Saturday, February 22, 2014

Let's Talk About Dandruff

Full disclosure:  I'm trying to wean my husband off the dandruff shampoo. Why? For one thing, I don't think he really needs it. In our five-plus years of marriage, I've yet to see even one dandruff flake on his head or his shoulders. It could be because he washes his hair with dandruff shampoo every day, in which case it's working really well. But considering he hasn't used any other shampoo since I've known him, there's no way to know for sure that if he stopped using it, his dandruff would return.

But the bigger reason I want him off the dandruff shampoo is because of what's in it. His particular brand is Head & Shoulders.

How about we look at the list of ingredients. Since there are so many, I am only going to cover the problematic ones.


     Pyrithione zinc 1%:  This ingredient is listed by the EPA as a "microbial pesticide." But aside from possible "severe irritation" to the skin, it's probably harmless. No, really. But don't get any in your eyes.

     Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES): A cheap foaming agent and degreaser. This stuff can lead to direct damage of hair follicles and skin damage. It dissolves the oils on your skin and denatures skin proteins. Furthermore, it is absorbed into the body by skin application and mimics the activity of estrogen (guys, you may want to think twice about using anything with this chemical in it).
     Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS): A close relative of SLES, both are esters of sulphuric acid and highly irritating to the skin. According to a 1983 report in the Journal of the American College of Toxicology, concentrations of 10-30% caused skin corrosion. Keep in mind that these two ingredients are listed first (after water)--and we all know that ingredients are listed in order of highest to lowest volume. I'm sure the concentration must be less than 10%, but it doesn't really say on the bottle, so I guess we have to trust them on this one.
     Dimethicone: A smoothing (and anti-foaming) agent. This is a man-made silicon oil. It's not toxic, but it coats the skin and disrupts the natural hydrating processes.
     Fragrance: Chemically formulated fragrances are always less expensive than the truly natural fragrances that come from essential oils. Unfortunately, they're also somewhat toxic. You can bet your 401K that the fragrances in this product are artificially created in a lab.
     Guar hydroxypropltrimonium chloride:  You guessed it-- a derivative of guar gum. I'm convinced there must be a glut of this stuff on the market. But, frankly, I'd rather see it in shampoo than in our food. (I only listed this one because I hate guar gum.)
     Sodium chloride: This is just table salt, plain and simple. In shampoo it acts as a thickener and emulsifier (keeps the other ingredients from separating), but it can also dry out your hair.
     Sodium benzoate: This is a preservative that kills bacteria, fungi, and yeast. Unfortunately, it also "chokes out your body's nutrients at the DNA cellular level by depriving mitochondria cells of oxygen, sometimes completely shutting them down," according to an article in This chemical is absorbed by the skin. It's probably a good idea to avoid it in products you eat or put on your body.
     Magnesium carbonate hydroxide: This chemical is generally used as an antacid. Why is in shampoo? Supposedly, it draws moisture from the air and imparts it into the hair and scalp. Sounds like magic to me. Perhaps this ingredient is necessary to counteract the dimethicone that blocks the natural hydrating process.
     Benzyl alcohol: This ingredient is the primary active ingredient in lice if you use Head and Shoulders shampoo, you probably don't have to worry about lice. On the other hand, it is also associated with possible allergic responses and toxicity.
     Methylchloroisothiazolinone: This is a preservative. I dare you to pronounce it. In high concentrations it can cause chemical burns, but as a rinse-off product, it's considered safe.
     Methylisothiazolinone: Sometimes shortened to "MIT," this worrisome ingredient is an antimicrobial and is common in hand soaps, dish soaps and other personal care products. Studies have connected this chemical to neurotoxicity. You probably want to avoid anything with MIT in it. Of course, its manufacturer - Dow Chemical - assures us it's perfectly safe.

In case you're wondering about some of the other shampoos, like Selsun Blue and others, you can research them at your leisure. Most brands contain harsh chemicals that are unfriendly to the body. 

Dandruff can be caused by a number of things, among which are not washing the hair often enough, not brushing the hair enough, diet, stress, dry skin, reaction to hair products, and certain conditions like seborrheic dermatitis and malassezia (a scalp fungus overgrowth). 

Unless your dandruff is truly the result of a scalp disease, you should not have to be a slave to medicated dandruff shampoos for the rest of your life. For persistent dandruff, it might be worthwhile to see a doctor or dermatologist to find out the cause. They can prescribe treatments to get it under control.

For moderate dandruff problems, a gentle shampoo with the active ingredient salicylic acid should be enough to manage the flaking. 

A few days ago I secretly switched out my husband's poison shampoo in our shower dispenser with a more natural formula by Mineral Fusion. Sometimes you just have to do what needs to be done. I see it as an act of love. Let's see if he notices. 

Photo credit - Marfase