Hair hara-kiri – throw away that shampoo Part 1

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

My biggest hair problem as a teenager was hair that wouldn’t dry fast. I had waist length hair back then which was as thick as my palm. My hair literally took hours to dry, and before I started using shampoo, I would sometimes have to comb out clumps of shikakai from my home made hair wash after it dried.

Yup, pretty much a case of my diamond shoes being too tight.

Of course, I grew up. Started to use synthetic shampoos, and then of course, all hell broke loose. Because just a few years later, my biggest hair problem, was that my hair, simply would not grow.

Instead, I grappled with hair that broke easily, was thinning everywhere, and just didn’t grow as fast as it used to. So to keep the focus off my non growing hair, I kept cutting it shorter, until at one point, I sported a pageboy cut.

The reasons for my hair’s state are now quite apparent – I committed every single one of those 5 hair mistakes we wrote about last time on the Blog. If there was a treatment or a new hair product out, you could be sure I was right there, asking for it.

But today I want to focus on the single hair mistake almost all of us are committing – and this one is a hara kiri (a hair-a-kiri?) – using a synthetic shampoo.

A dated report I’m reading tells me that the world spends close to 60 billion dollars every year buying shampoo. Yes, you read that right. We are as a race, spending collectively the equivalent of the GDP of Zambia,or Slovenia, on just Shampoo!

The modern shampoo was “invented” in the 1920s. Of course, this news was not as exciting for people in general because all of us had been washing our hair with herbs, clays and water for time immemorial. Shampoos therefore cleverly position themselves as modern, scientific products that provided a great experience and gave us what we did not have with herbs – Lots & Lots & Lots of Copious lather.

Today’s shampoo formulation has evolved, dangerously from its 1920s version. Besides being actually harmful for your hair, a shampoo today contains ingredients that are extreme irritants, environmental toxins and are even carcinogenic.

 What’s in that foaming, coloured, scented mess?

1. Detergent

The most important ingredient in a shampoo is the part that cleans. And this comes ingredients like SLS, SLES or even ALS (Ammonium lauryl sulphate) and its ethoxylated cousin ALES (ammonium Laureth sulphate).

We are extremely concerned about the all pervasive and toxic nature of SLS and SLES – you will find SLS / SLES in almost everything that foams and is a cleanser of some sort from your laundry detergent to your baby wash and of course your shampoo. We actually spent a whole post talking about the dangers of SLS and SLES .

Sulphates were initially used as cheap detergents – typically in car washes and mechanic workshops to easily cut through axle grease. They are today widely used to lift off grease from hair and to clean your body, face and even your clothes.

We have 3 major concerns over the almost obsessive use of SLS and SLES by the consumer product industry:

Sebum stripping ability

The first is that both these Lauryl Sulfates  are almost too effective at stripping hair (and skin)  of its protective layer of oil – the result, all the vital and necessary sebum in your hair which protects the cuticles and its integrity is stripped out, leaving it dull and lifeless.

Irritant nature

The Journal of the American college of Toxicology notes that concentrations of SLS that are as low as 0.5% (and upto 10%) cause slight to moderate skin irritation, while 10% – 30% routinely causes skin corrosion and severe irritation. Ironically, in lab testing of skin care products like healing creams or lotions, skin is first irritated using SLS before it can be healed with the test product! SLS also causes severe eye irritation which is a point of note if you want to use it in a shampoo that is definitely going to reach your eyes.

Role in cell destruction and premature aging

This should get your interest right now. SLS is described as a protein de-naturing compound. So with consistent use, it will break down the protein matrix of your hair, effectively stopping hair regeneration and impeding its health.On skin, SLS will disrupt the protein structures in it and could hasten skin aging.

2. Silicones

Silicones like dimethicone or PEG-12 dimethicone are often described as “conditioning agents”. Silicones are an interesting addition to shampoos. They were added precisely because of the detergents in shampoos – because the detergents are harsh , strip sebum and break your cuticular scales, the silicones are added to coat hair.

Silicones are laboratory made chemicals which are made from combinations of silicon, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They are flexible and plastic like with a rubbery feel and are used in adhesives, sealants, lubricants, cooking utensils, insulation AND personal care products.

It is important to note here that silicone should be accurately described as a “coating agent” and not a “conditioning agent”. So a silicon cannot “penetrate” or “deep condition” your hair. But what it can do is form a layer on top of your hair, hiding the damage caused by the detergent in the shampoo – and this coating is precisely why it takes so long for you to find out that your hair is damaged (hint: its because your shampoo is doing a darn good cover up job after damaging your hair).

Silicones are found both in hair care products and skin care products. It is the primary ingredient in hair conditioners and is also used in make up products like foundations and primers, because it does the same job of coating over the damage on your skin and helps the rest of the product glide smoother.

Because silicone covers the damaged cuticular scales of your hair, it produces a kind of gloss/ shine – which deceives you into thinking your hair is healthier than it is.

And because it coats your hair, it also decreases the ability of natural oils to penetrate your hair or skin – so if you are regularly using a conditioning shampoo or a conditioner, and trying to oil and restore your hair to health, then chances are that your oiling is not going to be very effective.

If you apply a silicone containing product on your skin, you can have similar bad results – because the silicone coats your skin, it prevents healthy skin functions like sweating, and sloughing off dead cells. You are also probably keeping in dirt, dead cells and bacteria much longer leaving them to linger on your skin. This is probably why people with sensitive or acne prone skin suffer greater breakouts when using silicone containing products (which is almost all synthetic skincare products).

We are still not sure about the toxicity of commonly used silicones like dimethicone. Environment Canada have put this ingredient on their toxics watchlist – what we do know is that in the very least it could be a persistent (lingers on for a very long time), bio-accumulative (stays and builds up within the bodies of fishes and organisms that eat it) environmental toxin.

Here are some possible silicone agents you could find in your shampoo / conditioner: Methicone, Phenyl trimethicone, Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone, Dimethiconol, Dimethicone copolyol.

 

blog post graphic sept 4

This isn’t over – far from it. Look out for our next post on Monday for more straight dope on what goes into your synthetic shampoo.

A happy hair month to you!

This article is a part of Krya’s series on healthy and happy hair, which we are writing all this September. Through the Krya healthy hair series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to restore your hair to its natural state of great health. Synthetic shampoos and hair products contain a huge host of suspect industrial chemicals that are not just toxic for us to use, but are polluting and toxic to the planet as well. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for your hair, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

 Consumers love our all natural, synthetic free, gentle hair washes- explore more here.

If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what We’ve written about hair health before this piece:

  1. What’s the deal with SLS and SLES – and why it shouldn’t come anywhere near you or your hair
  2. What is your hair supposed to be? A trial? A challenge? Or simply, your best friend
  3. Is beauty external? We think not
  4. What should you be looking for on that product label?  
  5. What are the 5 beauty mistakes you are probably committing right now on your hair

 

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3 toxins that plague children and a recommendation

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

A few days ago I noticed my neighbour also getting ready her two year child ready for school. Just before bundling that child into the car, her mother was slathering her with sunscreen, made for babies. Sunscreen was evidently recommended by the school authorities, who these days are really careful about the children entrusted to them.

The sunscreen encounter got me thinking about the wide array of toxics that are marketed to and find their way into the bodies of children across the world today.

Here are the numbers

In this series on toxics, I have relied on US data due to the paucity of Indian studies. A recent study by the US Centre for Disease Control & Prevention concludes that BPA and 7 other toxics are building up within the bodies of their children. Over 60% of the children tested had significant residues of Bisphenol A (BPA) and other phenolic toxins like benzohenone-3, Triclosan, 2-4 dichlorophenol, and 3 parabens.

Bisphenol A is a common chemical found in plastic utensils and dishes, even those sold for children’s use. Triclosan is found in anti bacterial soaps, wipes and washes, Benzophenone-3 is also called oxybenzophenone is a common ingredient in many sunscreens.  Dichlorophenols are used in many herbicides and pesticides and parabens are found in many skin and hair care products.

In India, apart from these, heavy metals are a particular concern. A study done by Centre for Science & Environment in 2014, found that Mercury, prohibited for use in cosmetics in India, was found in 44% of the fairness cream brands surveyed. Lipstick samples tested had both chromium (50%) and nickel (43%).  And this despite what you may assume, is a concern for children as many paediatricians and dermatologists attest to the fact that in India colour cosmetics and fairness creams sold to women routinely get applied on children as  well.

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Colour cosmetics: a special concern for parents of young girls in India

We are extremely concerned about the the chemical and environmental toxin load on children’s bodies. As we have seen in our earlier articles on environmental toxins and industrial chemicals, many of them have a debilitating effect when exposed at an early stage. Children are particularly vulnerable at various stages in their development to the effect of endocrine disrupter chemicals and carcinogens. The Endocrine Society’s statement on these 2 chemical classes states that there is a latency of exposure: and that these chemicals when exposed at a critical developmental window can do great harm even in small doses.

no safe dose

There is no safe dose in certain chemical classes

The blood work of children being examined in western countries reveals environmental toxins in alarmingly high quantities. The route of exposure to these toxins are multiple. Some come through skin contact; some from cleaning product residue in the food we eat; some through the leachates of the potentially harmful cookware & cutlery we use, and through inhalation.

In this piece, we have focused on 3 potentially toxic products in our homes, and discuss alternatives to these for our children.

1. Sunscreen or Sunblock

The general recommendation from doctors in the US and Australia today appears to be this: Everyone regardless of skin colour should apply at least SPF 15 daily, even in winter. Suddenly in the space of a few decades, sunscreen is being positioned as an essential item of daily life, even for people who do not work in the fields or move around on horseback.

The sunscreen industry took off particularly when it became accepted that those with lighter skins like Caucasians were at higher risk. Also at risk were those living under a depleted ozone layer like the Australians.

So do Indians need sunscreen? Do Indian babies & children need sunscreen?

Sun sense

If you are concerned about sun exposure, the first step is to stay indoors during the afternoon. Secondly, when you do step outside, wear a hat and clothing that covers your entire body. Period.

Sunscreen is not an essential requirement. Even the cancer council of Australia, the country most paranoid about skin cancer runs a campaign called “slip, slop, slap, seek, slide “where prevention (through shade, clothing , hat etc) is the key weapon in fighting the potential harm of sun exposure. Further the cancer experts assert that sunscreen should be applied in a thick layer as directed by the manufacturer re-applied every two hours and cannot be used as a means to extend sun exposure like working on a tan at the beach.

Some sunscreen facts

Use of sunscreen is at an all time high across the world today especially in US & Australia. Yet here are the assertions by the cancer associations of those countries

  • 2 out of 3 Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70
  • I in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime

Despite the increase in use of sunscreen, the prevalence of skin cancer in these countries has increased & is not at all in control. In a country like Australia with a population of just around 20 million, there are over 1 million skin cancer consultations with doctors annually.

Despite the patchy success of sunscreens and sunblocks, dermatologists and doctors continue to enthusiastically recommend these products. A May 2014 study by L’Oreal India said that over 94% of the 900 + dermatologists surveyed in India recommended use of a sunscreen as a “first line of defence” to their patients – atleast 3 times a day.

This state of affairs should provoke any right thinking person to  question the need or effectiveness of  sunscreen and sunblock. In fact we should be pulling at this thread further to investigate the potential harm caused by our sunscreens and sunblocks.

Unnecessary chemical overload

Imagine the drudgery of applying a thick coat of sun protection cream on your body daily for the rest of your life. The skin is the largest organ in the body, our first line of defence and under severe assault from environmental pollution already. To add to its woes we are applying a whole new set of toxins on our skin.

We have already written about the threat of parabens in this blog. Parabens are a common class of preservatives used in personal care products including sun screen and can be absorbed by the skin. They are best avoided.

sunscreen

Sunscreen: more harm than good?

Titanium dioxide and Zinc oxide are the two main chemicals used in sun block around the world. While the debate rages on the safety of these chemicals, a new threat is upon us; Nano technology. The nano particle version of Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are also now commonly used in skin care products like sun block. Where the earlier molecules stayed on the outer layer of the skin as a physical barrier, now there is a threat that these nano particles can pass through the skin and enter the body. Oxybenzone, another common sun screen ingredient, is known to be a endocrine disruptor and skin irritant.

Children’s skin is upto three times thinner than adult skin and is vulnerable to the products applied on it. The ideal solution for children is to avoid the mid-day sun or at least use clothing and hats to protect their skin.

What about Vitamin-D?

In the rush to cover the skin with sunscreen we forget the vital role played by the sunshine in producing Vitamin-D. The global skin cancer scare has also created a parallel industry of vitamin-D supplements to be taken through food in the absence of healthy sun exposure. In Ayurveda, sun exposure at sunrise and sunset is recommended for healthy skin, regulating bio-rhythms and for producing vitamin –D.

Our personal experience with Vitamin D

Despite having over 300 days of sunshine in India, 80% of urban India and 70% of rural India are Vitamin D deficient today. This deficiency is suspected to be because of changing dietary habits, rising air pollution levels, and high concentration of toxins like pesticides in the environment.

Vitamin D deficiencies can manifest itself in a variety of symptoms including joint pains, inflammation, stiffness in the back. The Vitamin can prevent multiple sclerosis, diabetes, preeclampsia during pregnancy, low infant birth weight, and improve immune response to TB , asthma and Parkinson’s disease among other conditions.

 2. Phthalates

Phthalates are a class of chemicals used as plasticizers, to make physical products pliant and flexible – they can be found in vinyl flooring, raincoats, adhesives, detergents, nail polishes, soaps, toys and skin care lotions.

Because phthalates are physically bound into plastics using a heating process, they are very easily released when this physical bond breaks. For example when phthalate containing plastic dishes are washed with harsh chemicals or a child chews a toy containing phthalates.

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Plastic chew toys: not just an environmental hazard

India is slowly overhauling its regulations in children’s toys given the high probability of phthalate ingestion in chew toys for infants and toddlers. A BIS regulation formulated in 2011 have limits phthalates like DEHP and DBP to 0.1% or below for toys that are marketed to children under 4 years. However this guideline only addresses the use of single phthalates. Many toy manufacturers use a combination of 2 or more phthalates in a plastic product, and BIS does not address this exposure. And unfortunately this guideline is simply that – it is not a law and a manufacturer need not abide by it, especially if the buyers of these toys do not know about these safety regulations.

A 2012 study of plastic toys in India found that even a year after the BIS guideline was passed, over 45% of children’s toys marketed to the below 4 years segment exceeded international safety limits for phthalates.

The above BIS guideline as mentioned is not a law / directive or regulation. So at this point there are no measures in place to protect us from phthalate exposure in any form. It might be difficult to identify phthalate free plastic toys for your child, so look for fabric or wooden toys.

3. Bisphenol – A ( BPA)

 Bisphenol-A ( BPA) is an industrial chemical found in plastics and resins, especially used to store food. BPA can leach into our food in many ways. It is found in resins that coat the insides of tins used to package food. It is often found in food grade plastics and easily leaches into the contents under heat, especially in microwaves and dishwashers. Children are understood to be particularly susceptible to BPA , even ingesting it prenatally and through breast milk. Studies have shown concerns that BPA can affect brain, behaviour and prostrate gland in foetuses, infants and children.

Unlike phthalates, BPA –free products are widely available now and are clearly labelled.

However plastics are best avoided in relation to food. Beyond BPA there are other plastics that can still leach into food over time and through heat. Steel, wood , ceramic , enamel, clay are all options to store and serve food to children.

The Krya skin care recommendation for children

Children should be shielded from extreme weather like the afternoon sun, cold winds and the rain. When stepping out in the sun , ensure that they are wearing a hat, and their arms and legs are covered. Just clothing alone can provide the equivalent of nearly SPF 5 protection.

1. hello sun

Keeping it safe and simple: a hat!

If their skin gets burnt especially on a holiday, there are a number of natural remedies like oil , water & milk of coconut which heals burns and helps skin repair. The only after effect of extreme sun exposure to be concerned about is the dehydration of skin and subsequent cell damage.

To ensure your child’s skin remains well moisturized and that the external barrier is well protected either in the cold or after sun exposure, Indian tradition recommends the liberal use of cold pressed vegetable oil. Oils like coconut oil, and even coconut milk have been studied to rapidly heal damaged skin barriers and act as an emollient for the skin. Pure native cow’s ghee is also extremely good at removing excess pitta and adding much needed moisture lost in children’s skin. Keeping your child’s skin well moisturized and undamaged by drying and toxic agents like synthetic soaps is a great start to keeping your child’s skin healthy.

For babies and young children, Ayurveda recommends frequent oil massages (daily if your child’s skin is very dry, and weekly for most others). Different oils are recommended at different times of the year. But the overall effect of the oil massage is a calm, centered baby with a healthy and nourished body that heals better and grows better.

The use of a gentle grain or clay based cleanser is a perfect complement to vegetable oil. It mops up the excess oil extremely efficiently, but leaves behind a very tiny layer to ensure that young skin is not left completely dry.

Parenting and baby care today is faced with a commercial onslaught. It seems like a very complex maze that you cannot navigate without the aid of dozens of accessories and products. As parents with plenty, it seems almost wrong to lead a life with less, which is simple and natural.

While this is a matter of parenting philosophy, as a researcher , formulator and lifelong fan of the miracle that is human skin, I can safely say , that when it comes to parenting and products, less is definitely more.

This article is a part of Krya’s series on toxics in household and personal care products. Through this series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to look around your home and detox it and yourself from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for yourself and your home, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what We’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home 
  3. Is it a conspiracy? A pre-planned genetic supremacy race? Or simply misinformation? Some reasons behind common toxics & why they continue to be used


Please explore Krya’s authentic range of natural, good for you skin care products for children below:

  1. Krya’s baby care range
  2. Krya’s Toddler and Kids Range

 

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