Best Natural Shampoos and Conditioners
Disclosure: All of the following were purchased with my own money. No free samples or biased reviews here! You have my honest, tested and researched opinions. Keep in mind that these results are my own personal experience...which might differ from yours.
My hair has always been a bit of a mess. Curl here, straight there, and all sorts of wavy in between. I needed a lot of anti-frizz product and my scalp often felt sore, like when you've had your hair in a ponytail all day (but it wasn't). Making the switch to clean healthy hair products has been amazing. Not only did I manage to lower my daily exposure to unnecessary toxins, but I now use very little product. (Why lower your daily exposure to toxins? See here.) My hair has never felt so light and soft. Most importantly, my scalp no longer feels irritated.
There were obstacles to overcome, the first being that clean shampoos and conditioners are initially expensive! And then there's the 2-3 week transition period. The scalp has natural oils that keep your hair healthy, shiny and beautiful. In the past, girls would brush their hair 100 strokes. This was to redistribute the natural oils down the hair shafts. Today, most shampoos and conditioners strip the natural oils away and then leave a chemical residue which increases your hairs' natural oil production....wash, rinse, and repeat.
Toxins in shampoo and conditioner?
Parabens (methylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben) have also gotten a bad rap. They are the most widely used preservatives in cosmetic products. They give products a long shelf life. They kill harmful bacteria and micro-organisms which is a good thing, but studies have found traces of parabens in breast cancer tissue. Parabens have also been shown to mimic estrogen. Now, to be honest, there haven't been enough conclusive studies to prove that parabens actually cause cancer, but it certainly shows to me that parabens (whatever their source) can be absorbed and stored into the body. So, what are the long-term effects? No one knows and I'm not interested in being a guinea pig until they find out. The FDA has not banned parabens, yet it "will continue to evaluate new data in this area".
Some manufacturers have been quick to replace some ingredients with "natural" ones, but not all natural ingredients are better for you. For example, Cocamidopropyl betaine is derived from coconut oil, yet it received the 2004 Allergen of the Year award by the American Contact Dermatitis Society. It's used to make lather.
If some of these ingredients aren't necessary, is it really worth the risk? How much lather do we need?
Things to consider when looking at ingredients:
- While individual ingredients are tested, ingredient combinations often are not.
- There are no regulations in the personal care industry which means there's a lot of false "organic" labeling and fraudulent claims.
- Sometimes ingredients are listed by their common name (Coconut) and sometimes by their scientific name (Cocos nucifera L) which can sometimes sound really bad.
- Because many fragrances are irritants and allergens, the EWG automatically gives the ingredient "fragrance" an bad score of 8. But, this does not mean all fragrances are bad. It's up to the manufacturer, how much information they want to disclose.
- Vitamins A (retinol) & E (tocopherol), some alcohols, and some essential oils can slow down the growth of bacteria, but there are very few truly natural preservatives that work well.
- Many "natural" preservatives have been chemically altered making them not so natural.
- Any product containing water/moisture needs a preservative to prevent bacteria. So, if you choose bottled products, you're going to have to compromise with some type of preservative.
- Refrigerate (or store in a cool dark place) any products that you aren't currently using to prolong the shelf-life. Don't stock up. Buy from stores with high turnovers.
After 8 months of research and product use, the following are my favourite shampoos and conditioners. I love using the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Database (EWG). It scores products according to their collective ingredients. While the EWG database is not perfect, it is great for identifying potential red flag ingredients you might want to research further. All products were bought with my own money.
Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps Review
Most of Dr. Bronner's castille soap score a low "1" on the EWG. The almond castille soap scores a 3. Bronner's response on this is interesting: "The change in rating has to do with the use of the word "fragrance" on the ingredient list. EWG is rightly concerned about the term, because it is frequently used by cosmetics companies to "hide" synthetic ingredients. In our case, the natural almond fragrance is from cassia flower extract. We feel we don't have a very good choice in how to list it, because if we were to stop using the term "fragrance" we would be required to list it by its chemical name, "benzaldehyde," which sounds synthetic even though it is naturally derived (note that benzaldehyde gets an ingredient rating of 1, while "fragrance" gets a rating of 8)".
Now, this isn't your typical shampoo. You need to dilute it. I use a simple squeeze bottle.....one parts soap to 3 parts water. Dr. Bronner's does lather but sometimes you need to wash, rinse and repeat. The result is super squeaky clean hair (literally squeaks!). Here's the problem. It leaves your hair feeling disgusting and sticky. So why would I recommend this product? According to Lisa Bronner's blog, this is not from residue but due to the high pH of the castille soap. The tiny follicles on the hair stick out on each strand and tangle with each other. This soap needs an acid rinse (like vinegar or citrus) to help smooth the follicles back down.
That's where Dr. Bronner's Organic Shikakai Conditioning Hair Rinse comes in. First of all, I L O V E this stuff! It leaves my hair feeling amazing! It scores a "0" on the EWG site which is amazing! It costs between $10 in stores and $15 shipped. While that seems like a lot, keep in mind that a bottle yields between 20-30 uses.
This stuff looks like clumpy gross mud. You must dilute it. I leave a second squeeze bottle in the shower for this purpose and dilute 1 1/2 caps in one cup of warm water (just before you use it or you'll get a refreshing shock). Give it a good shake and that's it! This leaves my hair amazingly silky smooth.
- Some people don't like the smell of the hair rinse. Some refer to it as a "chemical smell"....weird....because it's not. I like it because it reminds me of candied orange slices and fresh clementine.
- Rinse the castille soap out well before using a rinse. The two don't mix.
- Don't get this in your eyes or cuts. The lemon stings. It's not fun.
- I personally found the peppermint soap too drying for my hair, so I don't use that one on my hair.
- Remember that your hair will take a few weeks to recalibrate its naturals oils. A bit of patience and ponytail days might be needed.
- Experiment with the amount of capfuls, applications and combinations of products (gels, leave-in conditioners,etc) to see what works for you.
- According to Lisa Bronner's blog, don’t use castille soap on colored hair. It opens up the follicles and strips the color too quickly.
- Okay...so it's a little complicated but it works!
AUBREY Shampoo & Conditioner Review
Aubrey's also offers great hair care products. I've used all of the following:
- Aubrey Island Naturals Replenishing Conditioner (EWG rating of 2)
- Aubrey GPB Glycogen Protein, Balancing Conditioner (EWG rating of 3)
- Aubrey Moisturizing Conditioner, Honeysuckle Rose, Dry/Brittle (EWG rating of 2)
- Aubrey Moisturizing Shampoo, Honeysuckle Rose (not rated on EWG)
Some bottles were really thick, especially for the first few uses. I simply use my squeeze bottle and diluted with water.
I found Aubrey's GPB Rosemary Peppermint Conditioner too drying for my hair, but it is very well reviewed by others so your experience could vary depending on your type of hair. This conditioner feels GREAT....so cooling and refreshing.
Most of Aubrey's shampoos score a 3 or a 4 on the EWG database. This is because most shampoos have Retinol (a from of vitamin A). This ingredient is a bit controversial because of how it degrades when exposed to the sun. Pregnant women are advised to avoid products with Retinol.
However, I notice that most Aubrey shampoo bottles now list beta-carotene instead of retinol. Beta-carotene is another form of vitamin A.....which, in the body, gets converted into retinol. According to EWG, beta-carotene seems to be safer for use on the skin, but I'm currently awaiting a response from Aubrey about this.
I order my Aubrey products from iherb.com, saving me 3-4 dollars per bottle, but they can be found in most health food stores.
Miessence Hair Care
Safe Baby Shampoo
When I think of baby shampoo, I think of gentle and safe Johnson and Johnson. Well I was wrong. Recently, J&J has come under fire for its formaldehyde-releasing preservative: quaternium-15. Of course, Johnson's Baby Shampoo sold in Denmark, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Sweden and the U.K. is sold without formaldehyde preservatives. After pressure from The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, American Nurses Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility and many other health and parents' groups, Johnson & Johnson finally committed to removing carcinogens dioxane and formaldehyde from its baby products by the end of 2013 and from its adult products by the end of 2015.
Thankfully, there are safer alternatives out there. I use Lafe's Baby Foaming Shampoo & Wash which scores a "0" on EWG.
It's made from 5 simple ingredients: Aqua (Water), saponified oils of: *Cocos nucifera(coconut), *Helianthus annuus(sunflower)seed, *Olea europaea (olive), *Elaeis guinnesis(palm).
Lafe's uses baby-safe packaging and the foam pump helps prevent waste. Uncomplicated, simple, safe. I got my Lafe's Baby Foaming Shampoo & Wash on iherb.com
These are just some of the products I've been using for the past 8 months. I'll keep adding products as I find and try them.
Next is Part 2: All natural gels and leave in conditioners