Is Your Shampoo Killing You?

October 12, 2017

shampoo lathered hair What brand of shaving cream do you use? Makeup? If its on the shelf it must be safe, right? Think again. According to the Environmental Working Group, “there are currently 10,500 ingredients documented by the FDA as being used in personal care products. Only 11% (or 1,155) have been assessed for safety by the cosmetic industry.”

Those 1,155 assessed ingredients? They’ve been assessed “by the cosmetic industry”—not the FDA, kind of like “the fox guarding the henhouse.”

Personal Care Products

“There are currently 10,500 ingredients documented by the FDA?” The FDA doesn’t require that manufacturers of personal care products register with the FDA. Manufacturers do not have to file a list of the ingredients in their products. They are not required to report any injury that occurs due to the use of their products.

The “FDA does not have a pre-market approval system for cosmetic products or ingredients”. The FDA does not test cosmetics (the category all personal care products are classified under.)

It’s really kind of crazy considering that we apply these chemicals to our bodies every day over a very long period of time: we are introduced to lotions as infants. Just because we’re not supposed to ingest grooming products (although we often do) doesn’t mean they don’t enter our bodies. Our skin is permeable, that is, it absorbs what is applied to it.

Dr. Epstein warns, in the book Toxic Beauty, that “What we put on our skin affects our health just as much, if not more, than what we put in our mouths.” Ingredients that you absorb through your skin can result in body concentrations 10x higher than oral doses. They do not pass through your GI tract, so they are not first filtered by your liver. They are absorbed directly into the bloodstream.

A concerning development is the addition of “nanoparticles” to personal care products. These “penetration enhancers” are mean to deliver ingredients even deeper into the skin. The Cancer Prevention Coalition lists “penetration enhancers” as one of the major categories of toxic substances in personal care products.

Dyes, detergents, preservatives and other common ingredients are known to be harmful. Fragrances, perfumes and “aroma boosters” are particularly dangerous. Manufacturers are not required to list the individual ingredients that make up a fragrance, and “fragrance” on a label can signify the presence of up to 4000 different compounds.

3 of the worst chemicals commonly found in many cosmetic products are parabens, propylene glycol and sodium sulfates.


Parabens are preservatives used to increase the shelf life of shampoos, conditioners, makeup, lotions, deodorants and toothpaste. They are a component in 90% of personal care products.

Common types of parabens are butyl, propyl and ethyl parabens.

Methylparaben is often used in skin products to fight aging and yet a Japanese study linked the compound to excessive skin aging when combined with exposure to ultra-violet rays.

Parabens have been found to cause skin reactions such as rashes, dermatitis and eczema.

Recent studies have found that parabens mimic estrogren and can affect both male and female reproductive organs. Some research has found that low sperm count and low testosterone levels are directly related to paraben levels.

Increased oestrogen levels are linked to higher incidences of breast cancer. One UK study measured paraben levels in cancerous tumors of the breast and found high levels in 18 of 20.

Propylene Glycol and Polyethylene Glycol

PGs and PEGs are organic alcohols used in personal care products such as make-up, deodorants, hair-care products, aftershave lotions and toothpaste to stabilize fragrance formulas and attract moisture.

Propylene Glycol and Polyethylene Glycol are also industrially (and in the same forms) used in antifreeze, oven cleaners, brake/hydraulic fluid and plane de-icers.

These organic alcohols are used to break down the structure of cells and proteins. They have been linked to dermatitis, kidney and liver problems, and decreased immunity. They inhibit skin cell growth and are potentially carcinogenic.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate

SLS and SLES are surfactants found in 90% of foaming products. Common in bubble bath, body wash, shampoo, toothpastes, make-up, and mouthwash, they’re also used to degrease car engines, clean garage floors and wash cars.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate are especially dangerous because of their denaturing properties. When combined with other ingredients,they change the nature of proteins in unpredictable and frightening ways.

The American College of Toxicology reports that these chemicals cause eye malformation in children. Animal studies showed that SLS caused eye damage, depression, diarrhea and labored breathing. There have been many accounts of skin irritation and outbreaks due to SLS and SLES use.

Research has found that these compounds enter the heart, liver, lungs and brain and can become a potent source of the carcinogen, nitrosamine. They also act as estrogen-mimics and may be linked to PMS, menopause, male infertility and breast cancer.

Action Steps

Try these homemade shampoo recipes: Homemade coconut lavender shampoo or Homemade honey citrus shampoo 

Josh Axe

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  1. Dr. Josh on

    <p>You’re right, I don’t have any experience with makeup, but there is a great website called that will list the toxins in many different name brand cosmetics and personal care items and rank them accordingly.</p>

  2. Ro on

    <p>I appreciate the alternatives you mentioned for the shampoo, lotion and all. While you can’t speak from personal experience, I don’t think :), do you have any recommendations for makeup?</p>

  3. Eric on

    <p>Thanks for the insight. My wife and I wondered about that! Do you have any suggestions for soap(hand, dishwasher, laundry) and other household cleaning items?</p>

  4. Jeff Flowers on

    <p>It really is difficult to find a decent shampoo that doesn’t contain dozens of unknown chemicals, but still gets the job done at an affordable price. Great post! I hope more people can see what they are lathering with.</p>

  5. Mamachibi on

    <p>All well and good, but the alternatives stink. Even organic and all-natural varieties very often contain SLS. The Jason available at my heath food store does, too. Hair “soaps” that don’t lather well also don’t clean well and leave my hair gummy. More negative reports won’t help us, we need choices!</p>

  6. rosalind on

    <p>I highly recommend Charlie’s laundry soap for a natural alternative. You get a lot for your money also. Jason’s products are good. I also recommend Burt’s Bees. You can find them at Target stores now. When looking for makeup mineral makeup is the way to go but I would research it. Bare minerals have products in them that people react to. You basically want to find a foundation (powder) with just mica, titanium dioxide, iron oxides sheer miracle is what I have tried. <a rel=”nofollow” href=”″ rel=”nofollow”></a></p&gt;

  7. Mike on

    <p>Is Bronners Castile Soap safe? I have used it for years for everything I need soap for (hair, body, laundry, household cleaning, etc.)</p>

  8. BJ on

    <p>Miracle II (Miracle Soap) by Tedco (used for face, skin and hair) – Is this a safe product to use?<br/>Thanks</p>

  9. Betty on

    <p>Could you please recommend a specific mineral makeup. I heard titanium dioxide has been linked with cancer. Also would like to know what product to use for aging skin that is still prone to breakouts. I am sure this comes from the inside out as well. Any recommendations to slow down breakouts.<br/>thank you</p>

  10. Dr. Axe on

    <p>Betty,<br/>You can check out the Environmental Working Group’s database of chemicals in personal care products at <br/>For acne, you’re right–most skin issues originate in the gut. Stay away from sugar, grains and dairy. Also, use coconut oil as a moisturizer and a tea tree face wash. Other supplements that can be helpful are cod liver oil and zinc. Also, get out in the sun for at least 15 minutes a day!</p>

  11. Kim on

    <p>According to my dermitoligistI have seborrheic dermatitis which is causing dandruff. He prescribed a prescription shampoo and said we would try applying steroids if that did not work. I would rather treat this naturally. What would you suggest? Please help!!! Kim</p>

  12. Dr. Axe on

    <p>Hi Kim, <br/>The majority of skin issues, dandruff included, originate in the gut. I would focus on improving digestion by eating foods like red cabbage. I would also try massaging aloe vera juice into your scalp and supplementing with cod liver oil to help reduce inflammation.</p>

  13. k on

    I would be careful about just picking up supposed “natural’ products from Jason and other brands. They constantly change their formulas, and still use some harmful ingredients. I have just discovered that Jason has changed the formula for some of its lotions.

    • Kathy on

      They sure did change it. I was so upset. The Aloe Vera lotion has a terrible perfume smell too it. So disappointing.

  14. Louise from Australia on

    I noticed the raw honey and lemon on your site for sore throats. An even better mixture is using equal parts of raw honey and organic apple cider vinegar for a knock ’em dead attack. Works every time. I take a mouthful, lie back on my bed and try and keep it at the back of my throat as long as possible before swallowing, Practice makes perfect – well most of the time. Just don’t breathe in when taking it or you will choke as the cider vinegar fumes are strong.

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