Respectful Insolence

Joe Mercola’s shampoo woo

Even after having been at this skeptical medical blogging game for nearly six years, every so often I still come across woo about which I had been previously unaware. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. In fact, I’m beginning to think that, even if I were to keep blogging until I drop dead (hopefully at least thirty or forty years in the future), as I type out my last extra cantankerous bit of not-so-Respectful Insolence (my cantankerousness merely increasing with advancing age, of course), I would come across some new and spectacular form of woo that somehow had been missed during my forty-plus years of blogging, leading to a massive myocardial infarction. Either that, or it will amuse me so much that I’ll die laughing. Whatever the case, I never say never when it comes to the possibility that there’s bigger, badder, and more amusing woo out there that I haven’t found yet.

Sometimes this woo is surprisingly mundane. Yet in its very mundaneness it provides an abject lessons in the sorts of nonsensical arguments used by promoters of “alternative” medicine that are sufficiently amusing that they rise to the level of rating a little bit of not-so-Respectful Insolence fired their way. Few purveyors of such quackery are as adept at using such nonsensical arguments, all with a straight face to convince the marks, as “Dr.” Joe Mercola. Well, maybe Mike Adams, who, being number two in the online quack world, apparently tries harder, as you’ll see next week when I get around to examining his latest venture. In the meantime, did you know that shampoo is killing you? My wife mentioned that she had come across websites claiming that shampoo and cosmetics are horribly toxic. Apparently Dr. Mercola is on that particular bandwagon, as I discovered not too long ago. You see, I’m on the Mercola.com e-mail list, which allows me to monitor what he’s writing and from time to time provides me with blogging material.

Material like a post that arrived in my mailbox a week or two ago entitled “I Recommend You STOP Using Your Shampoo and Conditioner Until You Read This” Despite the potentially toxic ingredients in your shampoo and conditioner, the FDA doesn’t have the resources to stop them from flooding the market… It even has a happy smiley video of Dr. Mercola himself:

Oh, goody.

Mercola lists five “toxic” ingredients that many shampoos contain. He starts out with a particularly hilarious example, sodium lauryl sulfate, also known as sodium dodecyl sulfate or SDS:

Did you know the same ingredient which produces all that foam and lather when you shampoo your hair is also the ingredient used in car washes and garages as a degreasing agent?

Um, no, but so what? SDS is basically soap. It can help solubilize grease and suspend dirt on cars so that they can be more easily removed the same way it can solubilize grease on your skin to help remove it. That’s what soap does. In fact, if you consult the almight Wikipedia, you’ll find that SDS is usually made from cocunut or palm kernel oil, just as other forms of soap are made from fatty acids from animals. Normally, Mercola would consider that to be natural, except when he doesn’t. That’s because SDS has a nasty, chemical name, making it more conveniently demonized in front of all those devotees of all “natural” lifestyles. If SDS is an evil, vile chemical, then so is soap.

If you believe Mercola, SDS is pure evil:

It’s true. And not only does it act as a penetration enhancer (allowing other potentially toxic ingredients to slip into your bloodstream), but according to the Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Reviews”, research studies on SLS have shown links to…

  • Irritation of skin and eyes
  • Organ toxicity
  • Development / reproductive toxicity
  • Neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, ecotoxicological, and biochemical or cellular changes
  • Possible mutations and cancer

If you visit the SLS page on the Environmental Working Group’s (a non-profit public-interest research group known for making connections between chemical exposure and adverse health conditions) website, you will see a very long list of health concerns and associated research studies. In fact, you will also see their mention of nearly 16,000 studies in the PubMed science library (as well as their link to that list) about the toxicity of this chemical.

I went to the Environmental Working Group’s webpage on SDS. Notice one thing that Mercola leaves out:

Given the incomplete information made available by companies and the government, EWG provides additional information on personal care product ingredients from the published scientific literature. The chart below indicates that research studies have found that exposure to this ingredient — not the products containing it — caused the indicated health effect(s) in the studies reviewed by Skin Deep researchers. Actual health risks, if any, will vary based on the level of exposure to the ingredient and individual susceptibility — information not available in Skin Deep.

Now, how many of you work in a molecular biology lab? If you do, you come across SDS all the time, as it’s a detergent used for many purposes, from lysing cells to unwinding and solubilizing proteins to a use I made of it many times back when I was in graduate school, namely as part of a slimy buffer used to do Northern blots known as Church buffer, which contained 7% SDS. I’ll also point out that SDS in its powder form is indeed nasty stuff. It’s easily dispersed into the air in a fine powder, which can easily be breathed in or come to rest in the eyes, causing intense irritation and inflammation. That’s why I always wore a protective mask, glove, and goggles when mixing up my four liter batches of Church buffer. Let’s put it this way. I once spilled a bunch of SDS, which puffed up in a big plume of powdery nastiness, which I then proceeded to breathe in. It was several minutes before I stopped coughing. In any case, anyone who’s ever worked in a molecular biology lab knows how nasty SDS is.

However, pure SDS in a powder is a very different thing than a dilute solution of SDS in a shampoo or soap. Yet those attacking it as an ingredient in soap and cosmetics often disingenuously conflate the two uses. Does this mean that there isn’t a potential health risk? No. However, SDS is a detergent that’s been used for a very long time. Its potential problems are fairly well known, problems such as skin irritation and irritation of mucus membranes. In any case, the almighty Snopes.com has an excellent discussion of SDS, pointing out that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Toxicology Program (NTP), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer all have rated SDS as non-carcinogenic. It also points out that cinnamon oil could burn your mouth something awful if swallowed undiluted but tthat doesn’t mean that dilute concentrations are unsafe. Particularly amusing is the part where it is pointed out that the reason there are health warnings on SDS-containing toothpastes not to swallow too much is because it can cause diarrhea.

I spent a lot of time on the SDS example because I have personal experience with it and it’s a ubiquitous detergent used in virtually every molecular biology laboratory, found in many soaps and shampoos, and other products. It also lays bare the usual forms of crap arguments used by promoters of quackery when attacking ingredients in various products. What irritates me about such idiotic arguments is that morons like Mercola don’t differentiate between chemicals that might actually pose a legitimate concern and chemicals that don’t, like SDS.

Another example is the dreaded “Toxic ingredient #5: Propylene glycol”:

This active ingredient is found in engine coolants and antifreeze, airplane de-icers, tire sealants, rubber cleaners, polyurethane cushions, paints, adhesives, enamels and varnishes, and in many products as a solvent or surfactant.

And guess what? Despite the fact the material safety data sheet warns users to avoid skin contact with propylene glycol as it is a strong skin irritant and can also cause liver abnormalities and kidney damage, it’s more than likely in your shampoo!

Oh, no! And there’s formaldehyde in vaccines, too!

The same principles that apply to SDS apply to this example too, but even more so. In fact, concentrated propylene glycol or even pure propylene glycol is actually not even all that irritating to the skin. It also takes a lot of ingested propylene glycol to cause liver and kidney damage, although when it’s injected intravenously as a carrier for some drugs propylene glycol can cause severe reactions in some individuals. I’ve heard of such reactions in chemotherapy patients because polypropylene glycol is used as a stabilizer and carrier for some chemotherapeutic drugs. Do I really have to point out that a direct intravenous bolus of polypropylene is a lot different than skin contact with a dilute solution? Why, yes. Yes, I do believe that I do. Mercola makes it necessary.

Given that this is Joe Mercola, there are also multiple other examples of burning stupid:

But did you know MSG, short for monosodium glutamate, is also more than likely in your shampoo, often secretly hidden and referred to as amino acids, yeast extract, nayad, glutamic acid, or glutamates?

Um, yes, but that’s because monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt of an amino acid, glutamic acid. It’s also impossible not to point out to Dr. Mercola that MSG is totally natural. As a nonessential amino acid, it’s used to make every protein in your–yes, your!–body! It’s also very important in normal metabolism, particularly mitochondrial metabolism. Funny how Mercola demonizes natural substances, isn’t it? Why is he doing that? After all, by Mercola’s usual arguments, glutamine should be just fine for everyone, even if it isn’t. After all, it’s natural! In fact, it’s a hell of a lot more natural than a lot of the supplements he hawks on his website.

One of other two toxic substances that Mercola includes in his Gang of Five is dioxane. Conveniently enough, the myth of people being poisoned by dioxane in shampoo was ably dealt with in the same Snopes.com article that dealt with SDS. As for diethanolamine, the FDA says this:

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) completed a study in 1998 that found an association between the topical application of diethanolamine (DEA) and certain DEA-related ingredients and cancer in laboratory animals. For the DEA-related ingredients, the NTP study suggests that the carcinogenic response is linked to possible residual levels of DEA. The NTP study did not establish a link between DEA and the risk of cancer in humans.

Finally, it occurs to me that Mercola ought to change the number of allegedly toxic ingredients in shampoos to six, because he spends an entire sidebar going after parabens, lambasting them as potential endocrine disruptors. He even strongly implies that these compounds can cause problems with fertility, fluid retention, and depression because that’s what too much estrogen can cause. There’s just one problem. There’s no convincing evidence that parabens, used in the concentrations in such products, contribute significant estrogenic activity. In fact, a review in Critical Reviews in Toxicology by Golden et al from 2005 concluded:

Based on these comparisons using worst-case assumptions pertaining to total daily exposures to parabens and dose/potency comparisons with both human and animal no-observed-effect levels (NOELs) and lowest-observed-effect levels (LOELs) for estrogen or DES, it is biologically implausible that parabens could increase the risk of any estrogen-mediated endpoint, including effects on the male reproductive tract or breast cancer. Additional analysis based on the concept of a hygiene-based margin of safety (HBMOS), a comparative approach for assessing the estrogen activities of weakly active EACs, demonstrates that worst-case daily exposure to parabens would present substantially less risk relative to exposure to naturally occurring EACs in the diet such as the phytoestrogen daidzein.

Does that mean parabens are perfectly safe? No. As the FDA concedes, there is a still lot unknown about them. However, based on current evidence it is highly unlikely that parabens are dangerous endocrine disruptors that will shrivel men’s penises and render women infertile, as Mercola seems to be implying through scare language without actually saying it. Whatever risk there is, if any, appears to be very low. Mercola, as many such fear mongers do, is afraid of the nasty, evil sounding chemical names.

The rest of the piece is a Mike Adams-worthy rant beginning thusly:

You might think that because your skin is about one tenth of an inch thick, it protects your body from absorbing the many things you come into contact with.

But the truth is, when you consume toxins in foods, such as pesticides in fruit and vegetables, the enzymes in your saliva and stomach often break them down and flush them out of your body. Food also passes through your liver and kidneys. The toxins which make it through are detoxified to varying degrees by enzymes before they reach the remainder of your body.

However when toxins are absorbed through your skin, they bypass your liver and enter your bloodstream and tissues – with absolutely no protection whatsoever.

Think of it like this: when you put shampoo or conditioner into your hair, the twenty blood vessels, 650 sweat glands, and 1,000 nerve endings soak in the toxins.

Which, of course, if you believe people like Joe Mercola must be “detoxified” forthwith, preferably with some of his expensive supplements and nostrums.

This is, of course, silly. While it’s true that ingested substances do go to a subset of the circulation where they pass through the liver before going out to the rest of the body, the liver doesn’t just detoxify substances. Sometimes it activates them. For instance, the chemotherapeutic agent cyclophosphamide is converted into active metabolites, chief among them 4-hydroxycyclophosphamide, in the liver. The same is true for many orally administered drugs, which are inactive unless they undergo “detoxification” in the liver. Pharmacologists and physicians know that the detoxification activities of the liver aren’t always benign. Apparently Mercola skipped those lectures in medical school or his brain’s been so warped by the woo that the liver, being an organ and all, can never, ever harm you.

So why does Mercola have his tighty-whiteys in such a bunch over shampoo? Is it because he so cares about your health that he doesn’t want you to use the evil, chemical-laden products of the cosmetics industry? Certainly he’d like his readers to think that. Is it because he hates the cosmetics industry and doesn’t trust it. That’s probably one reason. Don’t get me wrong, though. Like the case for the pharmaceutical industry, being distrustful of the cosmetics industry is a good thing as long as you don’t take it to a paranoid extreme; true to form, Mercola takes it to a paranoid extreme. Maybe not quite Mike Adams-level paranoid (I can’t help but think that if Adams had written this screed, he would have added typical flourishes in which he accused the cosmetics industry of chemical warfare and thrown in a couple of gratuitous Nazi allusions in the form of comparing the cosmetics industry to IG Farben, the German chemical company one of whose subsidiaries, Degesch, manufactured Zyklon B, the poison gas used at the extermination camps), but paranoid enough. When it comes to paranoia, Mercola is clearly number two, but maybe he’ll try harder.

No, the reason Mercola is trashing the cosmetics industry is a time-dishonored one: He’s selling a competing product, and an effective strategy to increase sales of one’s product is to cast doubt on the competition, to make it sound as though it’s dangerous, and then present the alternative product:

Take a moment to check out the chart above and then compare the ingredients with the veritable witch’s brew of potentially carcinogenic ingredients and contaminants found in those you’ll find at your local salon and supermarket shelves. You’ll see that my Volumizing Shampoo and Revitalizing Conditioner gives you all the goodness without the potentially negative effects.

You won’t find any of the nasty toxins commonly found in shampoos such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, parabens, Ethylene oxide, DEA, MSG, or propylene glycol.

When you can’t find a reasonable rationale for irrational-seeming behavior, look for the financial motivation. Mercola may demonize big pharma for being about making money über alles, but in fact he’s just as much about making money as the biggest pharmaceutical company. The difference is that, for all ethical lapses of big pharma and shortcomings in the laws regulating pharmaceutical companies and drug development, pharmaceutical companies are heavily regulated, and their products are stringently tested before being approved. In constrast, Mercola’s products, particularly his supplements, do not appear to be. One wonders if, for all his ranting against how the cosmetics industry supposedly gets away with minimal testing, Mercola subjects his shampoo woo to the same level of testing to which the cosmetics industry subjects its products.

Somehow I doubt it.

ADDENDUM: Oh, no! Not a fellow ScienceBlogger falling for this stuff! Here’s a hint, Christina: The über-crank, über-quack Mike Adams likes the video you posted:

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That is not a ringing endorsement. As I said before, Mike Adams runs the number two quackery promotion site on the Internet, as far as I know, right behind Joe Mercola’s website.

Oh, and the badmouthing of Estee Lauder that occurs in that video is not cool, at least not based on anything having to do with breast cancer. The Lauder family’s Breast Cancer Research Foundation has done amazing work in funding innovative research in breast cancer. Geez. I should have taken apart this video as well as Joe Mercola’s deceptive article. (Disclosure: I have received funding from the BCRF.)

Comments

  1. #1 Becca Stareyes
    July 23, 2010

    Whenever I see something as ‘(chemical) is used in (usage that implies you never want it near you)’ like ‘Did you know the same ingredient which produces all that foam and lather when you shampoo your hair is also the ingredient used in car washes and garages as a degreasing agent?’, I think ‘yeah, well, dihydrogen monoxide is also used in car washes as a solvent and is found in all tumors’.

    In other words, don’t tell me that just because my shampoo contains an ingredient to remove extra oil from my hair that also works on auto grease, that it’s exactly the same (and therefore bad) — tell me that the doses that I use it in are bad, and then back it up.

  2. #2 JohnV
    July 23, 2010

    I know this whole thing is a whirling dervish of stupidity, and I’m pretty sure random cranks have dropped the SDS bomb in your comments before.

    But I’d just like to comment on this “often secretly hidden and referred to as amino acids, yeast extract”.

    I know Mercola is an unscientific pile of trash, and I have no right to expect anything resembling intellectual rigor from him, but honestly the failure to understand what yeast extract is irritates me.

  3. #3 Todd W.
    July 23, 2010

    It’s times like this that I wish I knew more about the cosmetics end of FDA regulation as I do about the drug and medical device end.

  4. #4 Dan Weber
    July 23, 2010

    Salon.com had a “don’t use shampoo!” article a year or two ago. It was funny, except I think they were being serious.

  5. #5 Jennifer
    July 23, 2010

    Haven’t you learned anything from homeopathy?

    “However, pure SDS in a powder is a very different thing than a dilute solution of SDS in a shampoo or soap.”

    Diluting it makes it stronger! Haven’t you ever shaken your shampoo bottle to get out that last bit? And then you agitate it around with more water! Of course that will cause irritation. It’s ultra powerful times eleventy!
    /sarcasm

  6. #6 Pieter B
    July 23, 2010

    It’s the Zombie Shampoo Warning! The first time a relative forwarded this to me and asked what I thought about it, I was on 2400-baud dialup. What’s next? A warning about the Good Times virus?

  7. #7 J
    July 23, 2010

    totally off topic, but have you heard of the whole eating rotten meat to cure cancer thing? A friend mentioned it at a party. I thought he was kidding, but it turns out he was serious. And believed that it might work. Sent me a video to send to my woo-devotee co-worker who is *insert shocked face* dying of cancer. Or maybe she’s dying of woo.

  8. #8 bsci
    July 23, 2010

    You might want to brain some of this discussion to one of your co-bloggers:
    http://scienceblogs.com/oscillator/2010/07/living_naturally_in_a_syntheti.php#commentsArea

    The linked video is painful.

  9. #9 Greg Fish
    July 23, 2010

    Did you know that radiation can break down living tissue and unzip your DNA, causing cancers and mutations in the process, increasing the odds of birth defects, hereditary diseases, and in extreme cases, a slow and very painful death as your organs liquefy.

    And did you know that your computer screens and cell phones are emitting radiation right now, along with call towers and signals from sattelites? Are you terrified yet? Do you need a change of pants right now?

    Just buy a Mercola Brand tinfoil hat for the low, low price of $1,999.95 and you’ll be safe from the evil companies out to kill you with toxins and death rays of electromagnetic and microwave radiation!

  10. #10 But I repeat myself...
    July 23, 2010

    So how does Joe feel about toxic douches?

  11. #11 Ash
    July 23, 2010

    Toxic ingredient #2 (dioxane, or more properly 1,4-dioxane) happens to be a chemical I’ve studied the toxicity of in considerable depth (wrote a thesis on it). Mercola of course fails to mention that there’s no evidence it’s ever caused cancer in humans, and no evidence of carcinogenicity from dermal exposure (and absorption through the skin is pretty low). Not to mention it only appears to be associated with cancer in rodent studies at doses high enough to cause cell damage; it isn’t one of the genotoxic carcinogens that have some theoretical chance of causing cancer at even low doses.

  12. #12 Mike
    July 23, 2010

    Thanks so much for pointing Mercola’s rantings out. I’m too on his mailing list, and I only casually read them, since he does give half-stories to support his points (of selling his own products, for example). I read this one and got a laugh of how he disquised the real nature of the materials. Good work.

  13. #13 Dangerous Bacon
    July 23, 2010

    “…totally off topic, but have you heard of the whole eating rotten meat to cure cancer thing?”

    Makes perfect sense – I’ll bet you never saw a vulture with cancer, now did you?

    The rotten meat cure works even better when you wash it down with your own urine.

  14. #14 Karen
    July 23, 2010

    Yeah, people take this stuff to incredible extremes. HOWEVER, that doesn’t totally invalidate the idea that we shouldn’t be smearing petrochemicals on our bodies. Take anti-perspirant for a quick example: people have known for years that the aluminum in anti-perspirant is linked to Alzheimers. But it’s still on the market, still being advertised, and people are still smearing it on their pits.

    Websites like the Cosmetics Database is ridiculous — it lists friggin’ vinegar as a hazard, for goodness sakes — but the concept is sound. The concept that full disclosure on labels should be required, and that regulations should be much more stringent, is a good one.

    All the hysteria doesn’t change the fact that there really are harmful effects to smearing this crap all over your body. SLS, for example: I switched a few years ago to using handmade soap, after trying for a long time to find a storebought soap or body wash that didn’t cause acne, dryness, and itchy rashes on my skin. I tried the handmade soap, and it worked. I then went through the ingredients on the handmade soap, and compared them to the ingredients in the various storebought products I’d been using before. The only difference was that the handmade soap didn’t contain SLS. It was still made from fat and lye, coloured with a dye, scented with a fragrance oil. But the handmade stuff didn’t have the SLS, and my skin improved drastically, almost overnight. It’s anecdotal evidence and not particularly scientifically sound, of course … but why hasn’t this been studied? Why aren’t there comparison studies of soaps with and without SLS, to see if this claims have any basis?

    Skeptics can say “there’s no scientific evidence for that” and get all up in arms about the “woo-flinging” … but when the lack of scientific evidence is solely because of a lack of science being done on the subject? I think that all open-minded people need to sit back and start asking “why hasn’t this been studied yet?”.

  15. #15 Orac
    July 23, 2010

    You might want to brain some of this discussion to one of your co-bloggers:
    http://scienceblogs.com/oscillator/2010/07/living_naturally_in_a_syntheti.php#commentsArea

    The linked video is painful.

    You know, I thought I saw that video before. I know just where I saw it. Check out my addendum. That’s right. Mike Adams featured it recently; I just never bothered to watch it.

  16. #16 Orac
    July 23, 2010

    Yeah, people take this stuff to incredible extremes. HOWEVER, that doesn’t totally invalidate the idea that we shouldn’t be smearing petrochemicals on our bodies. Take anti-perspirant for a quick example: people have known for years that the aluminum in anti-perspirant is linked to Alzheimers..

    Except that it isn’t, really. In fact, whether aluminum is even linked to Alzheimer’s disease at all is controversial, as Steve Novella did an excellent job of describing here:

    http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=44

    Oh, and aluminum isn’t a petrochemical.

    But the handmade stuff didn’t have the SLS, and my skin improved drastically, almost overnight. It’s anecdotal evidence and not particularly scientifically sound, of course … but why hasn’t this been studied? Why aren’t there comparison studies of soaps with and without SLS, to see if this claims have any basis?

    I suggest going to PubMed and searching “sodium dodecyl sulfate” and “skin.” You’ll find some 1500+ articles looking at SDS and skin irritation. True, a lot of them aren’t what you’re looking for, but to say that this issue hasn’t been studied is quite simply not correct. They’re even doing whole genome expression array profiling of skin irritated by SLS/SDS compared to other soaps:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20428187

  17. #17 Anton P. Nym
    July 23, 2010

    I can’t believe that Dr. Mercola neglected to caution people about the high levels of dihydrogen monoxide in commercial shampoos. What a missed opportunity to warn folks about this industrial solvent (used as coolant in nuclear reactors!) found contaminating so many consumer goods.

    *sigh*

    — Steve

  18. #18 Scott
    July 23, 2010

    It should additionally be noted that if a chemical which causes skin irritation in some people, that doesn’t then demonstrate that there is any harm to using it (or indeed, any increased RISK of harm) aside from discomfort in the sensitive. If your skin is irritated by SDS, don’t use it – but it’s just wrong to jump from there to “there really are harmful effects to smearing this crap all over your body.”

  19. #19 historygeek
    July 23, 2010

    wow WTF shampoo i mean really. i like how he picked an ingrdinet that is found in most shampoos and went see bad scary now buy my over priced shampoo that is 80% worse in the lather catagory. i just don’t know what to say but i like my shampoo to lather and smell nice.

  20. #20 historygeek
    July 23, 2010

    wow WTF shampoo i mean really. i like how he picked an ingrdinet that is found in most shampoos and went see bad scary now buy my over priced shampoo that is 80% worse in the lather catagory. i just don’t know what to say but i like my shampoo to lather and smell nice.

  21. #21 Skeptico
    July 23, 2010

    From his picture, it doesn’t seem to me that Mercola’s “Volumizing Shampoo” lives up to its name in any meaningful way.

    Although perhaps he doesn’t use it.

  22. #22 kittywhumpus
    July 23, 2010

    This is one area in which I am definitely woo-susceptible. I got rid of a lot of products when I was pregnant, and I still check labels for many chemicals, mainly the parabens. Lately, I have been thinking that perhaps I went a little overboard, and I should look into it more.

    (On the other hand, I got rid of that stuff, and have found that I didn’t even need it in the first place, so, less stuff.)

    The whole “natural” thing has always appealed to me, but lately it’s been apparent that it’s not a useful distinction, and I have to rethink my assumptions.

    So thanks for this post; I’m slowly picking through my unreasonable beliefs. It gives me insight into entrenchment and anti-vax thinking.

  23. #23 Karen
    July 23, 2010

    @Orac: my apologies for the ambiguous wording, I didn’t intend to imply that aluminum was a petrochemical. I kind of jumped topics in the middle of a paragraph (bad proofreading on my part).

    Whether or not aluminum actually CAUSES Alzheimers, it’s been linked in plenty of ways to neurological damage and might increase the severity of Alzheimers even if it doesn’t outright cause it: the article you linked admits as much. Either way, it seems like a bad idea to put something on your body that has been shown to cause severe neurological damage in lab animals. And this is one of the few products that’s had relatively extensive testing done. I’ve tried looking up various cosmetics, soaps, etc. in the past and had very little luck finding relevant studies with large enough test bases to make any sense at all. And, of course, most of what is out there is studies that were sponsored or completed entirely by the company making the product, so there’s not a lot of reason to trust.

    I’ll admit that my experience with SLS/SDS could easily be just a personal allergic reaction, but I’ve heard a lot of anecdotal (yes, scientifically invalid, but curious) evidence of people having the same experience as me. And while I didn’t understand every word in the abstract you linked to (I’m not a scientist, just scientifically interested, and my particular field is zoology, not chemistry … I did pull out the dictionary, and I think I get the point, but I may have missed something, and if so please point it out), it seemed to me that SLS/SDS was indeed being classified as a skin irritant by the study. So my question then becomes: why are we putting a skin irritant in soaps? What are the benefits of using this? I know now that I can get perfectly effective soap (I’ve been using it for three years now) that doesn’t contain this particular compound, so why is it there at all?

  24. #24 Terrie
    July 23, 2010

    As far as finding that SLS irritates some people’s skin, well, that has nothing to do with the question of toxicity. My brother gets hives when he’s exposed to cat hair, but I’m fairly sure cat hair isn’t toxic.

    Personally, I try to avoid using shampoos with sodium lauryl sulfate, but that’s because I have hip length hair, which requires a certain amount of babying to avoid looking like a hay stack. I find that instead of removing excess oil, they remove all of it and leave my hair and scalp overly dry.

  25. #25 lumbercartel
    July 23, 2010

    Even after having been at this skeptical medical blogging game for nearly six years, every so often I still come across woo about which I had been previously unaware.

    And when you do cease to be unaware of it, what do you do? Why, you spitefully act to deny us that blissful state.

    This is one sick, sick, sick relationship!

  26. #26 Scott
    July 23, 2010

    Either way, it seems like a bad idea to put something on your body that has been shown to cause severe neurological damage in lab animals.

    By this standard, we couldn’t put anything on our bodies. Pretty much anything you care to name will cause damage (neurological or other) at sufficient doses. The critical question is whether it will cause damage with the particular route of administration, at the particular dose.

    I’ll admit that my experience with SLS/SDS could easily be just a personal allergic reaction, but I’ve heard a lot of anecdotal (yes, scientifically invalid, but curious) evidence of people having the same experience as me. And while I didn’t understand every word in the abstract you linked to (I’m not a scientist, just scientifically interested, and my particular field is zoology, not chemistry … I did pull out the dictionary, and I think I get the point, but I may have missed something, and if so please point it out), it seemed to me that SLS/SDS was indeed being classified as a skin irritant by the study. So my question then becomes: why are we putting a skin irritant in soaps? What are the benefits of using this? I know now that I can get perfectly effective soap (I’ve been using it for three years now) that doesn’t contain this particular compound, so why is it there at all?

    It irritates some people. It doesn’t irritate other people. Your soap doesn’t irritate you. But it may irritate other people. In fact, odds are that it would.

    Why avoid a useful ingredient because a few people have a minor reaction? Those few can avoid it, as you’ve demonstrated. I really don’t see how there’s any problem here at all…

  27. #27 Orac
    July 23, 2010

    Whether or not aluminum actually CAUSES Alzheimers, it’s been linked in plenty of ways to neurological damage and might increase the severity of Alzheimers even if it doesn’t outright cause it: the article you linked admits as much.

    Yes and no. The article points out how confused the current state of evidence is. The Alzheimers Society, as I recall, is a little more negative on the current state of the evidence. Personally, I don’t find the evidence particularly compelling, but I understand that others find it slightly more compelling than I do.

    Either way, it seems like a bad idea to put something on your body that has been shown to cause severe neurological damage in lab animals.

    It seems like a bad idea to put something in your body that has been shown to cause severe neurological damage in lab animals. Oh, wait. You do that each and every day. There’s aluminum in many different foods, as it’s ubiquitous. It’s the dose and route of administration that make the poison, and the evidence that the levels of aluminum that most people are exposed to cause health problems is pretty weak.

    In any case, you were talking about high doses in lab animals, far above any dose you’d likely be exposed to in routine use of aluminum-containing products. If you’re so afraid of aluminum, you’d better stay away from a lot of different foods, which contain aluminum. Better not breast feed your baby, either, if you don’t want the baby to be exposed.. Just sayin’. If you want to avoid aluminum, you have a lot of work to do.

    I wonder: Do you vaccinate? There’s a reason I ask.

  28. #28 Pen
    July 23, 2010

    What’s in his shampoo then? I hope it hasn’t got any of that aqua stuff in it. Unless it’s homeopathic aqua of course.

  29. #29 Todd W.
    July 23, 2010

    @Orac

    If you’re so afraid of aluminum, you’d better stay away from a lot of different foods, which contain aluminum. Better not breast feed your baby, either, if you don’t want the baby to be exposed.

    You left out avoiding breathing air directly. Since aluminum can also be in dust, better have some manner of breathing apparatus, too.

  30. #30 Jennifer
    July 23, 2010

    “The rotten meat cure works even better when you wash it down with your own urine.”
    Just when I start to think there’s a line that is just too far…
    People! If you needed urine in your body, it wouldn’t be connected to an exit! Next thing you know, they’ll be saying you should eat your boogers. Oh wait…

  31. #31 lumbercartel
    July 23, 2010

    It also points out that cinnamon oil could burn your mouth something awful if swallowed undiluted but tthat doesn’t mean that dilute concentrations are unsafe.

    Bah! I laugh at cinnamon oil. Real Men™ poison themselves with 8-methyl-N-vanillyl-trans-6-nonenamide. In fact, I had a good bit of it with lunch.

  32. #32 Matthew Cline
    July 23, 2010

    Personally, I simply rub a bar of Ivory soap over my head until there’s enough of a lather to shampoo my hair. Not to avoid nasty chemicals or anything, but because:

    1) I don’t have to spend any effort figuring out which brand of shampoo to use.

    2) Using the same thing for both washing my hands/body and washing my hair means less bathroom clutter.

  33. #33 DLC
    July 23, 2010

    People who wash their hair with shampoo get old, and eventually die! See, Shampoo causes death!
    uh huh. right. now to avoid all that just send me $50.00 and I’ll send you back a vial of my special Homeopathic Toxin Eliminator.

    [note: this product has not been tested and cannot really relieve anything other than thirst. ]

  34. #34 Who Cares
    July 23, 2010

    I think the reason that he goes of the deep end against MSG is the claim that MSG is added to food so that we eat more and is fattening to boot.

  35. #35 Jeff Read
    July 23, 2010

    LOL, “irritation of skin and eyes”. So that stinging when shampoo gets into my eyes is a sign of TOXICITY. Oh noes!

  36. #36 trrll
    July 23, 2010

    SDS is one hell of a detergent. It’s very effective at removing oils, and I imagine a lot of the irritation some people experience is not any kind of allergy, but just the SDS doing its job too well, and leaving their skin overdry. Probably a good conditioner would deal with that (yes, you are taking the grease out of your hair and then adding grease back, but at least it’s clean grease). Or a milder detergent. And the idea of a highly charged molecule like that moving into the brain from the scalp is nuts.

    But not as nuts as worrying about glutamate, also a charged molecule, moving into the brain. It’s not merely a natural molecule and part of every protein, but it is also one of the major neurotransmitters in the brain, and particularly important for memory. It can definitely cause some side effects if you eat a whole bunch of it (for that matter, I’d be wary about consuming large quantities of any neurotransmitter). But the notion that the extremely small amount of glutamate that might be in a shampoo could somehow get into your body and cause harm is seriously crazy.

    And I think he knows it bull–he’s just scaring people to get them to buy his snake oil.

  37. #37 trrll
    July 23, 2010

    Bah! I laugh at cinnamon oil. Real Men™ poison themselves with 8-methyl-N-vanillyl-trans-6-nonenamide. In fact, I had a good bit of it with lunch.

    Oh nooos! The MSDS says “severe irritant.”
    Even a tiny amount will cause your mouth to burn. And god help you if you get it in your eyes!

  38. #38 Mark P
    July 23, 2010

    You might think that because your skin is about one tenth of an inch thick, it protects your body from absorbing the many things you come into contact with.

    Actually I do think this, because it’s largely true.

    Evolution (or God, for the less scientific) would hardly have given us skin that was poor at protecting us! It is true that toxins of certain sorts will be absorbed, but it is an incredibly slow process.

    The skin rash from SLS is a red herring. It is unwise to leave a drop of concentrated hydrochloric acid on your skin, yet quite safe to dilute and drink that acid. (It is a major component of stomach acid.)

    I was also wondering about whether the whole Dioxane flap is hoping people will confuse it with Dioxin – which is particularly deadly.

  39. #39 lumbercartel
    July 23, 2010

    Oh nooos! The MSDS says “severe irritant.”
    Even a tiny amount will cause your mouth to burn. And god help you if you get it in your eyes!

    Lips? Eyes? HAH! The body has other mucous membranes — the mere thought is terrifying.

  40. #40 Big Blue
    July 23, 2010

    To be perfectly fair, not using detergents on your hair really does make it shinier and leaves it in better condition. Long hair especially gets dry and needs oil and leave-in conditioners rather than frequent washings. So yeah, I guess washing it with chamomile tea or whatthefuckever would eventually make hair nicer-looking than if it were being shampooed daily. Think of hair like any other textile: if you washed a wool sweater in detergent and hot water, then put it through the dryer and wore it every day, you’d expect that it would get holes, frayed edges, faded colors faster than if it were gently hand-washed with Woolite and dried flat in shade, with several wearings between washes. Same principle.

    Disclaimer: Care of long hair is different than short or medium length–short hair without shampoo looks greasy, whereas long hair merely looks like you have styling gel in after several days, provided it’s brushed. I have hip-length hair, washed only once a week with castile soap. This is not because I fear O NOES TEH SDS, it is because I am 1) cheap–castile soap costs $1/bar, one bar lasts 4-6 weeks 2) lazy–a braid is easier to do than a blow-dryer/curling iron/gel/spray concoction in the morning. Yes, the soap residue he describes exists IF you have hard water, but a half-cup of vinegar diluted 1:4 and poured over hair (or put the dilute vinegar in a stoppered sink and soak your hair) rinses it out just fine.

    Incidentally, one of my colleagues swears that you can use shampoo in lieu of Western blot buffer 10X concentrate.

  41. #41 pjmd
    July 23, 2010

    I’m surprised I read every bit of the article and all comments and didn’t hear the word phthalates from anyone on all sides.

    That’s the main problem I have (plus the plastic – BPA- which I just saw a program about recently)

    20/20 did a story recently about phthalates. I guess in rats they cause all sorts of bad diseases and in monkeys not so much. So granted we’re more closely related to monkeys but I have to ask the same question some of the people above did.

    If Parabens or SLS or phthalates might cause irritation or long term problems then why not get a product without it?

    We’ve only used these chemicals for a relatively short time on this planet.

    Why not get a simple old fashioned soap that doesn’t have these irritants? Even if it’s only part of the population who is sensitive to it? (or babies who they try to avoid SLS in their products- heck it’s not even my shampoo for my dogs- my vet says it’s not good for them) So why even defend these things in products?

    Same goes for aluminum. Yes studies have been done showing there’s a link to Alzheimer’s. Others have said no. Why not use a good old fashioned deodorant shampoo or conditioner (I even see them at the drug store) that doesn’t have that crap in it?

    Granted it *might* not make us infertile and *might* be ok but why take the chance!? I don’t need all those chemicals.

    I was told last week by my dermatologist (an MD of course) that I have perioral dermatitis and mostly likely caused by something I use on my skin. They didn’t say use organic or anything but they DID say avoid SLS and other chemicals and additives.

    So now I’m starting to buy more simple products (even found at the drug store) without all the stuff in there.

    So why Orac says it’s just a few people who are sensitive so what’s the big deal? *I* ask what’s the big deal about just not using those products at all?

    Even if it were just antecdotal (which it’s not) why would I use a chemical that makes my cousin or my neighbor or my spouse break out?

    I’m getting rid of the chemicals and don’t think that’s woo.

    My grandmother is 97 and uses good old fashioned lye or some mixture of 3 ingredients and still washes her hair and skin with it daily.

    I’m no expert on this but why pay all the money for organic OR for the fancy shampoos with SLS? WHy not buy something without these ingredients and better be safe than sorry?

    I can’t think of any reason anyone would use them on their child or them? I don’t get it.

    PJMD

  42. #42 PJ
    July 23, 2010

    I guess what I’m really trying to say (in a nutshell) is why defend potentially harmful chemicals that can easily be taken out of a product?

  43. #43 Orac
    July 23, 2010

    You do realize that lye is sodium hydroxide, a strong base that, if concentrated enough, can easily burn the skin clean off you, don’t you? In fact, the fact the people used to use lye for such purposes illustrates very well the principle of the dose (or concentration) making the poison or the irritant, which is what we’re talking about when it comes to fear mongering about these chemicals.

  44. #44 Cath the Canberra Cook
    July 23, 2010

    My latest facebook status, in honour of your post and lumbercartel’s reply:

    What’s your favourite chemical? I’m partial to 8-methyl-N-vanillyl-trans-6-nonenamide, and I do love a bit of 3,7-dimethylpurine-2,6-dione. Though all said, I couldn’t live without my dihydrogen monoxide.

  45. #45 Zoe
    July 23, 2010

    Ooh, fight amongst the science bloggers. Would like to see that debate.

    Do we really need those chemicals that Orac mentions? Is baking soda and vinegar and regular soap enough? Why does something to clean one’s body have 10 ingredients on it? Have we been sold a bill of goods that this stuff is “necessary?” (No idea, just wondering about it from the other angle). To be clear, I have a bigger problem with the expensive “natural” shampoos and cosmetic products. Just as much silliness, but in the other direction.

    Personally, I’m dying to know the Orac scale on BPA.

  46. #46 Shampooed
    July 23, 2010

    I am no Mercola apologist, but I don’t really see the harm in examining the chemicals put in consumer products used on a daily basis. I would hardly call that “quackery”.

    “Like the case for the pharmaceutical industry, being distrustful of the cosmetics industry is a good thing as long as you don’t take it to a paranoid extreme; true to form, Mercola takes it to a paranoid extreme.”

    Considering the industries you mention are “paranoid to the extreme” of losing profits, I would think that viewing them through a lens of paranoia entirely appropriate. They have zero reason to care if any product they make negatively affects you in the long run. They only care about short term effects that can be easily traced back to their product by a smart lawyer. Caveat emptor!

    “However, SDS is a detergent that’s been used for a very long time.”

    So what? Is that proof by repetition? That is a pretty unscientific thing to claim as scientifically relevant. Don’t the woomeisters often say this about their “natural” oriental concoctions as proof it must be safe?

    “Its potential problems are fairly well known, problems such as skin irritation and irritation of mucus membranes.”

    [b]Fairly[/b] well known? And this is reassuring how? If I am going to use a product everyday for my entire life, I think I would like to be more than fairly informed regarding its safety.

    “The difference is that, for all ethical lapses of big pharma and shortcomings in the laws regulating pharmaceutical companies and drug development, pharmaceutical companies are heavily regulated…”

    You are saying that these unethical companies are regulated using laws with many shortcomings? Again, this is reassuring how?

    “…and their products are stringently tested before being approved.”

    Stringently tested? Ever heard of Dr. Scott Reuben? 2-4 weeks of testing is hardly what I would call stringent, and I am quite sure shampoo undergoes no testing at all. But perhaps my definition of stringent is more stringent than your definition of stringent, especially when it comes to astringents :)

    I think I will go back to washing my hair with ivory soap since its 99 and 44/100 percent pure. Pure what, they don’t say of course :)

  47. #47 Calli Arcale
    July 23, 2010

    Yes, you can get away with a soap that doesn’t have 10 ingredients. Or, you can use one that does. In my experience, you can get similar results with almost every product on the market — all soaps sold will clean your body, and unless you’re allergic to some of the ingredients, will do so with a minimum of harm. Caveat: you can overdo it with soap. All soap. Doesn’t matter if it has scary chemical names or not. It’s mostly a matter of stripping away the oils that a) make you greasy and stinky and b) help protect your skin and hair from drying out.

    And that’s mostly where all the different ingredients and processes come in. If you have dry skin, you will be more vulnerable to the drying effect of soap. (Again, this applies to any soap, not just HugeCo Shampoo and Body Wash.) So, ingredients are often added to mitigate this, especially in products sold for sensitive or dry skin or hair. Ingredients may also be added to affect foaming action — surfactants. AFAIK, this is largely a perceptual thing; people like a good lather in their soaps, even if they’ve gone past the point of diminishing returns with lather action. And then there’s one chemical which is in nearly all shampoos which didn’t get mentioned earlier (not sure if Mercola mentioned it) — EDTA. This is somewhat infamous around here, as a drug version is used as a chelating agent, and killed an autistic boy. Injected, it is extremely dangerous. But in shampoos, it’s a different story. EDTA does not absorb through skin or mucus membranes; you can’t even absorb it through the gut. The reason it’s in the shampoo is to mitigate hard water — it actually softens the water with which you are mixing it when you shampoo your hair. It chelates out the ions (most commonly calcium carbonate) that would otherwise be dissolved in your tap water, interfering with the soap’s ability to do its job. A soap containing EDTA will work better than one without, though not strictly because the soap itself is any better; it’s because it makes the water better.

    Do shampoos need as many ingredients as they have? Maybe, maybe not. They don’t generally hurt, but in general, it’s mostly a question of how much various features mean to you.

  48. #48 Chris
    July 23, 2010

    Shampooed:

    I think I will go back to washing my hair with ivory soap since its 99 and 44/100 percent pure. Pure what, they don’t say of course :)

    Soap. Which is created by a reaction of fats (animal or vegetable) with a strong alkaline solution like lye. The old and ancient method of getting soap was to take wood ash and running water through it, and then taking rendering of the fat from animals. The process involves lots of cooking with noxious smells.

    Some of the quality of soap depends on the quality of fats. I personally like olive, milk fat (like goat) and glycerin soaps because they are nicer (and more expensive). A few months ago I made some soaps from unscented blocks of goat milk soap and glycerin soap. To these I added oatmeal and some herbs (and some of the commercial scent that came with a kit). Which turned out okay, as they melted and then poured out well.

    I had some old Ivory soap, and it would not melt. I grated it the food processor and then tried to melt it. It would not melt! Now I was using a double boiler, I am not putting that stuff on direct heat. So I took a bottle of glycerin (from a kit) and managed to turn into a paste that I could mix in some lemon verbena (from the garden), and some finely chopped oatmeal, which I made into balls. It was passable.

    Whatever is in Ivory has got to be the cheapest most dry form of fat known to man.

  49. #49 Jon H
    July 23, 2010

    “You do realize that lye is sodium hydroxide, a strong base that, if concentrated enough, can easily burn the skin clean off you, don’t you?”

    And sodium hydroxide popped up in the Trafigura case. They used it to clean out a oil tanker ship, then tried getting rid of the resulting mixture in port in Amsterdam. The resulting stink and fumes caused the waste-management company to reverse the pumping and put it back on the ship. Trafigura then sent the ship to Ivory Coast, where the waste was pumped out and dumped, illegally, in various waste dumps, leading to many people getting sick and 15 deaths.

    Yeah, I want that on my head.

  50. #50 Seb30
    July 23, 2010

    @ 49 Jon H

    Yeah, I want that [Sodium hydroxide] on my head.

    Unless your hair is full of tar and you are using highly concentrated NaOH, I don’t think sodium hydroxide is going to be a problem in a shampoo.

    Actually, I hate to break it to you, but all soaps are likely to contain sodium hydroxide. Use of a strong alkaline is part of the process to make soap.

  51. #51 Jon H
    July 23, 2010

    Terrie wrote: “As far as finding that SLS irritates some people’s skin, well, that has nothing to do with the question of toxicity. My brother gets hives when he’s exposed to cat hair, but I’m fairly sure cat hair isn’t toxic.”

    And vitamin C (ie, orange juice, pineapple, etc) makes my eczema flare up.

    OH NOES! FLORIDA ORANGES IZ POIZIN!

  52. #52 Seb30
    July 23, 2010

    A previous comment made me thinking:

    We’ve only used these chemicals for a relatively short time on this planet.
    Why not get a simple old fashioned soap that doesn’t have these irritants?

    I was wondering how much of this was wishful thinking. I agree that lauryl sulphate is a different molecule than your regular fatty acid used to make old soap (well, a sulphate has been added, apparently). But I cannot help thinking that any form of detergent will be an irritant of soft tissues.
    There could be differences in the degree of irritation, to be sure.

    Also, is SDS or any lookalike molecule really absent from traditional soap? Humanity has been mixing fat and alkali for more than 4 millenia.
    Actually, alkyl sulphates may not be an everyday biological occurence. Do we have an expert in fatty acid biochemistry in the room?

  53. #53 Chris
    July 24, 2010

    There is actually a wiki for Ivory soap: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivory_%28soap%29

    Okay, it uses only vegetable oils, but it is still drying. The ingredients from that article show are: “The Ivory soap bar (classic) had contained: sodium tallowate, sodium cocoate or sodium palm kernelate, water, sodium chloride, sodium silicate, magnesium sulfate, and fragrance.[7] The soap bar had a determined pH value: 9.5. [2]”

    And it is not imagination that it is more drying because the wiki also says:

    Ivory soap had been more caustic in comparison to some milder bars such as Dove, a non-soap synthetic detergent bar. Plus, some consumer investigations had found that Ivory’s antimicrobial activity was better than other skin soaps, even those containing antibacterials such as triclosan.[citation needed] A postulate for this effectiveness is the ability of the soap to lyse bacteria efficiently, and to rinse cleanly. The drawback to the soap was its drying effect on the skin, as it had easily dissolved natural oils. Of all the commercial soaps, Ivory has been considered the best by holistic health people, but was criticized for what it did not contain, glycerin. One reason was that glycerin was expensive and would raise the cost of the bars, which had the value of being about the least expensive soap available for people of modest means.

    So I was kind of right. It needs more glycerin!

  54. #54 Chris
    July 24, 2010

    I used to think certain soaps make my skin peel off. It was why I avoided all deodorant soaps and treated myself to expensive olive oil or glycerin soaps from the fancy shops (I don’t wear make up or perfume, nice soaps are my one indulgent… plus it gives my family an easy give idea).

    Then it turned out the reason my skin was peeling was my jewelry. It was not soap, but the nickel used to harden the gold in my wedding ring. So I cured my dermatitis by removing the ring (still married, just no rings), and the watch (circular rash under the time piece was a bit clue)… but I still like the nice soaps!

  55. #55 Aaron M Hatch
    July 24, 2010

    Mercola banned me from his site after I questioned the regulation of his products.

  56. #56 Chris
    July 24, 2010

    By the way, if anyone wants to make soap from scratch, be very careful. I have only made it from blocks that can be melted in a double boiler (bought at craft stores).

    But there was a local story in the past few months of what happened to a child of a local custom soap maker. The lye comes in bags and looks like sugar. Her young daughter (8 years old) was going through a sugar phase, saw the bag of lye and tried to eat some. Last I saw in the news article was that she was transported to a hospital because her esophagus was being destroyed. Found the article.

    Lye on human flesh tends to turn it to something resembling soap (phospholipids and cell membranes, what are lipids?… could they be oil like?)… imagine that on internal organs.

  57. #57 CanadianChick
    July 24, 2010

    *snort*

    As a former soapmaker, this discussion amuses the he’ll out of me. Chris, honey, saponification isn’t hard to understand – would you like some reference material?? That “soap” you got at the craft store wasn’t soap – it was a syndet product. All melt & pour is.

    Real soap doesn’t melt easily – and that’s not surprising.

    Glycerine is a water soluble humectant – adding it to soap doesn’t make it better for your skin. Realhandmade soap already contains a ton of glycerin, it’s a byproduct of saponification. In so-called glycerin soaps it’s added to help increase transparency, along withalcohol and often some form of sugar. If a glycerin soap seems gentler on your skin that’s because it contains a he’ll of a lot less actual soap. Most glycerin soaps, BTW, aren’t soaps, but are sunsets. Many of the real soap bars that are clear use TEA as the alkaline instead of NaOH (or KOH sometimes used in liquid soaps.

  58. #58 CanadianChick
    July 24, 2010

    sorry for the typos – iPhones and the comment block don’t play well together.

    Also wanted to add – ALL real soap will have a pH of around 9.5 – 10.5. If it has a lower pH, it’s not soap – or at least it’s not pure.

  59. #59 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    July 24, 2010

    I’m the opposite of Matthew Cline @ 32. It seems that most grocery-store soaps irritate me in…uh…sensitive areas. I’ve always blamed the scent—Coast and Irish Spring should be classified as WMDs!

    Yes, there are expensive, hypoallergenic soaps, but they don’t work—as soap. Ivory does, but it dries out my skin at first, followed a few hours later by a gush of oil—very undesirable. Plus, it stinks.

    My solution is just to get a good head of lather with shampoo and then use it on the rest of my body. (Besides, it seems wasteful to lather up your head, wash it off, and then use another product to wash the rest of you.)

    So I wash my entire body with nothing but shampoo. I’ve been doing it for 35 years with no ill effects. Could it be Mercola’s full of crap?

  60. #60 Karen
    July 24, 2010

    PJ (@comment 41 and 42) has already made my point, and probably more concisely than I would have.

    If we can do without it, why is it there in the first place? What are the grand benefits to these products? We keep being told that “the concentrations are low enough that they’re harmless”, but harmless does NOT equal beneficial. If it’s got no benefit, I don’t want it there. It shouldn’t be there. It’s just another risk factor without a cause.

    Scientists need to get their heads out of their asses and stop equating “no proven harm” with “perfectly fine”. I’m all for skepticism, but when skepticism starts to equal “good until proven otherwise”, I can’t stay on board.

  61. #61 Daniel
    July 24, 2010

    Manufacturers do not put ingredients into products for the hell of it, everything in a bottle of shampoo is there for one of three reasons, to clean the hair, to alter customer perception of the product and fragrance agents. SDS is a detergent, it is the ACTIVE ingredient. It is in shampoo because it out performs other alternative i.e. it conveys a BENEFIT over other alternatives. All soaps irritate the skin, SDS causes more irritation for those with particularly sensitive skin, BECAUSE it is better at removing grease. It is extremely safe and there is zero reason to believe it is unsafe for use in shampoo. We can’t remove compounds from products based on risks that haven’t been identified yet because every product we use could have unidentified risks in which case we’d be left washing our hair in a vacuum.

  62. #62 Big Blue
    July 24, 2010

    If we can do without it, why is it there in the first place? What are the grand benefits to these products?

    Oh, lotsa reasons. Mostly economic.

    1. Liquid detergent solutions are much cheaper to manufacture than soap-based solutions, so the profit margin is considerably higher. The actual cost to manufacture a $5 bottle of shampoo is something like $0.10 + $1 of fancy packaging. The fragrances and whatnot cost more than the actual SDS + water that is providing the cleaning mechanism. In comparison, liquid soap made with KOH instead of NaOH is quite expensive to manufacture: 8 oz. of refined soy oil runs maybe $0.25-0.40 wholesale, plus KOH solution mixing and additional heat and time in a controlled reactor (as opposed to simple mixing of ingredients in detergent shampoo) runs up the cost. They’d have to price soap-based hair washes, even simple ones, quite high to make up the difference. Compare a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s to a similar volume of White Rain, you’ll see what I mean. Veggie oils are subject to commodity pricing fluctuations while SDS powder price isn’t so volatile.

    2. The basic solution of SDS + water is runny and difficult to apply evenly to hair, so they add thickeners. These can be edible food-grade stuff (carrageenan, pectin, etc.) but more usually are cellulose-based–same stuff that’s in uh, lube. Real cheap, $1 worth of hydroxyethylcellulose can gel about 100 bottles of shampoo.

    3. Fragrance, color, or stuff that is there in minute quantities for marketing purposes. All that Extract Of Californian Amanita ocreata stuff, they add two drops to a giant vat so they can say it contains real herbs with a fancy picture, and some individuals wish to pay for that sort of thing. Fragrance is usually synthetic even if you are paying $10/bottle, and it’s still the most expensive part of the formulation.

    4. To counteract the drying aspect of detergent, sometimes they add oils. Oils don’t really mix with water solutions, so then they add emulsifiers to blend the oil with the detergent. That isn’t as expensive as just using soap in the first place, because they don’t have to add that much oil back, and in many cases they hardly add any, just enough to slap “New Moisturizing Formula!” on the bottle. You may well ask, why don’t they simply use less concentrated SDS solution in the first place? That’s sometimes because one cosmetics company is using the same SDS solution as the basis for various other products, and sometimes because the formulations tech half-assed the initial recipe, and sometimes because it would be a real pain in the ass to change the powder-measuring equipment and SOPs after it’s already been designed and installed for a 2% solution or whatever. Reasons vary, but usually it’s because that “New Moisturizing Formula!!!” means they can charge $0.15 more.

    // First job out of college was teching for a company that made kits for molecular bio & blood chemistry, and also OEM’ed chemicals for pharmaceutical excipients and cosmetics. It was educational.

  63. #63 Caro
    July 24, 2010

    Actually, another reason why they put SLS/SDS warnings on toothpaste is that those of us prone to getting aphthous ulcers tend to get significantly worse when using a toothpaste with it in it. SDS-free toothpaste foams less, but I’ll gladly take that over multitudes of very painful sores in my mouth.

    That said, I love simple SDS-containing shampoo, though – I tolerate it well, just not in my mouth. I use a brand made for allergic people and basically is water, sds and some other detergents, salt, thickener, citric acid, and a preservative. That’s it. No dyes, no perfumes, no itchiness, no annoying scent on all my hair. It’s cheap, too :D

    That said, yes, care for very long hair (mine is hip length and I’m tall) is very different from caring for shorter hair. I wash mine three times a week tops, and then only the stuff near my scalp, and only using small quantities of shampoo. I’d probably switch to soap and vinegar if I bothered, but since my current stuff works so well, I don’t.

  64. #64 Don Cox
    July 24, 2010

    “My brother gets hives when he’s exposed to cat hair, but I’m fairly sure cat hair isn’t toxic.”

    It is for your brother. But not for me or (probably) you.

    Toxicity depends on the organism as well as on the substance.

  65. #65 Dangerous Bacon
    July 24, 2010

    Sorry, I’m never going to look at a video of Joe Mercola and think “Wow! I want to try that guy’s shampoo!!

  66. #66 pj
    July 24, 2010

    Daniel,

    They don’t *have* use SLS. They use it because it’s cheap. There are plenty of great alternatives but please, I’m smarter than to think the alternatives don’t work well. I’ve used quite a few of them.

    My niece can only use SLS free products since she was a baby.

    And Don- Yes I am allergic to cats too. SO I don’t have them.

    The good thing is they don’t have to put cat hair in Shampoo (lucky us, and cats)

    BUT they don’t have to put SLS or phthalates OR parabens.

    If there’s a possible chance they mess up reproductive organs. If 20/20 is dedicating a show as to whether phthalates do this then why not … (Drum roll) Not put them in your shampoo or just buy one without them?

    They aren’t necessary.

    Oh and I was wrong it wasn’t lye she uses. (that’s the only thing I knew you made soap out of – I’m no expert) going to find out later today. One is vinegar though. Probably doesn’t cause any long term effects and I bet no one has even argued it did like the other ingredients we’ve discussed.

  67. #67 Travis
    July 24, 2010

    pj, once again your example proves the dose, well, the concentration, makes the poison. Acetic acid is nasty stuff in high concentrations. From the Fisher MSDS sheet (high >96%)
    http://fscimage.fishersci.com/msds/00120.htm

    Potential Health Effects
    Eye: Causes severe eye irritation. Contact with liquid or vapor causes severe burns and possible irreversible eye damage.
    Skin: Causes skin burns. May be harmful if absorbed through the skin. Contact with the skin may cause blackening and hyperkeratosis of the skin of the hands.
    Ingestion: May cause severe and permanent damage to the digestive tract. Causes severe pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and shock. May cause polyuria, oliguria (excretion of a diminished amount of urine in relation to the fluid intake) and anuria (complete suppression of urination). Rapidly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract.
    Inhalation: Effects may be delayed. Causes chemical burns to the respiratory tract. Exposure may lead to bronchitis, pharyngitis, and dental erosion. May be absorbed through the lungs.
    Chronic: Chronic exposure to acetic acid may cause erosion of dental enamel, bronchitis, eye irritation, darkening of the skin, and chronic inflammation of the respiratory tract. Acetic acid can cause occupational asthma. One case of a delayed asthmatic response to glacial acetic acid has been reported in a person with bronchial asthma. Skin sensitization to acetic acid is rare, but has occurred.

    but it is pretty harmless at the concentrations we see in vinegar. Though I would be curious if inhalation might still be a problem if exposed often.

  68. #68 Orac
    July 24, 2010

    You do realize that vinegar is made up mostly of dilute acetic acid, don’t you? Typically the concentration is around 4-8% for table vinegar.

    Concentrated acetic acid can burn the hell out of your skin. Drinking too concentrated a vinegar can burn your esophagus. Again, the dose makes the poison.

    You’re not helping your case.

  69. #69 Diane
    July 24, 2010

    sls has long been a favorite target of the “natural” products set. I argued about that with an old buddy on fb a while ago. i’m surprised it took Mercola so long to jump on the bandwagon.

  70. #70 Chris
    July 24, 2010

    Thanks, CanadianChick, I am glad you came along. I really wanted someone who made soap to comment. Though, I did use a big block of goat milk soap from a sale at Joanns. I can believe it had other oils, but not SPS (mainly because it was not on the ingredient list).

    Now, I do use pure Sodium Lauryl Sulfate from the fabric store to wash certain fabrics (the brand I got on sale was “Quilter’s Rule). It is not a powder, but dissolved in water (it tends to solidify, so I warm it up to use). Very little is required. (it is the same as Orvus, the horse shampoo that was popular a few years back… funny how something that was supposed to be better, is now bad!).

    To scrub cotton or silk before putting in the dye bath I use Synthrapol… which is also surfactant but mixed with isopropyl alcohol (and I cannot find the particular detergent it contains). Oh, and yes, I do wear heavy duty gloves and other protection when I am using dyes (I use the cold water dyes that require soda ash). Plus the dyes have some interesting chemicals to make the colors.

    Well, if anyone has any kind of hobby you will find an MSDS sheet for almost everything. Now I have to don my leather gloves to prune roses, and feed the vegies with some nice “all natural” fertilizer that contains lots of potassium and phosphorus (pumpkins and tomatoes are heavy feeders), all growing in soil that contains feldspars (which have aluminum!) and use lots of dihydrogen monoxide!

  71. #71 Chris
    July 24, 2010

    Diane, and yet a few years ago every one was going nuts over the Orvus horse shampoo has it was supposed to be so much better… which is just SLS.

  72. #72 Big Blue
    July 24, 2010

    @ PJ, if you wish to pay $16/bottle for Dr Bronner’s, be my guest. But please bear in mind that, f’rinstance, starving college students, cannot afford $16/bottle shampoo or dish soap. Hence the market for cheap detergents.

    I think PJ & Karen are confused as to the concept of “possible chance”. To clarify: The Possible Chance that you will be killed in a car accident on your way to work is orders of magnitude higher than the Possible Chance detergent-based shampoo will do more than sting your eyes for a few minutes. A more likely shampoo-related injury would be slipping and falling in the shower, and getting the shampoo bottle stuck in your butt–a risk of all bottles and bottle-like objects, I might add, regardless of their contents.

    Dude, this week 20/20 did a show on whether fake designer shoes were as good as real designer shoes. The relative significance and truthiness of any issue is not determined by the answer to the question, “Did 20/20 have a show about it?”

    @ Chris: Another option in soapmaking is not to be a total idiot around kids, and store any dangerous household chemicals in child-proof containers in cabinets with kiddie locks on them. There are convenient locking-lid 5 gallon plastic pails available for storage of corrosives; my pool chemicals are sold in such pails.

  73. #73 yud
    July 24, 2010

    For anyone worried about chemicals in soap, why not make your own? You can make nice unscented soap using olive oil and lye. As long as you mix it properly and use the correct amount of lye, you’ll get great soap out of it. There are a number of online lye calculators that you can use to ensure you using the correct amount.

    You can even make your own laundry detergent. Just take your block of basic soap, grate it into small pieces, and add in some borax and some washing soda.

    My wife makes soap and laundry detergent that way, though not because we’re afraid of “toxic chemicals”. For the soaps we use ourselves, she makes them fancier with things like cucumbers, goat milk, oatmeal, and honey, for great-smelling moisturizing soaps.

    For the laundry detergent, our main motivation is that it’s far cheaper than buying detergent from a store.

  74. #74 jjjohn
    July 24, 2010

    karen: “We keep being told that “the concentrations are low enough that they’re harmless”, but harmless does NOT equal beneficial.”

    but harmless is harmless. so you can buy something that is cheap and harmless or something like mercola’s product which is probably expensive and harmless. which leaves you with more money?

    “If it’s got no benefit, I don’t want it there. It shouldn’t be there. It’s just another risk factor without a cause.”

    If it’s harmless, it’s not a risk factor. your statement shows that you don’t believe that, that instead you choose to believe there is danger. there is no evidence anyone can give you that will overcome your fear, so asking for evidence is pointless, if not intellectually dishonest.

    “Scientists need to get their heads out of their asses and stop equating “no proven harm” with “perfectly fine”.”

    What else can a scientist say? they tell you what they have observed. you either base your decisions on the most likely outcome, or on fear. either way, the fact that many decisions are hard and require lots of information is not the fault of science.

  75. #75 CanadianChick
    July 24, 2010

    the soapmaking world has lots of stories about mishaps with lye or lye solutions, but it all comes down to common sense. Soda ash is plenty caustic too, but you don’t see people saying, oh I’m only going to use koolaid to dye (which does do a nice job on protein fibres and nylon) cuz soda ash is scary!

    Unfortunately the soapmaking world is also rife with “woo-ists” who happily buy into anti SLS nonsense. I’m not crazy about it myself – I’d rather use SLeS or one of the betaines as I find them milder. But, I’m a heretic in that world too, having found that the high pH of true soap is VERY irritating to my skin, so I do use syndets. I used to make my own bodywashes and whatnot, but it’s not as satisfying a hobby compared to watching saponification!

    Synthrapol generally doesn’t say what detergent they use – all I know is that it is made with an “ethoxylated and slphated detergents” and that it contains a lot of isopropanol aka isopropyl alcohol. I use it too when dyeing but it’s not really necessary. I just prefer using it as opposed to waiting until the dye is fully discharged and then washing in superhot water…

  76. #76 SWT
    July 24, 2010

    Am I the only one who finds it ironic that the “Natural News” video complains about the presence of a chelating agent (EDTA) because it’s toxic? Since the woman in the clip said (around 2:45) she found out she was “loaded with … mercury … and lead” I should think she’d welcome some free chelation.

    Bonus snark 1: Of course, if she really is loaded with mercury and lead, I don’t know how much one should trust her cognitive processes.

    Bonus snark 2: Maybe the EDTA complexed with all the iron-y, reducing the level of free irony to undetectable levels.

    Bonus snark 3: Since many of the surfactants used in soap, shampoo, detergents, etc. are also used industrially, I think we need to start a movement for surfactant-free personal care products. Sure, the soap might not work as well without them, but isn’t that a small price to pay to avoid teh toxinz?

  77. #77 knotfreak
    July 24, 2010

    An interesting and lively discussion–my main concern with shampoo (and all the rest of those personal products) is the bottles the stuff comes in–PLASTIC, all of it. I recycle them (but I don’t think most people bother from what I see in people’s waste baskets when I use their bathrooms), but there needs to be more REDUCE AND REUSE before the recycling. I get my shampoo, conditioner and lotions from the co-op in bottles that I refill from big jugs with a pump, for years. Not only is this earth-friendly and economical, but I don’t get caught up in marketing crap, which is mostly what the glut of products and ingredients are about.

    I think most of you were unnecessarily mean to Karen–especially you ORAC who jumped all over her about lye and vinegar, which weren’t the thrust of her argument. She may not be in league with real scientists like many here, but she is no wooster either, and you drive people away completely with this kind of attack–I should know.

  78. #78 Pareidolius
    July 24, 2010

    As a former magical-thinker and ex-chemophobe, I understand the fear, especially when the embers of ignorance are fanned into a raging pyre by the likes of Mercola and Adams. As I began to awaken from my woo-addled days, I began to study chemistry (from actual chemists) I began to learn that if an ingredient had “ben” in it (as in benzene) that it wasn’t full of gasoline. I especially liked the analogy @17 describing the potentially deadly dihydrogen monoxide being used to cool Teh Nookyuhler Reactorz™.

    Moisturizers? I have dry skin, so I have to use them. I’m a Keihl’s Creme de Corps man. Expensive? Sadly. Effective? Totally. Greasy? Never, and full of chemical-y goodness too! If anyone knows of a truly non-greasy moisturizer (I’ve tried dozens) that’s cheap, let me know.

  79. #79 Kemist
    July 24, 2010

    WTF ?

    SDS and SLS are just detergents – what that means is that yes, they’re hard on plated cells, but so is any soap.

    The main difference between soaps and detergents is that detergents will not precipitate as readily when in contact with high concentrations of oil. Sulfates and phosphates are more hydrophilic than plain carboxylic acids, and that is why they are, or were, preferred. In higher concentrations of oils, soap micelles will collapse, meaning the soap will lose its capacity for transporting oil and will instead form a solid deposit, which is not very desirable on the skin.

    And as for MSG, it’s a plain amino acid, period – and one of the 20 standard no less. I would not be afraid of it having any effect as a neurotransmitter – it is highly doubtful that it can cross the blood-brain barrier, charged as it is. However I would abstain of consuming shovelfuls of it on the grounds that unbalanced consumption of any single amino acid can be harmful on its own.

    And as for the argument that we are in contact with harmful chemicals only since recent times… In what world ? Your cells don’t care whether something is “natural” or “synthetic”. I’d take many “synthetic” toxins over some “natural” ones. Christ, the chemo agents Placlitaxel and Vinchristine are both naturally occuring molecules. Placlitaxel is so destructive for the skin that people who get treated with it have to take bolus doses of decadron and benadryl to avoid disastrous skin reactions. I’d take itchy dry skin from SDS exposure over that any time.

  80. #80 ebohlman
    July 24, 2010

    Cath: You do know that chocolate-covered habaneros are actually available as a novelty gift, don’t you?

    Sticking just to the purines and leaving out the vanilloids, someone ought to market a chocolate called Doggy Death in various sizes labeled by the weight of the dog they could kill. It would work almost as well as the bonsai kitten craze for exposing the humorless.

  81. #81 Travis
    July 24, 2010

    knotfreak,
    I am not sure why you think it was unnecessarily mean. Karen’s arguments were discussed, more than the lye was mentioned (and I think the lye is an important point, it seems to show that she does not quite have a grip on what she is arguing or what is hazardous and what is not). Same with the vinegar though I believe that was in response to pj and not Karen.

  82. #82 Travis
    July 24, 2010

    Actually, looking back I think the comment Orac made about lye was also directed towards pj and not Karen as that comment was made about 20 minutes after pj said

    My grandmother is 97 and uses good old fashioned lye or some mixture of 3 ingredients and still washes her hair and skin with it daily.

    and talking specifically about skin irritation.

  83. #83 Renee
    July 24, 2010

    After taking a look at Mercola’s website and the ingredient list for his shampoo and conditioner – he’s very disingenuous in describing what’s in his products, especially the active ingredients that do the cleaning. To wit, in the shampoo there is:

    Surfactant derived from vegetable oil
    Cetyl Betaine (Natural fatty methyl esters)
    Surfactant derived from glucose

    I suspect that all of the above are what is known as semi-synthetic; they start with a natural ingredient like vegetable oil, but then go through several synthetic steps in chemical plants to product the final surfactant. However, Mercola is trying to hide this from the viewing (and buying) public. He is trying to have his cake and eat it too.

    He has no choice but to list exactly what ingredients he is using on the bottles of his products, and with the correct FDA-acceptable names. If he is not listing them, that is an FDA violation.

    On a related note – cetyl betaine is not a natural fatty methyl ester. It is not an ester at all – it is what is known as an amphoteric surfactant.

    Yes, I am a chemist. And, unbelieveably, I work with several Ph.D. chemists who are chemophobes – how they got through graduate school, I just don’t know. They make no distinction between dose and effect, or severity of effect. I have given up trying to reason with them.

    And finally – sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) are the same chemical. ‘Lauryl’ is the more common word used to mean something that contains 12 carbons, which dodecyl means specifically.

    There are two main reasons that SLS is so widely used – it does a good job of cleaning. And it is highly biodegradable – it does not build up over time in rivers and lakes and water treatment plants, but is instead readily broken down by microorganisms.

  84. #84 Daniel
    July 24, 2010

    “Daniel,

    They don’t *have* use SLS. They use it because it’s cheap. There are plenty of great alternatives but please, I’m smarter than to think the alternatives don’t work well. I’ve used quite a few of them.”

    I said they used SLS over other alternatives because it has many benefits, it goes with out saying that cost is in fact a benefit. There are however a number of equally cheap alternative that cause markedly less irritation and are not used in place of SLS because they are less effective (not ineffective). Listen to Big Blue the man clearly knows his shampoo stuff (a lot better then me).

  85. #85 sophia8
    July 25, 2010

    You do realize that lye is sodium hydroxide, a strong base that, if concentrated enough, can easily burn the skin clean off you, don’t you?
    Hell yes! My elderly father-in-law used to swear by it for cleaning blocked drains. I can’t imagine anybody voluntarily washing themselves with it – my FIL certainly couldn’t. But like they say, the dose makes the poison.

  86. #86 Rugosa
    July 25, 2010

    I have very sensitive skin and nose, and have learned over the years to avoid products that make me itchy, sneezy, rashy, or dry. It’s a no-brainer that if you are sensitive to an ingredient, avoid products with that ingredient.

  87. #87 Rugosa
    July 25, 2010

    Pareidolius – try shea butter. I often use it in my own concoctions of cocoa butter, coconut oil, sesame oil, shea butter, etc. The other oils are somewhat greasy, but pure shea melts into the skin beautifully. I bought a big piece of it at a grocery that caters to a large Carribbean population; it’s also used as a cooking fat.

    Caveat, of course, is to try it on a small area of skin first, discontinue use for a while, then try it again to see if you have a reaction.

  88. #88 stripey_cat
    July 25, 2010

    Do we have good evidence that traditional soaps are any safer than SLS? I’m not trolling here: in the (small, anecdotal) sample of people I know with sensitive skin, more have issues with soaps than with detergents. Is this just a random blip?

    Also, living in a very hard water area, I personally find soaps a PITA – are there viable alternatives to SLS for limescale and salt contaminated waters?

  89. #89 paulmurray
    July 25, 2010

    I see the “Wen” haircare system on late-night informercial time occasionally. Mr Dean also gets out the beatstick for soduim lauryl sulftae, but his take is that it strips the oil out of your hair and screws up it’s natural shine – which is believable, at least.

    My impression of hair “conditioner” is that it basically works like gap-filler and temporarily makes the fibers smooth by leaving a layer of goop in them. It that true?

  90. #90 Cath the Canberra Cook
    July 26, 2010

    Ebohlman, I can munch on jalepenos, but habaneros are beyond me! I do buy Lindt Chili chocolate, but that is very mild.

    I’m another long-haired woman, and my approach is to use any old shampoo, the cheap ones are fine as long as I don’t hate the smell. Not too much, and mostly on the scalp. Then a conditioner for detangling.

    I used to be the same with moisturiser – any old thing, plain sorbolene especially. But now I have more money, I’ve branched out into more luxury brands for the sake of the nicer smell and feel. Shea butter is good stuff. That’s mid-range luxury, btw. I’ll go for $30 a jar, not $100. I’m not paying for Clarins and Revlon and all lot that to advertise in the glossy hate yourself ladies mags. The amount of pseudoscience in the cosmetics industry is extraordinary, and mostly goes unnoticed.

  91. #91 maydijo
    July 26, 2010

    Well I give up. I think the safest course of action is to stop using any soap or any shampoo, at all, on any part of my body, and go as nature intended. It’s the only way to avoid the toxins.

    My 4 year old will love this. She complains every time I make her wash her hands after she’s used the toilet. She will love the new no-soap policy at our house.

  92. #92 Chris
    July 26, 2010

    stripey_cat:

    Do we have good evidence that traditional soaps are any safer than SLS?

    Not in this thread. All I see are opinions, preferences and perceptions. No real data. All the ingredients in any suggested alternative can be just as nasty, from lye to vinegar to baking soda (it is always fun to mix those all up!). A quick search for “sodium lauryl sulfate” on PubMed brings up over 36000 hits (and yes, some are for SDS, because it is the same stuff).

    During this whole thing I was thinking back to the PBS series on modern people living the way we lived not that long ago, starting with The 1900 House. There was an incident where the young women could not stand the way their hair felt after using the products of the era and broke the rules and got modern shampoo:

    I thought I’d get away with it, really. But inside me I knew I couldn’t go three months hiding bottles. And I couldn’t live a lie. So I confessed, and became true to 1900 again. I had some fabulous and wonderful recipes for washing hair. I wrote to loads of people asking for help. I used egg and lemon. Borax and camphor. I used loads of things. Spirit soap or soap spirit, I can’t remember which one it’s called. And pure soap, which was awful. And herbal infusion. That’s just rosemary — and it didn’t work.

    More on hygiene products 110 years ago:

    Toothbrushes of the Victorian era featured bristles made of pig and horse hair, and since toothpaste was still too expensive, even for the middle class, most people cleaned their teeth using salt or foul-tasting bicarbonate of soda. Washing one’s hair seemed equally primitive. With the invention of shampoo still 50 years away, people fashioned homemade equivalents made of cow fat and perfume, or eggs and lemons, that left hair feeling anything but soft, silky, and manageable.

    By the way, I have tried regular soap on my hair. It seems to create this phenomena known as a “bad hair day.” Since I have fine thick wavy hair*, I have enough of those with regular shampoo and conditioner. I don’t need to add anymore to the calendar.

    * Knowing how words are misinterpreted here, the definition of “fine” for hair means that it has a smaller than average diameter. “Thick” means that there are lots of hairs per square centimeter (easily accomplished by the fact that the hair has a small diameter). And the hair shafts have an oval shape, which makes them slightly curly.

  93. #93 Kel
    July 26, 2010

    I ain’t listenin to no BALD man ’bout shampoo!

    Sorry if someone already touched on this, I didn’t read every single comment.

  94. #94 gaiainc
    July 26, 2010

    As one of the main freeways in my city just had the eastbound lane closed due to an accident, I would point out to those who say “well these chemicals could have problems, so why use them at all?” that cars are dangerous and hazardous and known to cause death and morbidity, yet we don’t ban them even though we can get around without them. Heck, alcohol causes a significant burden in terms of morbidity and mortality in the world, there is no reason to drink it, and yet it is not banned nor people go without. We don’t need to ingest alcohol to live, we can do without, and yet we don’t. So, when I read people’s reactions above, I shake my head saddened that Mercola and his ilk has addled another’s rationality with fear-mongering.

    I think the real point is that just because it’s a chemical, it doesn’t mean that it’s bad or that there is some horrible unknown side effect just waiting to be exposed or that if something is natural, then it’s OK. Remember, cyanide and arsenic are perfectly natural, but they are chemicals and they can harm you. Heck, water is a chemical; so is oxygen. They can both cause harm. Mercola is trading on fear and ignorance, particularly so he can sell his own product. I find him ridiculous and utterly self-serving.

    As for aluminum, again, it is the most abundant element on earth. We eat, drink, and breath it every single day. To think that the amount we may absorb through the skin is going to make a difference in comparison to how else we get it is to give into the fear and lose rationality. Seriously. It makes no sense.

  95. #95 Big Blue
    July 26, 2010

    @ Chris: Well, yeah. They weren’t permitted to do any research prior to going on the show, as if they had known how to, f’rinstance, wash their hair without shampoo, it would not have been terribly amusing.

    There was a similar show in the US called “Frontier House” where they put three families out in the boonies with varying amounts of supplies and made them be all 1800s-y. They got some training (not much IIRC) from survival & military experts on what to expect, and still mostly failed–like the original Manifest Destiny folks of that era. Don’t think they said much about washing hair, more about chopping wood and cabin fever.

  96. #96 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    July 26, 2010

    @46

    I am no Mercola apologist, but I don’t really see the harm in examining the chemicals put in consumer products used on a daily basis. I would hardly call that “quackery”.

    I agree there’s every reason to examine the chemicals put into consumer products. What’s “quackery” is ignoring or distorting the existing body of knowledge.

    They have zero reason to care if any product they make negatively affects you in the long run. They only care about short term effects that can be easily traced back to their product by a smart lawyer.

    This crosses the line from skepticism to paranoia, at least in my experience. Reputable consumer products companies (and such exist) are in it for the long run. They do extensive testing of their formulations (which is why PETA and others protest them so much). It is entirely in their interests that they NOT use something that someone will discover causes long term harm. The employees of these companies use the products they sell, so have a personal stake in safety as well. I would strongly suggest you buy your consumer products from companies known to perform research and safety studies and a long track record, not from small, fly-by-night operations.

    I am quite sure shampoo undergoes no testing at all.

    I’ve known people who tested shampoo for safety (they’re the ones PETA protest). I suppose some shampoo manufacturers don’t, relying on the studies already done on the component compounds. Indeed, that’s been one of the common themes against testing soaps, detergents, and shampoos by industry critics – the various ingredients have already been studied and are merely being mixed in a slightly different way, so why are you doing safety studies (on animals) yet again?

  97. #97 Calli Arcale
    July 26, 2010

    Chris @ 54:

    Then it turned out the reason my skin was peeling was my jewelry. It was not soap, but the nickel used to harden the gold in my wedding ring. So I cured my dermatitis by removing the ring (still married, just no rings), and the watch (circular rash under the time piece was a bit clue)… but I still like the nice soaps!

    My mom is also sensitive to nickel. She cannot tolerate anything under 18 karat gold. Sterling silver’s fine, of course, and white golds which have been made with platinum rather than nickel. Steel is, of course, out of the question. She prefers Swatch watches because of the plastic casings, though she has to regularly laquer the little battery cover (which is stainless steel). That’s one thing you can try: apply clear nail polish to the portions of the metal which contact your skin. It will need to be reapplied periodically, as it will chip and wear off. Alternately, you can “upgrade” your ring by trading it in for one with a higher gold content. I have a couple of friends with several allergies; they have expensive medical alert bracelets made of 24 karat gold, because they are sensitive to nickel. It’s actually not that uncommon.

    You can test for it by taping a nickel to a person’s elbow (the inside, where the skin is thin) and watching for a reaction. Nickels are actually mostly copper these days, but they are still nickel plated.

    Crhis @ 56:

    Lye on human flesh tends to turn it to something resembling soap (phospholipids and cell membranes, what are lipids?… could they be oil like?)… imagine that on internal organs.

    When I was younger, we had a family tradition: every year, we’d go down to St Olaf College in Northfield and partake of their Christmas supper. It included lutefisk, and we’d all have a little, just to say we did. Lutefisk is a great demonstration of what happens when you get concentrated lye on flesh. It’s often referred to as “fish jello”. Lutefisk isn’t so much a dish as it is a technique for reconstituting dried fish, which is itself a food storage solution — it gets soaked in lye until it is soft, then rinsed thoroughly to remove the lye, and the pH is brought back to something sane. Then, people spoon drawn butter over it and eat it.

    It doesn’t taste bad, actually. This is mostly becuase it has no flavor whatsoever. Also very little texture.

    Pareidolius @ 78:

    Moisturizers? I have dry skin, so I have to use them. I’m a Keihl’s Creme de Corps man. Expensive? Sadly. Effective? Totally. Greasy? Never, and full of chemical-y goodness too! If anyone knows of a truly non-greasy moisturizer (I’ve tried dozens) that’s cheap, let me know.

    I swear by Udder Cream. The ingredients are “allantoin, dimethicone, lanolin oil, and propylene glycol in an emollient base”. The directions are rather hilarious, as they are oriented towards the dairy industry, with a note at the end that you can use it for chapped or chafed skin as well. I started using it upon the recommendation of the store where I buy my wool for knitting — they recommend it (and Bag Balm) for needlecrafters because you need a nongreasy hand lotion for that, so you don’t soil the work as you manhandle it for hours.

    Another hand lotion I use is the antistatic moisturizer in the lab at work. I have no idea what the brand name is or what’s in it or how much it costs or where the heck you buy stuff like that. It’s to improve conductivity with the antistatic wrist straps. It doesn’t seem to be greasy, though.

  98. #98 Cynthia of Syracuse
    July 26, 2010

    Shorter Mercola: Big Cosma/Pharma is TEH EVIL… so give me your money instead.

  99. #99 Chris
    July 26, 2010

    Calli, I have been dealing with the nickel allergy for over ten years. I know how to deal with it, and the nail polish trick wears off.

    Plus, white gold actually has more nickel in it, along with the much more expensive platinum.

    I bought some lanolin cream. Turns out I’m allergic to the stuff (kind of like my sister is allergic to wool). Go figure. I also hate and react to Bag Balm. I stick to Eucerin (though I found it helps to avoid things I am allergic to). I also use Polysporin instead of Neosporin for cuts (and it is annoying how much more I have to spend to get Polysporin, which has fewer ingredients!).

    My point is some of what many perceive as bad reactions to soap/detergent/creams are actually allergic dermatitis.

  100. #100 Scott
    July 26, 2010

    My point is some of what many perceive as bad reactions to soap/detergent/creams are actually allergic dermatitis.

    Is what you meant to say here that reactions to soap/detergent/creams may actually be reactions to something else? Allergic dermatitis certainly falls under the heading of “bad reactions,” so that distinction would not be a meaningful one. It’s still a bad reaction even if the causative agent is misdiagnosed.

  101. #101 Chris
    July 26, 2010

    Exactly, Scott. It could be the lanolin, or an agent that provides odor. Or even the ring a person is wearing.

    But not necessarily the type of detergent.

    Last night I looked at the ingredients on the shampoo bottle (big thing from Costco, whatever is there), and it was ammonium lauryl sulfate. OOOh, scary! not

    This is interesting, I just downloaded this week’s Are We Alone podcast. It is What’s Your Poison:

    “Aspirin and Old Lace?” Okay, it would take a bottle full of pills in a glass of elderberry wine to really harm you, but aspirin can be deadly. So can too much of anything, including water. Dose is key in toxicology, after all, but there are some poisons that can do deadly work in tiny amounts.

  102. #102 Ana Observer
    July 26, 2010

    As a soapmaker, I’m rolling on the floor with this one. Mercola is getting bent out of shape about a coconut-derived detergent? Unless you’re allergic to coconut (which my allergist says is one of the reasons people get rashes from sodium lauryl sulfate) it’s just not a terribly scary thing to liquefy and use in your shampoo.

    Lye is risky if you handle it carelessly or if you have an accident, sure. But if you take responsibility for the fact that you’re using a corrosive substance, you can take due precautions to protect yourself and others, and that’s enough to prevent most potential trouble before it happens. Most soapers I know have had a burn or two, but serious accidents are rare.

    (That said, I feel for the soaper whose 8 year old ate some of the lye. That’s really tragic.)

  103. #103 Calli Arcale
    July 26, 2010

    Plus, white gold actually has more nickel in it, along with the much more expensive platinum.

    What I said was specifically white gold which is made with platinum. There are two kinds of white gold; it is alloyed with either platinum or nickel. The latter is obviously much cheaper (and inferior). I used to have a good white gold ring; it had no nickel in it at all. Sadly, it slipped off my finger one day. :-( Had a lovely synthetic star sapphire set into it, too.

    Your points are well taken that people are probably experiencing some negative affect and just blaming it on the scary-sounding detergent rather than actually investigating and finding out what’s really causing their problems. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the times it isn’t just overuse. (“Lather, rinse, repeat” — except actually the “repeat” step is totally unnecessary unless you’ve just been swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.)

  104. #104 Shereen
    July 27, 2010

    Oh…I remember Hulda Clark’s instructions to avoid anything with propanol (including shampoos) and a few million other things (I always wondered if there were any ‘toxic materials’ used in the inks and pages of her books (well, other than her ideas).

  105. #105 Calli Arcale
    July 27, 2010

    Heh — that’s good, Shereen. ;-) Yeah, Hulda Clark was one of the quacks who protected their ideas by making it virtually impossible to follow their protocol completely. No matter what you did, there would be SOME exposure to explain away why you were still sick despite her treatment. Her obsession with liver flukes was downright bizarre.

  106. #106 Vicki
    July 27, 2010

    Dilute dilute!

    I’m not plugging Dr. Bronner’s here, just noting that some of the anti-chemical claims seem about as sane as the copy on those packages.

    Sure, aluminum can be a problem: I’m one of the people who gets a rash from aluminum-based anti-perspirants. (There aren’t a lot of alternatives out there; I’m buying Tom’s of Maine not because I think they are Virtuous, but because that’s the one unscented deodorant–not anti-perspirant, but still useful–without aluminum that I can easily find at the drugstore.)

    I use baby shampoo because I’m clumsy, and it’s relatively painless if it gets in my eyes. And then I apply a conditioner that I got a free sample of 20 years ago and found I like.

  107. #107 Shereen
    July 27, 2010

    Was she also the one who had some weird box-like device that could cure cancer? Or am I thinking of someone else. There’s so many to choose from.

    I have to ‘fes up and admit I drank the alt kool-aid about 15 years ago. But taking a couple of MPH stats and epidemiology courses and learning how to read research papers pretty much took care of all that.

    Sadly, when I was into that stuff 15 years ago, my family thought I was crazy. Now they ask me about Mercola and don’t seem to like it when I tell him he’s a crackpot. *sigh*

  108. #108 Ab_Normal
    July 27, 2010

    A thread about soap without a single Fight Club reference? What is the world coming to?

    (relurking)

  109. #109 Calli Arcale
    July 27, 2010

    That’s the one, Shereen. The “Zapper”, I think she called it.

    The only thing that kept me immune from quackery is that from an early age, I’ve had a fascination with the weirdness of human experience, and hoaxes in particular. I think this was at least partly provoked by childhood visits to the Bakken Library, which has a collection of early uses of electricity, in particular the bewildering array of electrical quackery that flourished in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Fascinating stuff.

  110. #110 Kel
    July 27, 2010

    re: all the talk about white gold – I can’t wear yellow gold at all unless it’s at least 18k, but my 14k white gold ring is plated with rhodium – not platinum or nickel – and that seems to be the standard at every jewelry store we shopped at. I am so sensitive to nickel that I have to have the rhodium replated every few months before it wears off and the nickel in the yellow gold comes back through or I will have severe dermatitis on my ring finger.

    I’ve never heard of white gold being alloyed with platinum. any sources for this? maybe this would be a less allergenic way for me to get more jewelry.

  111. #111 Chris
    July 27, 2010

    Kel:

    I’ve never heard of white gold being alloyed with platinum. any sources for this? maybe this would be a less allergenic way for me to get more jewelry.

    I surely don’t know. When I found out I asked at some local jewelry stores, and one suggested the platinum white gold. When I went in the next day she sheepishly told me that the owner said they only get the white gold with nickel.

    Actually, I don’t wear much silver colored stuff because of my coloring, and since I cannot really wear gold I usually wear pearls.

    It is just something I have learned to live with (and I found sewing needles not plated with nickels from Japan, so I can do some sewing). One form of perverse entertainment I have is to go into high end stores and ask if they have nickel-free gold. Tiffany’s is one store that does not have nickel-free gold, and it is fun to in and ask in their big downtown store during the busy holiday season.

  112. #112 Calli Arcale
    July 27, 2010

    Beats me where you can get platinum/gold alloys. My dad’s wedding ring was made of it, which is why I initially knew about it, and I found my ring at an antique store. It’s possible it’s not a technique often used anymore. Wikipedia only talks about palladium, nickel, manganese, and copper as part of white gold alloys.

    Random fun thing: my grandmother bought me a pair of earrings in Spain that are actually 24-karat gold. It’s fascinating to see how the *don’t* look the way we expect gold to look. It has nowhere near the shine (since of course pure gold can’t hold a finish — it’s much too soft).

    I never even though about the challenge with sewing needles. Yikes! Congrats on finding a source that doesn’t plate them with nickel! My mom likes to knit; I know she eventually switched to bamboo, which has a bonus in that it’s supposed to be easier on the joints somehow.

  113. #113 MI Dawn
    July 27, 2010

    I’m allergic to nickel too; haven’t been able to wear jewelry for years. I have found titanium earrings on the internet that I can wear for a few hours at least. I tried my MIL’s platinum ring; I could wear it for about 4 hours then started breaking out.

    I find I have more problems in the summer, anyway, maybe because of the heat and sweating. I don’t sew and most of my scissors have plastic handles so I am not having problems with it. But I miss jewelry…

  114. #114 Chris
    July 27, 2010

    MI Dawn, from what I read it is a reaction between your perspiration and the nickel that causes an allergic response.

  115. #115 G
    July 27, 2010

    I’ve read this thread with amusement regarding the whole “it’s risky so why do they use it there must be something better” argument. See, I know that a lot of people swear by Dr. Bronner’s as totally safe in all ways and just a paragon of soaps. The one time I tried it (a friend was sure it could remove the horrid stench of a burst equine abscess from my hair) I had a rather unpleasant skin reaction. I’m never touching that stuff again; it was awful.

    For me. A lot of people love it, apparently.

    People can be allergic to *anything*. There’s no way to remove all the stuff that might cause allergies. If something is harmless, there’s no reason for a company to *avoid* using it. Or for anyone to avoid it, unless you–YOU–particularly are sensitive to it. In which case, *you* should buy something else. Don’t demonize the company who uses the thing that you–YOU–are sensitive to.

    And if you’re not even sensitive to it, then what’s the problem?

    Orvus is just SLS? Huh. That sounds like a much cheaper way of keeping my long-enough-to-sit-on hair clean ;) Cool; what an educational thread. (I must be different from a lot of the posters above; the entire length of my hair does get oily/greasy if I don’t wash it all every few days.)

  116. #116 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    July 28, 2010

    @23: FWIW, SDS is not a petrochemical either.

  117. #117 PJ
    August 2, 2010

    Ok so not sure ya’ll are getting what I’m saying. I see there’s some disagreement here. It looks like most of us believe that vaccines are worth the risk but perhaps not everyone feels the same way about some shampoo or deodorant.

    I’m not talking about getting a red scalp or itchy skin from using some SLS in my shampoo or face scrub. I’m talking about this front page CNN article kind of stuff (No not Mercola’s site but a reputable site with studies by doctors that talk about infertility when using these things.

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/05/31/chemical.dangers/index.html?iref=obnetwork

    Sorry I’ll stick to my five dollar Burt’s Bees which I get at CVS (not crazy about Dr. Bronner’s but some love it) Hell, Burt’s bees is owned by CLOROX.. BUT it explains it doesn’t have the ingredients that this CNN article talks about the real studies done by real doctors that talk about real hazards like real infertility. I’m not even going to think about that so I’ll stick with using a product that smells and works just as well as the old Pantene I used to use but it doesn’t include these ingredients doctors tell me could screw me up and heck, it’s not even tested on animals (Procter and Gamble who owns Pantene does still test on animals)

    So it’s a win/win for me.

    Go ahead and use the old products. I used to do so and be all stubborn and say who needs that natural crap? But now I say who needs those “toxic” chemicals that CNN reports (their words not mine)

    And I feel a heck of a lot better.

    PJ

  118. #118 Clam
    November 30, 2010

    Oh, dear, PJ, The CNN article mentions “chemicals” and the stream above is about “chemicals”, so they’re the same ones?
    I’m glad you feel better, but better than what?
    With regard to the testing of products, my late father-in-law was, at various times, Chief Cosmetic Chemist in the U.K. to Max Factor, Revlon, Miners Makeup, Crystal Products, etc., and founded the Chair in Cosmetic Chemistry at London University.
    He tested all his products firstly upon himself, then upon his daughter (my wife), and then upon volunteers from the production line. Only when he was completely satisfied that a product was allergy free would he market it. Whether standards are so high today, I don’t know, but I see no reason for a major company to court litigation by marketing anything that is the least dodgy. Only small, fly-by-night operators, such as Joe, can dare to do this as they can always disappear and resurface under another name and another diploma-mill doctorate.

  119. #119 lexovanklien
    March 7, 2011

    I have a relative who lives her life based on the reccommendations of Mercola, she even goes so far as to post articles on her Facebook page. The other day she posted an article about the evils of Fluoride. It noted how she hadn’t drank fluoridated water in years, and uses toothpaste that doesn’t contain fluoride. It should be noted that this relative is not only missing several teeth, the teeth she has left are brown and decaying, she is 31. I’ve tried pointing out the errors in many on Mercola claims she makes, to no avail. The rotting teeth in the mirror couldn’t convince her, and neither can I.

  120. #120 Shannon
    April 21, 2011

    This Mercola guy is just capitalizing on the trendy anti-SLS fad. I’ve subscribed to the fad, not due to any alleged toxicity but because hair care advisers say it’s harsh on curly hair. I’m trying it; jury’s still out.

    I nearly laughed my rear end off when years ago, I read a Consumer Reports article detailing their study of shampoos used on hanks of fake and real hair, and determined, based on some laughable standards of measurement, that basic hand soap (e.g. Ivory) is no harder on hair and just as effective at cleaning as the most expensive shampoos. I can’t believe they let that report out the door. I’ve had to wash my hair with hand soap; the results literally aren’t pretty.

    If you go to ScienceDaily and search on any given topic, you can find articles reporting conflicting results on nearly everything. Point is that we need to be critical even of apparently sound research.

    @Clam, I’m not sure what to make of your father-in-law’s methods, except to be kind of appalled. I question the ethics of testing on one’s family members. While it may seem quaintly sacrificial, ethical, and generous to test on oneself first and family members second, this hardly amounts to rigorous double-blind testing, and a handful of volunteers is not statistically significant nor representative of a wide population.

  121. #121 Mimi Kronby
    March 7, 2012

    Has Mercola actually obtained an MD?

    What school and when?

  122. #122 Chris
    March 7, 2012

    Mercola is a DO, Doctor of Osteopathy from the Chicago School of Osteopathic Medicine. Yes, the Wikipedia is very handy.

  123. #123 Chris
    March 7, 2012

    Ms. Kronby, have you checked Wikipedia? It might be more useful than posting on an old blog article.