25/06/2015 08:07 BST | Updated 24/06/2016 06:59 BST

The Imposters in the Aisles - Why It's Easy to Be Misled by Organic Shampoo

The number of beautiful, botanically-dressed products tempting your tresses on supermarket shelves might make you think that the shampoo industry is a nirvana of pure, healthy products.


This trend towards a desire for more natural body and hair care is a reflection of our increasing appetite for all things organic as evidence mounts that natural products provide effective solutions that decrease toxic stresses on our body and the planet.

In the UK alone there were a record 5500 searches on Google last month for 'organic shampoo'.

But beware of what you buy, particularly when it comes to organic. Unlike food, there's no legal requirement for shampoo and other toiletries to be independently certified as organic.

Brands can use a whiff of organic essential oil and all the usual shampoo chemicals and still call it organic. This loophole makes it all too easy for brands to 'green-wash' consumers with hair and body care that isn't as natural or organic as it looks.

For example, one high street health chain sells a range of shampoos that has Organic in its brand name, but doesn't actually say how much of the total product is organic. There's no certification, so no independent factory audit or formulation checks that would give the consumer any real guarantee that the ingredients are as organic, non-toxic or GM-free as the brand claims.

In fact, the brand would be within its rights to use just 1% organic ingredients. But would a consumer want to pay the same for a shampoo that was 1% organic compared to one that was 50% or more? Unlikely.

The inclusion of several organic ingredients isn't necessarily an indication that the rest of the shampoo has a clean slate either. Another widely available brand, let's call it Acme Organics, claims to use some organic plant extracts, but other ingredients wouldn't pass organic certification standards: Acme Organics uses the foam-booster Cocamide DEA, which is classified by the EWG as a moderate to high hazard due to its toxicity profile.

Shampoo is one of the trickiest products to formulate naturally, so even brands that have some certified organic products might not have certified their shampoos.

For example, one brand which has its skin care approved by French organic certifier Ecocert, has opted out of certification for its shampoo products - which contain the film-forming ingredients Acrylates Copolymer and Polyquaternium-7.

Synthetic film formers are not allowed in certified organic products because of concerns over skin sensitivity (and reproductive and eco toxicity in the case of quaternium compounds).

This 'halo effect' of partially certifying a range organic, and making the brand look more organic than it really is, makes life very confusing for the consumer. Not to mention unfair as we buy into a brand believing that we are paying extra for something purer, greener and healthier.

There are brands that produce real organic shampoo which is certified to the same rigorous standards as organic food. To find them, there's no substitute for scrutinising the label for a genuine certification logo (like the Soil Association one, below) if you want to be sure that you're getting your money's worth, and you've not just washed your hair in, well, a lot of green goo.



Contact Dermatitis, October 2007, pages 242-247