So, what exactly is in shampoo that’s so dangerous? There’s a laundry list of chemicals that may show up in your favorite hair washing products. Possible carcinogens include resorcinol, FD&C Yellow No. 6 (a colorant for shampoo), methylisothiazolinone, sodium laureth sulfate, and sodium lauryl sulfate. The urban legend-debunking site Snopes.com questions whether sodium laureth and sodium lauryl sulfate causes cancer. It’s an ingredient that’s added to shampoo to make it foam up. It can irritate your scalp and eyes, Snopes says, but three different government agencies have rated these chemicals as being non-carcinogens.
However, when these chemicals are combined with other ingredients in your shampoo, they can create nitrosamines, chemical compounds that are known to cause cancer. If your shampoo contains TEA (triethanolamine), DEA (diethanolamine), or MEA (monnoethanolamine) plus sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate, these chemicals may combine into a dangerous, potentially carcinogenic mix.
Fragrance is another potentially toxic ingredient in shampoo. It’s an irritant, especially to kids’ sensitive scalps and eyes. It can cause allergic reactions, and it’s even been linked to neurotoxicity. Depending on the mix of fragrance in your shampoo, it can cause respiratory distress, dermatitis, and allergic reactions. It can even affect the reproductive system.
It’s still possible to buy nice-smelling shampoo: just pick products that are scented with essential oils. Lavender and rosemary are two popular natural scents, and they’re nontoxic.
As well as potentially causing cancer, the chemical methylisothiazolinone has been the subject of two studies that indicate it can harm the fetuses of pregnant women. This substance is used as a disinfectant and preservative in shampoos such as Head and Shoulders and Clairol products. Studies done with pregnant rats show methylisothiazolinone may cause abnormal brain development in fetuses.
For healthier, safer shampooing, pick shampoos that use naturally derived cleansers. These include decyl glucoside, castile soap, saponified palm oil, and yucca juice. Rosemary essential oil is a natural disinfectant.
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