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Today you are going to learn about the safety of Innersense shampoo based on its ingredients, not hype or advertisement. You will see that in my research of ingredients, I go beyond the Skin Deep database powered by the Environmental Working Group. While it is the best resource to do quick research into products we use on our bodies, it has its shortcomings. One of them is that if an ingredient is rated 1, it does not always mean that it is safe. And you will find out why in a minute.
Since I was expecting my son 7 years ago, I have read the ingredients of every shampoo in my vicinity and published my study of over a hundred shampoos so you can choose a shampoo based on your risk tolerance level, skin sensitivity, performance requirements, and hair type. You can learn which shampoos are included in the Shampoo Rating List here. And yes – Innersense shampoo is one of them.
In order to understand whether a shampoo is healthy and safe, and whether it will perform well on your hair, we should be looking at three main categories of ingredients: surfactants (aka cleansing agents), coating ingredients, and preservatives.
Innersense Pure Harmony Hairbath Ingredients
(Note that manufacturers change their ingredients. The following ingredients were accessed online on April 7, 2019.)
Water, Aqua- EAU, Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine1, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate1, Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside1, Glycerin, Sodium Chloride10, Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate1, Butyrosepermum Parkii (Shea Butter)4, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil6, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Peel Oil, Eucalyptus Globulus (Eucalyptus)7, Cucurbita Pepo (Pumpkin Seed Oil)3*, Hydroxypropyltrimonium Honey8, Hydrolyzed Quinoa, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate10, Sodium Benzoate, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride10, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil2, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Oil5, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract9*, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Persea Gratissima (Avocado)2* Fruit Extract, Mangifera Indica (Mango)* Fruit Extract.
1 Coconut, 2 Avocado Seed Oil, 3 Pumpkin Seed Oil, 4 Shea Butter, 5 Rice Bran Oil, 6 Orange Peel Oil, 7, Eucalyptus, 8 Honey, 9 Green Tea, 10 Naturally Derived
Surfactants (cleansing agents) in Innersense Sulfate-Free shampoo
Surfactants are the ingredients that are also called cleansing agents or detergents; in other words, they produce lather and make our hair and skin clean.
They are normally disclosed at the top of the list of ingredients. There are a great number of surfactants used in shampoos today. When I was researching shampoos for my Shampoo Rating List, I compiled a list of over 100 surfactants. A lot of manufacturers state that their surfactant is made from coconut, which sounds appealing until you learn what they are really talking about. Specifically, they say that their surfactant is “derived from” coconut, but the process of derivation is long and a lot of potentially harmful chemicals are added, so it does not really make a huge difference what the starting point was. Cocamide DEA, another surfactant, is also derived from coconut, and it is on the California Proposition 65 List for causing cancer.
It is quite challenging to find a shampoo with surfactants that have absolutely no health concerns. Most of them have limited safety data or no safety data at all. And some of them are known allergens, irritants, and even carcinogens.
With this said, the Innersense shampoo has some of the safer and more gentle surfactants. Some surfactants, such as sulfates, can be stripping and dry on the hair. So, it is good that Innersense Pure Hairbath is sulfate free. Let’s look at the 4 surfactants used in the Innersense sulfate-free shampoo in detail.
This surfactant is rated 1 (on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the safest) with limited data in the EWG Skin Deep database. However, I think it should get a higher rating point and here is why. First, “with limited data” means that it has not been well-studied for safety. Next, it is a close relative of cocamidopropyl betaine, which was named the Allergen of the Year in 2004 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.
Like cocamidopropyl betaine, cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine may contain a residue of the chemical used to produce it, called DMAPA (3,3-dimethylaminopropylamine). It is also a sensitizer, meaning it can cause an allergic reaction after repeated use, even if it caused no reaction at first. The good news is that the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel has encouraged manufacturers to minimize the residue amount of DMAPA and sensitization to cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine is relatively rare. It is also considered a gentle surfactant. You can read more about it here.
Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate
The EWG Skin Deep database rates it a 1 with limited data available. According to Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) reports of 1993 and 2017, it was found to be non-mutagenic, does not cause birth defects in animal studies, and is non-sensitizing. It was found to be non-irritating or slightly irritating. Even when rats were fed high doses of sodium cocoyl isethionate, it was found to be practically non-toxic (source). However, it has been evaluated for cancer. It is also considered a gentle surfactant.
Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate
The EWG Skin Deep database rates it at 1 but notes no safety data available. However, it is a close relative of sodium cocoyl isethionate discussed above. The difference is that sodium cocoyl isethionate is the sodium salt of the coconut fatty acid ester of isethionic acid; while sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate is the sodium salt of the methyl lauric acid ester of isethionic acid.
Sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate belongs to the group of 12 isethionate surfactants that are described in the 2017 CIR safety report. While there is not much safety information available in the 2017 CIR report on sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate, the CIR Panel believes that sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate’s safety profile should not be very different from sodium cocoyl isethionate’s, discussed above, due to its shared core chemical structure (source).
This ingredient belongs to the group of 19 glucoside surfactants. The safety data on individual glucosides is limited. However, the CIR Panel indicates that it is appropriate to assume the same safety for the whole group, based on its chemical and usage similarities. Glucosides are very popular surfactants, as a result of their mildness. Generally, they are considered safe. They are also not irritating to the eye and thus are common in baby shampoos.
While the 2013 CIR report concluded that the risk of irritation was small, and they were not sensitizers, there have been later reports from dermatologists pointing out that glucosides could cause allergic contact dermatitis (source). In some patch tests, 0.25% of patients had a reaction to glucoside surfactants. In other patch tests, it was as high as 5%. As a result, I rated it at 2 in the Shampoo Rating List versus 1 given by the EWG Skin Deep database.
Thus, I believe the Innersense sulfate-free shampoo has some of the safer and more gentle surfactants. Yet, there is a risk of irritation and sensitization, which is increased by the fact that there are 4 surfactants, not just one or two.
Conditioners (aka coating agents) in Innersense shampoo
The ingredients that coat the hair make a big difference in how a shampoo can perform. The reason for this is that they make the hair smooth, prevent frizz and static, add volume, and bind moisture to the hair. If you have chemically colored hair, you have damaged and porous hair, which means that you have to resort to the help of these coating agents.
Like many chemicals, it is widely used in so-called “natural” shampoos, but the CIR Panel has not assessed it for safety yet. However, by looking at its components separately, I think it should be okay. Hydroxypropyltrimonium honey is made by adding a quaternary ammonium chemical to honey to convert it into a quaternary ammonium compound. The quaternary ammonium compounds with the hydroxypropyltrimonium component have been assessed for safety, and you are going to learn about one of them next.
Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride
This ingredient is found to be non-genotoxic and neither sensitizing nor irritating (source). Outside of the CIR report, I have not found any studies linking guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride to irritation or allergic reactions either. It has a rating of 1 with limited data available in the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database. In my review of commonly used quaternary ammonium compounds, I found that guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride is considered one of the safest.
Hydrolyzed Rice Protein
This is a hydrolysate of rice protein derived by the method of hydrolysis. Hydrolyzed ingredients are very popular in so-called clean shampoos and conditioners because they coat the hair, binding moisture to the hair and increasing hair volume. According to the 2006 CIR report, there is no safety test data available for it, but the safety can be inferred from rice extracts. It is considered hypoallergenic. One of the concerns is pesticides, if the rice is not organic, which is noted in the EWG Skin Deep database. What is not noted is arsenic. I assume that this ingredient can be contaminated with arsenic, too, because rice is known to be contaminated with arsenic (source).
This is another hydrolysate of a different plant, quinoa. There is no safety data available for it. But, based on the fact the other hydrolyzed ingredients are considered safe, and quinoa is not known to be contaminated with arsenic, we can assume that it is okay to use.
Thus, I believe Innersense shampoo should make the hair look good, and the hair coating ingredients used in it are some of the safest.
Preservatives in Innersense shampoo
Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate
This is a chelating agent that improves the efficacy of sodium benzoate, also used as a preservative as discussed next. According to this Australian report, it is neither a skin irritant nor a sensitizer. In in vitro and in vivo tests, it was found to be non-mutagenic. And it has a low acute oral and dermal toxicity.
Sodium benzoate has a rating of 3 in the Skin Deep database. It is a popular preservative in so-called natural and organic shampoos and conditioners. It is also used commonly as a preservative in food. While I highly recommend avoiding processed food made with preservatives, the EWG indicates that sodium benzoate’s toxicity is low. And no, it does not produce benzene when reacted with citric acid. It may produce benzene under certain conditions if reacted with ascorbic acid, but not citric acid.
Sodium benzoate may also cause an allergic reaction in some sensitive people if used in concentrations over 5% (source). I don’t have information as to how much of it used in the Innersense shampoo. While sodium benzoate is not perfect, considering the alternatives, it is one of the safer preservatives. I rated it a 3. True, some non-toxic shampoos use preservatives rated at 1. On the other end, some manufacturers use preservatives rated as high as 10.
Conclusion about Innersense shampoo
This concludes our analysis of the Innersense Pure Harmony Hairbath shampoo ingredients. As you can probably guess by now, in my Shampoo Rating List, I expressed my opinion that its safety level is “good” (while very good is the safest). The Innersense shampoo should work well for chemically colored hair, damaged, and curly hair. (For curly hair though, Innersense recommends their hydrating shampoo, which is also in the Shampoo Rating List.) If you are okay with the potential health risks described above, go ahead and try this sulfate-free shampoo. In case you are curious if you can do better, the Shampoo Rating List is for you.
Where to buy this sulfate-free shampoo
Please know that all Innersense shampoos are very concentrated and using too much of it can result in wasting the product and even stripping the hair of natural oils. For better results, Innersense recommends using a small amount of the shampoo and rub it between my hands first before applying it to wet hair.
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