Beauty

Is Shampoo A Scam?

By Simone Sydel
·  11 min read
shutterstock 1797357415 (1)

Shampoo might be making your hair look sleek and shiny. But could it also cause those very same locks to fall out?

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Shampoo is designed to cleanse your hair of dirt and oil and remove the buildup of dead skin cells. However, growing concerns about the potentially harmful effects of ingredients in shampoos have led some people to ditch the suds altogether and swear by "no-poo" (short for "no shampoo") methods instead.

But what does forgoing shampoo really do to your hair? And is shampoo, as some people claim, a modern scam?

What's Actually in Your Shampoo Bottle?

Modern shampoo is a relatively new invention that stemmed from the need to cleanse the hair without soap. Reportedly, it all started with an Indian traveler, surgeon, and entrepreneur named Sake Dean Mahomed, who, in the early 1800s, opened a "shampooing bath" in England, where he massaged people's scalps with a mixture of oils and herbs.

Over time, the shampooing experience evolved and became more refined, with Hans Schwarzkopf bringing the first version of liquid shampoo onto the market in 1927, followed by John Breck introducing Breck Shampoo, an American shampoo brand known for its Breck Girls advertising campaign and a minimalistic ingredient list that contained only 14 ingredients to cleanse the scalp and hair.

By the 1960s, shampoo, as we know it today, began to take shape with the addition of synthetic detergents, which were dubbed more effective at removing dirt and scalp buildup.

Today, shampoo is ubiquitous and is used by people all over the world. But what exactly is in this essential hair care product? Most shampoos contain a combination of water, detergent, surfactants, emulsifiers, foaming agents, thickeners, fragrances, and colorants. 

  • Water is the main ingredient in shampoo and helps dissolve the other ingredients. 

  • Detergents and surfactants are molecules that have a hydrophilic (water-loving) head and a hydrophobic (oil-loving) tail. This unique structure allows surfactants to surround and lift dirt and oil away from the hair. 

  • Emulsifiers are added to shampoo to help keep the oils and water from separating.

  • Foaming agents, as their name suggests, create the rich lather that is characteristic of shampoo.

  • Thickeners are added to shampoo to give it a gel-like consistency.

  • Fragrances are used to mask the naturally unpleasant smell of some of the other ingredients and to give the shampoo a pleasant scent.

  • Colorants are used to give the shampoo a desired color and make it more appealing to the eye.

While the ingredients listed above are found in most shampoos, there is also a variety of other ingredients that may be added to achieve specific results. For example, some shampoos contain emollients to help protect the hair from becoming dry and brittle. Others contain proteins to help repair damaged hair. Additionally, there are also shampoos that claim to volumize, strengthen, or repair color-treated hair.

But no matter what ingredients are in a shampoo, they all serve the same basic purpose: to clean the scalp and hair and lift away the buildup of dirt, oil, and impurities from being outside in a polluted environment.

However, while some shampoos are better at cleansing the hair than others, all shampoos have the potential to damage the hair. Particularly when used excessively, shampoos can strip the hair of the oils produced by the sebaceous glands that help protect and moisturize the hair shaft. This can lead to dryness, brittleness, and breakage. Additionally, some of the ingredients in shampoo, such as sulfates, can be harsh and drying and can lead to scalp conditions like seborrheic dermatitis.

Can Shampoo Make You Bald?

In the past couple of years, there's been a massive shift in the way people think about shampoo. This was mainly triggered by dozens of videos popping up on social media platforms such as TikTok, where users would share their experience of excessive hair loss and blame it on some ingredients found in shampoos. All this culminated in a class-action lawsuit against one of the largest shampoo companies in the world, TRESemmé.

The lawsuit claimed that the shampoo caused "severe and possibly permanent hair loss" due to a chemical in their products – DMDM hydantoin – which is related to formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that's been linked to a variety of health concerns, including allergic reactions when absorbed into the skin, which tends to happen when applied directly to the scalp. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, such as the DMDM hydantoin in shampoos, may prevent microbes from forming in water-based substances; however, its use in the TRESemmé products is unnecessary, the lawsuit claims, because there are safer alternatives on the market.

TRESemmé was sued over a shampoo ingredient that allegedly caused excessive hair loss.

And while several dermatologists chimed in to debunk the claims made in the lawsuit and on social media, saying that hair loss from shampoo is extremely unlikely and that DMDM hydantoin hasn't been shown to cause this issue in clinical studies, people are growing more skeptical about shampoo and its safety.

Another potentially problematic ingredient dubbed as a hair loss culprit and frequently found in shampoos is dimethicone, a silicone used to moisturize and smooth the hair. While dimethicone itself hasn't been shown to be harmful and cause hair loss in clinical studies, it can build up on the scalp and strands over time, causing products to become less effective and potentially leading to scalp conditions such as folliculitis, which can cause hair loss.

So, while there's no definitive answer on whether or not shampoo can make you bald, it's definitely something to be aware of, and if you are worried about it, you can always try the "no poo" method, a trend that's been gaining popularity in recent years and involves ditching shampoo altogether and cleansing your hair with just water.

What Will Happen When You Stop Using Shampoo?

While some people swear that the "no poo" method has completely restored their hair and even reversed what they considered to be a male pattern baldness issue, you might be wondering what will really happen if you stop using shampoo. After all, can you imagine your hair remaining permanently greasy and unruly the way it usually is by the third day after washing? This might sound like hell to many; however, it's actually not that bad. In fact, it might even be better for your hair.

When you stop using shampoo, your hair will go through an initial adjustment period where it will produce more oil than usual as it tries to balance out the lack of surfactants that usually cleanse it and start cleansing itself. This might make your hair appear greasier than usual for a few weeks; however, after that, your hair will settle into a new normal and won't be as greasy as it was before. Also, remember that this will look worse in the beginning simply because you're not used to seeing your hair this way and leaving it unwashed for extended periods of time.

After a couple of months of not shampooing, your hair will also start to become less dry and brittle, and you might even notice that it's growing faster.

Even though the thought of improving your hair's health by not using shampoo might sound exciting, it's important to remember that this doesn't mean you should completely neglect your hair. You will still need to brush it regularly and make sure to remove any tangles so that your hair doesn't become matted. Regular brushing will also help transfer the oil from the scalp down the strands and coat them in a protective layer.

And you definitely still have to rinse your hair with water or use a shampoo alternative to remove some of the scalp buildup consisting of oils, dead skin cells, dirt, and possibly even bacteria, which can start to make your scalp itchy and smell kind of funky.

After a couple of months of no shampoo, your hair will become less dry and brittle.

6 Natural Shampoo Alternatives

If you want to ditch shampoo but are worried about what will happen to your hair, there are many natural alternatives that you can use to cleanse your hair and scalp without stripping it of its natural oils or leaving buildup to clog your pores and cause all sorts of inflammatory scalp conditions.

Some popular natural shampoo alternatives include:

Soap

Soap has been used for centuries to cleanse the hair and can be just as effective as shampoo, if not more so. The main advantage of soap over shampoo is that it doesn't contain potential allergens that can cause dangerous reactions. But, on the other hand, soap is still quite harsh and drying, and overusing it can strip the hair of its natural oils, leading to dryness, breakage, and split ends.

Product To Try: Dr. Bronner's – Unscented Castile Liquid Soap, $8

Exfoliation

Exfoliating your scalp once a week by using a soft-bristled brush or a product specifically designed for this purpose can help prevent the buildup of dead skin cells and dirt that can make your hair look greasy and can even lead to scalp conditions.

The only downside of exfoliation is that it can make your scalp more sensitive to the sun and increase the potential for sunburns, which is why you should only exfoliate once a week or less.

Product To Try: The Ordinary – Glycolic Acid 7% Exfoliating Toning Solution, $10

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar has traditionally been used as a natural hair rinse to remove scalp buildup and cleanse the hair. Nowadays, it's also being touted as a cure for dandruff and an alternative to shampoo for people with sensitive skin.

And while many will have different experiences with using apple cider vinegar on their hair, it might not be the best idea to pour this acidic substance directly onto your head. Instead, dilute it with water in a 1:1 ratio and use it as a rinse without leaving it on the scalp for too long to avoid irritating the skin.

Product To Try: dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse, $37

Baking Soda

Baking soda makes an excellent paste for manual exfoliation that will help remove dirt and dead skin cells from the scalp. However, sitting at a pH of 9, it's also quite alkaline and can potentially damage the hair and scalp if used too often. That's why it's important to only use this method once a week or every two weeks. Also, make sure to follow up with an acidic rinse, such as apple cider vinegar, to lower the skin's pH, close the cuticle, and prevent further damage.

Product To Try: Pure Original Ingredients Baking Soda, $10

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil can be great for keeping your strands healthy, shiny, and moisturized. This natural water-repellent will make sure your strands are sealed and won't let moisture escape. This is why coconut oil can be a fantastic weekly mask treatment that will boost your hair's health and prevent split ends and breakage.

However, using coconut oil on the scalp might not be the best idea as oils are notorious for being difficult to wash off, which can lead to buildup that could potentially attract a ton of bacteria.

Product To Try: SheaMoisture 100% Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, $17

Shikakai Powder

Naturally derived from the seed pods of the Acacia Concinna tree, Shikakai powder has been used for centuries in India as a natural cleanser for both hair and skin. This powder can be mixed with water to form a paste that can be used as a shampoo alternative and will leave your hair feeling clean and refreshed. Plus, it contains vitamins C and D, which are thought to help promote hair growth, prevent dandruff, and even strengthen the hair shaft.

Additionally, due to containing saponin, a natural surfactant that gives the paste a foaming effect when in contact with water, Shikakai powder can help remove buildup from the scalp without stripping it of its natural oils.

Product To Try: Merlion Naturals – Organic Shikakai Powder, $10

Closing Thoughts

While shampoo has its uses, it's definitely not necessary to use this haircare product every day, and there are plenty of alternative options out there that can be just as effective, if not more so.

So, if you're looking to give your hair a break from all the potential allergens, drying surfactants, and buildup-causing silicones, why not try one of these natural alternatives? You might be surprised at just how great your hair can look and feel without all the damaging components found in modern shampoos.

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