning action but are made to have just the desired size bubble, just the right amount of foaming ability, clear color or pearl-like look and thick, smooth texture. There are several synthetic chemicals in each of these categories from which to choose to accomplish these “most important” qualities. At this point there is a need to add another host of chemical ingredients to counteract the horrid effects the base ingredients actually have on your hair and skin. Surprisingly many of these kind of ingredients for appearance aspects like texture and bubble size are still contained in shampoos found in health food stores.

Cheryl’s Herbs has read and fully understood the labels on these popular liquid soaps and shampoos. With their usual tender loving care for your skin, hair and the environment, they have formulated a truly unique, simple and more natural soap/shampoo line. You can simplify your life with these liquid cleaners because even just one of them can be used as face soap, body soap, shampoo, hand soap at your sink and even gentle detergent for hand washing delicate clothing.

This unique hair care line starts with the most simple, biodegradable soap base, manufactured by Cheryl’s Herbs, containing only Purified Water, Decyl Polyglucose, Vegetable Glycerin, Apple Cider Vinegar and Xanthan Gum. The state of the art soap agent, Decyl Polyglucose, is manufactured from plentiful, renewable vegetation and is earth friendly. It is derived from corn and coconut & palm kernel oils. It can also be described as being made from corn, glucose & starch. Corn supplies the carbohydrates which are converted with fatty alcohols from native oils, such as coconut or palm kernel oil, into alkyl polyglycosides. Decyl Polyglucose is an effective, gentle, cleaner with no reported adverse effects and is fully biodegradable. The significance of its safety is appreciated when you realize that most of the cosmetic ingredients used in conventional products cause health problems.

You won’t find a simpler, more natural shampoo base in any health food store across America! For each individual soap/shampoo product we add intensively prepared herbal tea formulas and Cheryl’s Herbs famous world-class quality essential oils to this wonderful base. Choose from over a dozen kinds of Cheryl’s Herbs Soap/Shampoo. The names of some of the most popular ones are Soothing, Balancing, Dry Skin, Herbal Pet and our famous Summer Soap/Shampoo which is full of insect-repellent herbs and essential oils!

The following is a small sampling of ingredients commonly found in shampoos and liquid soaps:

Sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate are alkyl sulfates and are surfactants widely used in most shampoos, toothpaste, lotions and creams today. Labeling regulations allow “derived from coconut oil” which is untrue today because they are synthetically produced now from petroleum but was true in the 1940’s when originally developed. The chemical industry considers them to be some of their most gentle cleansers for the skin and hair, especially sodium laureth sulfate. In high concentrations they both are very irritant, drying to skin, hair, irritating to eyes, caused damages like cracking, severe inflammation and cause allergic reactions. They both have a lot of potential to become contaminated with nitrosamines. Sulfates are used to manufacture these synthetic surfactants and are harmful to marine life and the environment.

Alkyloamides have actions that are thickening, gelling, emulsifying, foam boosting, foam stabilizing and opacifying, which changes appearance from clear to cloudy, sometimes making white pearl-like appearance. 4 Main groups of alkyloamides are: diethanolamides (DEA), monoethanolamides (MEA), monoisopropanolamides (MIPA), ethoxylated or PEG alkanolamides. All are harmful to environment and can become contaminated with nitrosamines.

Amodimethicone is silicone fluid used to give a smooth feel which causes allergic reactions.

CA-24 (chloroacetamide) also known as acidamide is used as antimicrobial in shampoos and bath lotions at concentrations up to 0.3%. People have had allergic reactions from it using as little as 0.1% dilution. The European Economic Community requires label warnings on products containing chloroacetamide.

Cocoamide DEA is a synthetic foam stabilizer and thickener which may be contaminated with carcinogenic nitrosamines.

Cocamidopropyl betaine causes eyelid dermatitis.

Sodium Myeth Sulfate is a synthetic detergent and not biodegradable.

DMDM Hydantoin is a form of formaldehyde and is used as a preservative.

Ext. D&C Color certified as safe for drugs and cosmetics, not for food. It is a synthetic, coal tar color and is toxic. Coal tar has been shown to be carcinogenic in animal tests and many people are allergic to it.

Ext. D&C Violet #2 is in the anthraquinone family of coal tars which is made from phthalic anhydride and benzene. This chemical mix causes tumors in lab rats and causes serious skin rashes. Benzene is a petrochemical solvent known to cause depression, convulsions, coma and death with prolonged exposure suspected to cause leukemia. Even inhaling the vapors can be absorbed through the skin and cause irritation.

Formaldehyde is a suspected carcinogen and found in many preservatives including the hydantoins. It’s extremely toxic when inhaled or swallowed. Nearly half of all people exposed to it experience a toxic reaction. In the past the FDA banned formaldehyde in cosmetics but is still used in shampoos. EEC requires label disclosure if it used in a certain percentage.

Glyceryl Stearate S.E. a synthetic used for a pearlizing effect, emulsifier and opacifier (changes appearance from clear to cloudy) which can cause irritation and clogged pores.

Imidazolidinyl urea (also known as Germall and phenoxyethanol) is a synthetic preservative that can release formaldehyde at temperatures over 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Irgasan DP 300 ( also named Triclosan) is phototoxic, an environmental pollutant because hydrocarbons are known to pollute the air, water and land, and a suspected carcinogen because it comes from coal tar.

Lauramide DEA is a surfactant, foam-builder, can be irritating to the skin and can be contaminated with nitrosamines.

Laureth 1-40 a synthetic surfactant and foaming agent.

Laurylmyrist-oleamidosulfo-succinate a synthetic fatty alcohol used as a dispersant and a surfactant that causes allergic reactions and damages the environment.

Linoleamidopropyl ethly dimonium ethosulfate can be contaminated with carcinogenic nitrosamines.

Methylparaben a synthetic preservative.

Mineral Oil is manufactured from petroleum and causes allergic reactions with topical use and many be phototoxic.

Propylene Glycol is considered safe by the FDA and is a petrochemical used in antifreeze and brake fluid. It is a cheap synthetic humectant and emulsifier made from mineral oil. Sweet and natural vegetable glycerin would do just as well and not be harmful. It’s use as a humectant and moisturizer is questionable because it replaces and repels important components for healthy skin. Skin functions on water and propylene acts as a replacement for water but the skin can’t use it. A low concentration of it is advised in products but you will often find it near the top of the ingredient list indicating a high concentration. High level of usage is a considered a possible cause of increasing liver and kidney related health problems. In 1991 a report to the American Academy of Dermatologists showed it to cause a significant number of reactions and was a primary irritant to the skin even in low levels of concentration.

Quaternary ammonium salts including stearalkonium chloride, quaternary-15 (a fungicide) are used in the paper and fabric industries, as fabric softeners, water repellents, anti-static agents and corrosion inhibitors. They are very common in hair conditioners and crème rinses. While initially giving a soft feel to hair they eventually make the hair dry and brittle also causing skin rashes and allergic reactions and environmental harm. The agents in conditioners and crème rinses can build up and coat the hair to such an extent that it takes stronger and harsher shampoos to lift the film. Quaternary-15 has caused severe sensitivities to medical drugs.

Nitrosamines All “amines” and “amides” are capable of forming N-nitroso compounds which, in animal experiments, have been found to be quite carcinogenic. One in particular that occurs in many cosmetics is identified as NDELA N-nitrosodiethanolamine which according to a 1977 FDA report is a potent carcinogen. The chemical, TEA (triethanolamine), extensively used in cosmetics is the one primarily suspected of creating NDELA. DEA (diethanolamine) is another one capable of forming NDELA. Not much press has been given to this subject but one consumer magazine has recommended not using products containing TEA or DEA. One study reported over 40% of TEA containing products tested contained nitrosamines.

Health conscious individuals take care to avoid eating food containing nitrates but even typical use of a shampoo contaminated with NDELA can lead to even higher levels of absorption than eating it.

Nitrosamines are contaminants of chemical based cosmetic products. Contamination can occur during many stages of manufacturing including certain pH balances, water solutions and in storage and shipment from the seams in the metal drums. Because of the chemical nature of common preservatives used in these conventional products, they either do not protect from nitrosamine formation or they actually contribute to further contamination.

Examples of typical ingredients likely to be contaminated with nitrosamines:sodium lauryl sulfate, TEA-lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, TEA laureth sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, lauroyl sarcosine, cocoyl sarcosine, sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, sodium cocoyl sarcosinate, potassium coco-hydrolyzed animal protein, formaldehyde, hydrolyzed animal protein, imidazolidinyl urea, monethanolamine (MEA), quaternium-7, 15, 31, 60 etc., disodium oleamide sulfosuccinate, sodium dioctyl sulfosuccinate, sodium methyl oleoyl sulfate and sodium lauryl isoethionate, sodium methyl cocoyl taurate, sodium nitrite, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol.

I highly recommend the following books because from the information in these books I have just barely scratched the surface here about the facts behind these cosmetic chemical ingredients. These books contain many more ingredient explanations and also contain ingredients common in conditioners, styling products, moisturizers and make-up.

Some who come across this kind of information feel unmotivated to act upon it. They may feel if we have survived so far with the presence of these chemicals, which our government allows as “OK”, then it’s really no big deal and what’s all the fuss? I am one who is motivated to quietly break the chain. If I can do my small part to encourage less production of these chemicals I am happy to do it. Other than writing this article and conducting business at Cheryl’s Herbs in an ethical way, I’m not greatly motivated to take a bigger stand. We the consumer have quite a lot on influence on business and industry. Because there are more natural alternatives, it can be as easy as a simple choice when I go shopping.



Hampton, Aubrey. What’s in Your Cosmetics?. Tucson, Arizona: Odonian Press. 1995.

Smeh, Nikolaus J. Creating Your Own Cosmetics – Naturally. Garrisonville, VA: Alliance Publishing Co. 1995.



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