Organic Shampoo for Better or Worse?

This is guest post and it makes for some very interesting reading, the things you learn by having a website!

A friend of mine who was very proud of his luscious head of hair used to always talk about the benefits of either not washing his hair with any shampoo and only using an organic shampoo when he did. Admittedly, his hair was very impressive but I always put this down to his genes rather than his hair care routine. However, now I am not so sure. When he went overseas, my friend gifted me his stock of organic shampoo and conditioner. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. However, when my own supply of shampoo ran out, I decided to give the organic stuff a go. At that time, I was not anti-organic but I certainly wasn’t a supporter either. To be honest, I thought it was more about marketing and just a way to entice people to spend more than necessary on hair care products.

The first thing I noticed about the organic shampoo that I tried was that it smelled different to what I was used to. If typical shampoo smells soapy, I would say that organic shampoos, that I have tried, smell more planty. I was going to say natural however want to try and be as neutral as possible for now and think this would give too positive a bias.

It is important to realize that organic shampoos and cosmetics at large do in fact make use of quite different ingredients to regular products as well as employ different production standards. Some of the areas that you might find interesting include the following six points.

  • 70%+ Organic ingredients
  • No sodium laureth sulfate or other harsh chemicals
  • No parabens or harsh preservatives
  • No phthalates
  • No synthetic fragrances or colors
  • pH balanced
  • 100% vegetarian ingredients and no animal testing

If you decide to give an organic shampoo a try, check the label because there is a chance that not all of the above features will apply.

The quantity of organic ingredients that the product contains determines the label that it can use. There are a few different levels, “100% Organic”; “Organic”; and “Made with Organic Ingredients”. The corresponding amounts of organic ingredients are, 100%; 95%+; 70%+. Cosmetics with less than 70% organic ingredients cannot use the word “Organic” on their packaging.

I started to become a bit more interested in these products when I looked into the chemicals that they try to avoid using. The term harsh chemicals worried me slightly so I wanted to find out more about them.


These are used as preservatives. No one wants to be using a shampoo that has bacterial or fungal growth going on. So in this respect, parabens, e.g. methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben are a good thing. You may be able to see these on the labels of various cosmetics that you currently use.

However, in biopsies of breast cancer tumors, low concentrations of various parabens have been discovered. At this stage though, scientists have not suggested that parabens cause cancer. Questions that come to mind include: Why are these chemicals there? Where did the come from? The Breast Cancer Fund are concerned about parabens, which are absorbed through our skin. But on the other hand, the FDA state that:

at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens. However, the agency will continue to evaluate new data in this area.


These are chemicals which we are exposed to in all kinds of products, from plastics to shampoo. In cosmetics they are used to prevent things like nail polish from becoming too brittle and cracking as well as acting as solvents for fragrances.

In a study published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the researchers state that their data supports:

the hypothesis that prenatal phthalate exposure at environmental levels can adversely affect male reproductive development in humans.

The concern surrounding phthalates is real. The issue is much wider than just shampoos and cosmetics. An important point to consider is that phthalates use in cosmetics is often hard to determine. This is because these chemicals are often used as constituent parts of other ingredients. As such, if there is a fragrance in your shampoo that contains phthalates, you are unlikely to be able to tell just by looking at the ingredient list.

Many organic shampoo producers are taking a more cautionary approach to these chemicals. Often they simply do not use them or any other compounds that contain them. If you are at all worried about phthalate exposure, then using an organic shampoo seems like a safer option.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate

This is a surfactant (surface active agent) used in things like soap and shampoo as a foaming agent. Lathering up is an important part of washing our hair, so in this respect, sodium laureth sulphate is an important ingredient. The issue however, is that it is also an irritant. Of course many of us are not affected adversely by it at all. Certainly, at the low concentration levels found in shampoos, it should not be particularly harmful. Of course, if we get shampoo into our eyes it is a different story. Part of the stinging sensation is due to the sodium laureth sulphate.

Organic shampoos instead use surfactants that are derived from plants and vegetables. These are better for us than sodium laureth sulphate because their molecules are larger and cannot penetrate our skin in the same way. Due to its small molecular structure, sodium laureth sulphate can cause both dryness and itchiness.

I am not really an advocate for organic products, but I am very interested in being able to make informed choices. This is one reason why I am in favor of organic shampoos. Not because they are organic per se but because it is easier to know what ingredients they do and do not contain.

8 Responses to “Organic Shampoo for Better or Worse?”

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  1. charissa says:

    But you’ve left out one of the most important factors (to me anyway) — did you enjoy using it? : ) I’m all for making an informed decision about one’s exposure to harmful (or potentially harmful) substances but when it comes down to it, if I don’t like a shampoo (due to smell, “feel” or the way it leaves my hair feeling afterward) I won’t use it.

  2. Sharon says:

    Hi charissa,

    Good point. I started off writing from a personal standpoint then got really wrapped up in the science of it all.

    To answer your question, I did like it. The feel was good. My hair is short so can’t comment on how it would leave longer hair. The biggest difference I noticed was really to do with the smell. It was certainly different. Much more herbal than my normal shampoo.

    FWIW I’m currently using “normal” shampoo but have a bottle of organic ready to go when it runs out. A little bit of this and a little bit of that 🙂

  3. Thanks for a brilliant article – just about to take the leap into soap making with some excess olive oil – and were just considering shampoo, so this is really helpful.

    Just had a look at the ‘ingredients’ of our normal shampoo and am horrified.

    Great article – more of the same please… 🙂

  4. Clare says:

    Hi, I stumbled upon your blog looking for a cherry jam recipe and I love it! 🙂 Anyway, I wanted to note that I have been using a homemade bar of soap (bought off of Etsy) for shampoo (rosemary lavender—yum!) and instead of Conditioner I dilute 1T of Cider Vinegar in 1 Cup of water, pour it in my hair and let it sit for 1 minute and then rinse. It is a little smelly before it dries, but my hair has never been nicer in my ENTIRE LIFE. I wish I knew this secret as a teenager. Thank you for all the information. I do think all these chemicals are going to get the best of us!


  5. James says:


    Have you considered going shampoo less? That is, taking care of you hair without any commercial product?

    I was working my way towards being poo-free and in January I made the complete switch and I have not looked back! This includes trips to the local swimming pool which creates its own challenges.

    The hardest part was getting the concentrations adjusted to my body, while my body and hair adjusted to no shampoo or conditioner. Now, I only have to wash my hair 3 – 4 times per week. Other days, I just rinse to get rid of bed head and go to the office.

    So, you may be asking what do I use instead? My “shampoo” started as a solution of baking soda and water (~2 TBLS in a 20 oz recycled drink bottle) and my “conditioner” is a solution of 1/4 cup CIDER vinegar (not white) in another 20-oz drink bottle.

    To wash my hair, I use the same sequence as regular shampoo:
    1. I get my hair wet, dampen with the baking soda solution, gently work in to the roots and let it sit while I wash the rest of me.
    2. Rinse
    3. Dampen with the vinegar solution and gently work in to the roots.
    4. Rinse immediately.
    5. Done

    Think about it: what makes our hair dirty? Basically three things: oils, bacteria (smell), and ambient dirt (very little unless you are a Mudder). Using commercial shampoo hits all three but at a cost: it strips out all of the natural oils and our bodies go in to overdrive to replace the lost goodness thus creating a never-ending cycle.

    The No-Poo method outlined hits all three but does not strip out all of the natural oils, removes any dirt and neutralized the smelly bacteria.

    For pool days, I have a third bottle of salt water: 2 TBSP of regular salt in a 20-oz bottle. After to pool, I add the salt solution first, work it in and let it sit for a minute or so. Then continue with the regular no-poo. Some days I have to repeat to get all of the chemicals out and give my hair 3 – 5 days to replenish the oils stripped out. There is no down side as I just rinse on these days to spread the oils. I hope that this makes sense.

    If you want more information, search on no-poo methods and you will find more than enough.

    • Hey James – thanks for chiming in. Good to hear a success no-poo story. Did the transition (potentially smelly) phase last long? That has always put me off if I’m honest. And how do you deal with the aftermath of chlorine?

  6. James says:

    No problem. Sorry for not getting back sooner.

    Actually, there really was no smelly phase but, then again, I have short hair and can’t really smell it anyway! 🙂

    As for the transition; I would say that it did take about 6 months. I say this long but, in reality, I found that I could have jumped over sooner if I had gone Cold Turkey. Part of me cringed at the thought of just throwing away shampoo. In addition, part of the transition was me getting used to the feeling of “real” hair!

    Another update: Friday night I went to the pool and just rinsed my hair with tap water and let it dry. 24 hours later, I did the 3-step and my hair has felt great ever since. (It was a little stiff on Saturday) Today was just a damp comb to get rid of bed head.

    I hope this helps.