Why Do We Use Shampoo Exactly?

Have you ever thought about the hair-washing process? I mean REALLY thought about it? We scrub it with shampoo to rid it of dirt and oil. Then we condition it to…

Wait for it….

REPLACE the oil we just stripped out of it!

Along with all the other ingredients, the hair doesn’t need.

Then all these ingredients just attract more dirt to the hair, so…

Lather. Rinse, Repeat.

It’s a vicious cycle.

Now let’s take a closer look at some of those ingredients.

Ingredients commonly used in shampoo:

  • Ammonium lauryl sulfate – foaming agent. Can cause severe allergic reactions in larger doses.
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate – water softener. Responsible for making a lather. A known carcinogen, proven irritant to the hair and scalp.
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate – a surfactant, detergent, and emulsifier. This is in cosmetic products, as well as in industrial cleaners, and present in nearly all shampoos, scalp treatments, and hair color. The manufacturing process is ethoxylation. The result is contamination with 1.4 dioxanes, a carcinogenic byproduct.
  • Phthalates – plasticine ingredients that give hair that beautiful ‘sheen.’ Also linked to congenital disabilities in the reproductive system and lower sperm motility in men. They frequently masquerade under the generic term “fragrance.”
  • Sodium lauroamphoacetate – cleanser and counter-irritant. Also known to clog pores.
  • Polysorbate 20 – surfactant and skin irritant.
  • Polysorbate 80 – an emulsifier.
  • PEG-150 stearate – thickener.
  • Citric Acid – antioxidant and preservative. Also a severe eye irritant.
  • Quaternium-15 – fungicide preservative.
  • Polyquaternium – conditioning ingredient.
  • Di-PPG-2 myreth-10 adipate – a water dispersible emollient that forms clear solutions with surfactants.
  • Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) – a preservative used to prevent bacteria from developing. May have harmful effects on your nervous system.
  • Parabens – chemicals shown to mimic the female hormone estrogen, which can drive the growth of human breast tumors.

Anything you put on your skin goes directly into your body.

Pretty disturbing right? And this is just the beginning. Most of these ingredients were never intended for human consumption.

That’s right; I said human consumption. Because when you rub something all over your scalp, it is a direct link to your bloodstream.

Although many scientists do not agree that something should be safe for ingestion if you are just putting it on your skin, there has been enough evidence to prove otherwise.

But the truth is, if you wouldn’t put something in your body, you should never put it on your body!

The sad thing is because the required labeling for these ingredients falls into a gray area, you will often find these ingredients masquerading as something else; even in products claiming natural or organic status.

I am not going to get into a full discourse on why these chemicals are there, or what potential threats they could pose. If you want to read more on that, look here.

What Kind of Problems are We Dealing With Here?

Aside from the poisonous chemicals, we are rubbing all over our scalps; this process is stripping the much-needed sebum from our hair. The body produces sebum to keep itself clean and healthy. Ironic huh?

When the oil or sebum is continually stripped from the hair follicle, the body learns that it needs to make extra oil to keep the hair healthy. This stripping results in the sebaceous glands producing too much sebum which causes a variety of hair and scalp issues.

These problems can include overproduction of cells or psoriasis, and dehydration of the skin tissue itself, usually resulting in dandruff or itchiness.

Additionally, a constant secretion of oil will attract even more dirt and an increase in bacteria. This process will also strip the skin of its vital nutrients that it needs to keep up a healthy mane.

There are only two steps necessary, and they have been much distorted over the years.

Cleansing and Conditioning

The cleansing process only needs something slightly astringent to rid the hair of bacteria and possible harmful contaminants (This is yet another reason I do not think that slathering the hair in chemicals counts as removing harmful contaminants).

The conditioning process gets the plates or scales of the hair to lay flat along the follicle. This prevents hair breakage and keeps it looking smooth and shiny.

I have suffered from Psoriasis my whole life, and I have learned from trial and error, that if I so much as even LOOK at a bottle of shampoo my scalp starts to have a flakey, itchy heyday!

Yet, I get compliments on my hair all the time.

Usually, I just say thank you and move on.

But sometimes they ask what I use to make it look so healthy.

So I tell them I use herbs and oil, instead of shampoo and conditioner.



Photo credit Genessa Panainte


If they have not walked away from me at this point, the conversation usually shifts to my reasoning behind it, which is that applying any soap or detergent (which includes shampoo, even organic or baby shampoo) to the scalp is drying and horribly irritating for the skin and hair.

Sometimes people hear me out. And sometimes they don’t. The usual response is that they could never go without washing their hair because their hair would just get too greasy and disgusting.

This is only partially correct. It is true that if you have used shampoo and conditioner regularly for your entire life, and suddenly stop, your hair is going to have to go through a transition period.

I recommend slowly weaning yourself off shampoo. This will regulate the sebaceous glands and allow them to start slowing down production of oil.

If you go cold turkey, you are going to go through withdrawals!

Start going a bit longer in between hair washing, eventually getting to about once per week. You can still use conditioner if you like. Some people are advocates for baking soda and apple cider vinegar. I did this for years but eventually figured out that the baking soda was still stripping out too much oil from my hair.

Then What?

Once your hair is happy with only being washed once per week, try the herb and oil technique the following week. Then try alternating every other week.

After a couple of months, the herbs and oil are all you will need. Eventually, you will only need to do this procedure to your hair about once per month.

You can still rinse your hair as often as you like in between of course. I also like to spray mine with a mix of witch-hazel (because it is not over-drying) and rosemary tea (because it cleanses and stimulates hair growth) a couple of times per week to keep it smelling fresh.

I also occasionally do a sea salt scrub, and apple cider vinegar rinses depending on the time of year.

The traditional Indian Ayurvedic technique for hair cleansing uses herbs such as Amla and Brahmi, and oils such as sesame and Bhringaraj. This method is still the norm in India today. Keep in mind there is plenty of regular soap there today. But many Indians still prefer to take care of their hair the natural way. And there is a lot of beautiful hair in India!

If you want to know more about the herbs and oil technique, check out this page full of amazing products and suggestions.


The point is, hair care has been around forever, but chemical-laden shampoos and other hair products have not. Try giving your hair a break it deserves. Lay off the poison. Nourish it with vibrant, healthy nutrients, and it will reward you with luxurious locks that will be the envy of everyone you meet!

Sources Cited:

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