Shampoo Kills Your Hair (The Effects of SLS)

Nearly all shampoos cause hair loss — this is the outlandish claim of the “grunge” new wave, and I’m not talking about rock music. This is why the followers of the grunge movement have binned shampoo. They believe the ingredients in shampoo kill hair growth. My initial reaction was disgust — eeeughh, dirty filthy beasts. But, to my surprise, countless people have reported the shedding of hair had reduced after giving shampoo the elbow. Some even sprouted fresh hair. This was enough to entice me off my well shampooed high horse and give grunge a go.

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Is Shampoo Such a Bad Boy?

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is the ingredient in shampoo that has been singled out as the offending culprit. If you use shampoo then you’re drenching your head in SLS – it’s found in over 95 percent of commercial shampoos. SLS is a potent de-greaser, acting as a surfactant, binding to the dirt and gunk on your hair and scalp. After rinsing your hair, the grime is dragged down the plug hole by the SLS. SLS takes no prisoners, dirt is zapped away and your hair is left bright and bouncy. Yet even after rinsing SLS residue may have taken up camp in and on your scalp. Exposure itself may be enough to cause problems.

SLS is also commonly found in detergents used for cleaning garage floors and engines. Some grungers cry foul: “if it is used for industrial cleaning what the **** is it doing to my hair?” But this argument is flawed. Many substances are used both industrially and by humans. Baking soda is used for high strength cleaning, yet we happily munch on cakes baked with it. The only side effect, a satisfied and bigger belly.

One grunge theory warns we are laid bare to the effects of SLS just after a follicle has shed its hair. That those empty and open follicles die when exposed to the acidic nature of SLS for long enough, or in enough quantity. As part of the normal hair cycle the average person sheds over one hundred hairs every day. That’s ample opportunity to expose empty follicles to an SLS attack. When a follicle is dead you can say au revoir to that hair for good. Yet, there is no solid proof. More firm theories imply SLS causes hair damage by acting irritant:

The demonstration that levels of Cu,Zn-SOD within the epidermis are significantly reduced following topical exposure to irritants strongly suggests that oxidative stress is involved in the inflammatory process. Importantly, as regards our understanding of the mechanisms involved in ICD, this change appears not to be restricted to dithranol, which is known to generate ROS during auto-oxidation, but also extends to chemicals such as SLS, which are not normally directly associated with ROS generation.

http://www.john-libbey-eurotext.fr/en/revues/medecine/ejd/e-docs/00/01/88/59/article.md

Autoradiographic studies of rat skin treated with radiolabelled Sodium Lauryl Sulfate found heavy deposition of the detergent on the skin surface and in the hair follicles; damage to the hair follicle could result from such deposition. Further, it has been reported that 1 percent and 5 percent Sodium Lauryl Sulfate produced significant number of comedones when applied to the pinna of albino rabbits. These two problems – possible hair loss and comedone formation – along with proven irritancy, should be considered in the formulation of cosmetic products…[Conclusion] Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate appear to be safe in formulations designed for discontinuous, brief use followed by thorough rinsing from the surface of the skin. In products intended for prolonged contact with skin, concentrations should not exceed 1 percent.

Published in the Journal of the American College of Toxicology, Volume 2, Number 7, pp. 127-181, 1983

It’s claimed irritation causes inflammation. Inflammation is strongly linked as a big player in the hair loss puzzle. One of the studies applied a mere 5 percent solution of SLS — shampoo has whopping 10 to 20 percent solution. However, the study applied the SLS for over 5 hours. Unless you are cuckoo, most people only apply shampoo for a few minutes before washing it out. It’s not clear if average shampoo use over the years could have a snowballing effect similar to results of these studies. Again, frustratingly inconclusive. Equally, these studies did not fill me with confidence that SLS is as innocent as shampoo manufacturers would have us believe. Common sense dictates, at the very least, if you are going to use SLS based shampoo, rinse thoroughly. Use less, rather than more shampoo. And whatever you do, don’t snooze in the bath tub just after you lathered your hair.

On the other hand, SLS has been used in shampoo for over fifty years by millions of people, millions of times, repeatedly. So why isn’t everyone bald? There is a glut of possible reasons. Some people may be more sensitive to SLS than others, perhaps some sort of mild allergic reaction. It’s possible people with male pattern baldness may be more susceptible to the alleged evils of SLS. Some people may use less shampoo and so are less exposed, or maybe they rinse their hair more thoroughly, so there is less residue. Hair length could be a factor. The more hair you have the more dilute the residue will be on your hair and scalp, a possible reason why women don’t bald as much as men. There a hundreds of possibilities, alas nothing concrete. So what did I decide to do?

Going Grunge

I was left with more questions than answers, but there was a pile of information big enough to cast a lingering shadow over SLS. Although not fully convinced by the grunge arguments, the benefits of not using shampoo seemed to outweigh the SLS doubts — better the devil you know… So, I chucked my shampoo and embraced grunge.

Typically I had been washing my hair two or three times a week with an SLS based shampoo. I stuck to this washing schedule. For the first couple of weeks I rinsed with just warm water. My hair looked like someone had emptied a deep fat fryer on my head. As the weeks progressed the greasiness subsided and my hair started to look healthy again. Regular brushing seemed to help a lot. Four months on and my hair is looking almost good as it did pre-shampoo era. It doesn’t feel quite as squeaky clean and fresh as it did when using shampoo, yet my girlfriend can’t tell the difference.

Now for good news, it seems the rate that my hair was shedding has dramatically reduced. I could speculate that SLS weakens follicles even when hair is residing in them. Also, I used to get occasional dandruff — not any more. I suspect the ingredients in shampoo used to dry my scalp out.

I don’t think I’lll ever use SLS based shampoo again. Even if it doesn’t cause hair loss there are no real benefits gained from using it over good old fashioned water, other than that extra layer of gloss. Instead I have found some shampoos made from all natural ingredients, with no SLS, or any other scary sounding substances. I am going take this all natural shampoo for a test drive for a couple of months, it could be the hair cleaning holy grail – pristine hair with none of the potential SLS side effects lurking in the background.

If any of you have gone grunge or swapped to sodium lauryl sulfate free shampoo please leave a comment — has it helped or hindered your hair growth? Or if you like, you can just shout out me for being a greasy grunger. Rock on.

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This article was written on March 16, 2006 was posted in these categories Hair & Scalp Care, Hair Loss Causes, Hair Products .