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Last updated on March 29th, 2019
Today we will talk about shampoo ingredients to avoid. But our conversation is not going to be about parabens, sulfates, or phthalates, and not even about petrochemicals. In fact, you are going to learn something that can help you become a savvier consumer and become immune to greenwashing. So, sit back and relax.
Seven years ago when I was expecting my son, I looked for the best baby shampoo for him. It was then that I researched shampoos for the first time looking into every single ingredient of all the products that claimed to be organic, natural, plant-based, or hypoallergic. My research was accompanied by asking lots of questions to shampoo manufacturers, independent researchers and agencies, and reading scientific studies. It was so frustrating and time-consuming! Now, however, I understand how shampoos are made, which allows me to know if the ingredients are written correctly and take educated guesses as to whether there are undisclosed ingredients. Reading ingredients has become my full-time occupation, which I love.
So, today you are going to learn about the shampoo ingredients to avoid that Truly Organic Super Plant Shampoo has. For the reasons that follow, I can’t include this shampoo in my Shampoo Rating List.
Shampoo ingredients to avoid – Truly Organic Super Plant Shampoo
As you can see from the product’s description page below, the company tells us that the two main ingredients are African Cucumber and Aloe Vera, which have quite appealing benefits. Who doesn’t want that?
However, I encourage you to read ingredients, not just the advertisement claims. You will learn a bit later how to also understand ingredients. One of the reasons it is important to pay attention to the ingredients is that typical shampoos must have ingredients that create foam, a creamy texture, and protect the product from growing bacteria and mold. Those ingredients are often a source of health concerns such as allergic reactions, irritation, hair loss, endocrine disruption or cancer.
The reason I can’t include this shampoo in my Shampoo Rating List is that the ingredients do not appear to be disclosed fully. In other words, the shampoo ingredients to avoid here are those that are written in a way that prevents us from researching their safety.
Here is what I mean by that.
The proper way to list and evaluate ingredients
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel, established in 1976 by an industry trade association called the Personal Care Products Council, with the support of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Consumer Federation of America, reviews cosmetic ingredients for safety. It then publishes reports (called CIR reports) as to the ingredients that you can access on the Cosmetic Ingredient Review website.
And here is something important. When the CIR Panel reviews cosmetic ingredients, it refers to them by the ingredient name as it appears in the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI), known as the INCI Name (source).
In addition to that, as you might know, you can access the safety scores of ingredients in the Skin Deep database powered by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The EWG rates ingredients on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the safest. But there are pitfalls of using the Skin Deep database to watch out for, which you can read about here. However, it is still the best tool we have to evaluate the safety of cosmetic products quickly, especially if you use it in conjunction with my Superpower Cheat Sheet.
Notice that both CIR and EWG Skin Deep database use INCI names in their analysis. You have to type an INCI name of an ingredient to get a safety report on it.
With this said, let’s talk specifically about how this applies to Truly Organic Super Plant Shampoo ingredients to avoid.
The ambiguity of ingredients in the Truly Organic Super Plant Shampoo
With the exception of Decyl Glucoside and Cocamidopropyl Betaine (note, there is a typo in their listing), none of the ingredients listed on the Truly Organic Super Plant Shampoo label are written in INCI form. (Most manufacturers do use INCI names, leading one to wonder why Truly Organic Super Plant Shampoo does not utilize this industry norm.)
The good news is that while water, Organic Willow Extract, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Olive Oil, Organic Neroli, Organic Agave Nectar, Organic Tea Tree, Organic Passion Fruit Extract, Organic African Cucumber, and Organic Kale are not listed as INCI names, we can guess what they are.
As for the other two ingredients, guar and sodium coco surfactant, things get more complicated. In the image below, you can see a list of guar-related ingredients that the CIR Panel published in their report.
So, which one is the “guar” in question? We don’t know which ingredient they use.
Now, let’s talk about sodium coco surfactant. There are two things to know here. Surfactant is a word for a category of shampoo ingredients that fulfill the same function. Specifically, surfactants are used in shampoos (including organic, natural, and plant-based shampoos) to clean the skin and create foam.
When I was researching shampoos for my Shampoo Rating List, I identified over 100 surfactants. Thus, it would be very hard to know which one sodium coco surfactant is. Yes, they left us a clue by using the word “sodium”. Out of 106 surfactants that I identified, 26 surfactants start with the word “sodium”.
Another clue they gave us is the word “coco”. By the way, the fact that a surfactant is derived from coconut does not make it any safer. Cocamide DEA, which is derived from coconuts, is listed on the California Prop. 65 as a carcinogen. So some surfactants are among shampoo ingredients to avoid.
Lastly, my educated guess is that by “sodium coco surfactant” they possibly meant “Sodium Coco-Sulfate”. However, I do not know for sure.
Needless to say, I have contacted the seller of Truly Organic Super Plant Shampoo twice. There is no phone number listed on their website so I emailed them. Every time I sent an email, I got a message promising that they would get back to me within 1-3 business days. (Please see the screenshot below.) But I never heard from them.
Have you noticed that there are no preservatives listed among the ingredients? Preservatives are needed in any shampoo that has water, so as to protect it from the development of bacteria and mold. We can’t see bacteria with our eyes, but bacteria can be deadly. At the very least, they can make us sick. So, are the manufacturers exposing consumers to mold and bacteria, or are they using an undisclosed preservative? One or the other is highly likely.
Conclusion about Shampoo Ingredients to Avoid
It is already very hard to pick a shampoo that is not like dishwashing detergent and does not have ingredients that may cause an allergic reaction or irritation or even worse – hair loss. (Here you can read more about a sulfate-free shampoo that has allegedly been causing hair loss in many people.) Neither do we want questionable chemicals to get absorbed through the skin, possibly contributing to long-term health problems. Therefore, I believe that as consumers we should not be spending additional time trying to guess shampoo ingredients. If you find yourself doing just that, know that these are the shampoo ingredients to avoid.
For these reasons, I did not include Truly Organic Super Plant Shampoo in my Shampoo Rating List.
In my next post, you are going to learn about another shampoo that I can’t include in my Shampoo Rating List even though they emailed me back. Stay tuned and pay attention to the shampoo ingredients to avoid! Deal?
Your Superpower To Read Ingredients
Imagine looking at the ingredients of any shampoo, conditioner, lotion, or cream and in a matter of seconds being able to decide if it is safe to use!
With this easy unprecendented method, you will be able to spot potentially harmful personal care or skincare products that may cause irritation, an allergic reaction, or increase the risk of endocrine disruption or cancer.