Why we haven’t made a natural shampoo

By the 30 April 2020

Modifié le 30 April 2020

You often ask us about it: when is oOlution going to release an amazing natural shampoo? It’s true that shampoo is the basic beauty product that is missing from our website. And for a good reason: we refuse to lower our standards for you! It’s out of the question for us to formulate products that aren’t 100% natural, beneficial to your hair, health, and the environment. This ideal shampoo, a truly natural shampoo, doesn’t actually exist. Let us explain.


What is shampoo? 


This question might seem bizarre because it’s well and truly a part of our daily lives. However, its origins and formula are pretty mysterious. Shampoo, as we know it today, is a fairly recent cosmetic invention, introduced in the 1930s. Before, we would use natural remedies made from plants and, most often, mixtures of soap and lye. Their effectiveness left much to be desired: the monthly shampoo would leave behind whitish deposits, stickiness, and tangles. Marketing has come a long way since then… Convincing us that yes, silky and shiny hair was achievable thanks to the (very) frequent use of their shampoos. And today, it’s unimaginable to go without. Applied (usually too) often and washed away almost instantly, it should be chosen very carefully. So, what do we find in our shampoo? 


All conventional shampoos are made to the same formula: water, emulsifiers to homogenise and stabilise, and a synthetic detergent which allows the products to clean without any soap, and petrochemical preservatives to prevent the spreading of bacteria. But we don’t just want a shampoo that cleans: no, there need to be even more additives to help prevent limescale, to condition, texturise, nourish, shine, perfume and colour the product… Very often these additives are disastrous silicones, almost unavoidable in the world of conventional cosmetics. And THAT is the problem with shampoos: made with SLS, SLES, silicones, phenoxyethanol and PEG, they are products made out of purely petrochemical components. Check the ingredients of any mainstream shampoo, they’re an ode to hard chemistry and the petrol industry!  


What changes when it comes to organic shampoo?

The scents can be natural, there are natural emulsifiers and preservatives, oils, butters and plant extracts that effectively replace the silicone fakers and the other non-essential additives. But there remains a big problem when it comes to formulating a natural shampoo: the unavoidable detergent surfactant. Representing up to 60% of solid shampoo, this is what helps the shampoo achieve its number 1 job: washing.


Natural shampoo: white lies and greenwashing 


Never mind, we can just use a natural surfactant, right? It’s hard to believe, given the explosion of the natural shampoo market, but a natural, gentle, and effective surfactant that isn’t harmful to your health or to the environment simply doesn’t exist! Don’t believe us? Let’s take a look at the options available.


Cheap, foaming and very easy to incorporate into a formula, sulfate surfactants are most common. They’ve been used for a long time, we know them and their toxicity to the skin, health and environment very well: sodium laureth sulfate (more commonly known as SLS) or sodium myreth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, and disodium laureth sulfosuccinate are the worst. Natural shampoos can’t honestly use these synthetic surfactants without really taking the mickey! But there are some related products which pretend to be green: in particular, sodium coco sulfate. Yes, it is derived from coconut, authorised by certain organic certifications and often labelled as a healthy alternative to SLS and SLES. But… It remains toxic to aquatic life, made with sulphuric acid which can cause acid rain as well as irritation, and is not any better than its friends disodium lauryl sufosuccinate and disodium laureth sulfosuccinate.


Newer, sulfate-free surfactants do exist. There is a long list of agents that you might find in your natural shampoo: Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Coco-betaine, Sodium Cocoamphoacetate, and Babassuamidopropyl betaine, to name but a few. Known to be gentle, they are produced from the fatty acids found in coconut oil, palm oil or sugars and amino acids with conditioning and foaming properties. Perfect for the hair! Of course, they are very expensive, difficult to produce and to integrate into a formula. But not impossible. Except that they’re not really worth the effort. What’s the problem? The way they are made. Betaines are normally made using hypochlorites (in the bleach family…), which are dangerous to those who use them, and corrosive for the environment. The amino acids are usually artificial. For example: cocamidopropyl betaine, often used in natural shampoos, derived from coconut oil but mixed in with dimethylaminopropylamine, a petrochemical substance. Basically, we’re far from having a solution. And what about SCI (sodium cocyl isethoniate)? Even more commonly used and employed by many brands who claim to be natural and environmentally-friendly. It is also extracted from coconut, but via the process of ethoxylation – a health and environmental disaster, and thus prohibited by Nature & Progress and BDIH certifications. More recently, sodium laurel methyl isethionate (SLMI), has been identified as the solution for a truly natural shampoo… Greenwashing alert! Although it might be more gentle on the scalp, it is also partly synthetic and obtained using the same pollutant and toxic procedures. We’ll come back to the natural side of it. 


This leaves alkyl polyglucoside (APG), very gentle surfactants, that are plant-based (corn or wheat starch), non-toxic, and easy to integrate into formulas. Coco glucoside, lauryl glucoside, or decyl glucoside are produced through a simple reaction, using renewable and biodegradable primary matter. Naturally, they’ve managed to seduce organic and natural certifications. The only downside is that they are very expensive and their washing properties are limited. They work very well on a daily basis, but you’d better get used to very dirty and greasy hair! Though some of these options might have great effects on the skin and hair, they’re not so good for the planet… They all use disastrous palm oil at some point in the production process. Low cost, easily accessible, and a good texturiser, the fatty acids present in palm oil have a fair few drawbacks. The palm oil used might be labeled responsibly-sourced. And this is why some certifications, like Nature & Progress, tolerate it. But for us, it’s out of the question: responsible or not, we say no to palm oil! We are the first skincare brand in the world to be free from palm oil and its derivatives in all of our products, and at every step in the manufacturing process with no exception. It is totally out of the question for us to go against our principles in the formulation of any of our products.


What environmentally-friendly solutions are there? 


Trying to be good to both the environment and your hair is no easy matter! Shampoo is the obstacle that natural cosmetics have struggled the most to overcome. In the meantime, what should you do?


Solid shampoo can have zero-waste and preservative-free going for it. But it can’t be free from surfactants, in actual fact, it requires more surfactants due to its solid format! So, the no-poo trend (no shampoo) and even low-poo (reduced shampoo) are thriving in the slow cosmetics world.


You can opt for a good cold-processed and 100% natural soap, like our Soap Rise and wash twice, making sure to thoroughly rinse out your hair afterward. Add in a little (not too much, or it’ll be too aggressive) apple cider vinegar and rinse with tepid water to get rid of any soapy residue, stabilise the scalp’s pH, and make your hair soft and shiny. Vinegar is also a good tool to help prevent any undesirable effects – itching, flaking, or contact dermatitis – caused by prolonged use of aggressive surfactants. Alas, this still isn’t ideal for very dry, thick, or long hair which risks getting heavy and tangled. Castor oil can also help to fend off these undesirable effects. 


Ancient natural alternatives can be the best option. Plant-based powders, clays (particularly rhassoul), and bicarbonates – vinegar, egg, cornflour, clean water, brushing, sebum cures: there is a huge array of solutions to help us get back to the almost quarterly shampoos that our ancestors swore by! Experiment and you might be able to find a solution that suits you! In any case, the best thing to do is to space out your shampooing (even just a little), this can only do you and the planet some good, while we wait for a truly natural solution to be put in place. 


Natural shampoo is sort of like the holy grail of slow cosmetics: we don’t know if we’ll get there… But let’s be optimistic: since SLS began to rule the shampoo world, a lot of real progress has been made. So, maybe one day we’ll be ready to present you with oOlution’s truly natural shampoo. 


This post is also available in french.


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