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Posted on Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 2 p.m.

Make your own shampoo and avoid environmentally-unfriendly chemical additives

By Emily Weingarten


Emily Weingarten | Contributor

I've wanted to make my own shampoo for a long time. After learning bits and pieces about the potential dangers of some chemicals commonly found in shampoos and soaps and considering the fact that other shampoo ingredients are derived from or tested on animals, I decided to experiment this week with some homemade beauty products.

If you're not interested in reading further about the process of making your own hair care products, but still want to know a bit about chemicals to watch out for, I’ll provide a bit of information first. Two common and potentially harmful chemicals I’ve read about are lauryl sulfates (particularly sodium lauryl sulfate) and parabens. Lauryl sulfates dissolve grease from your hair but are also used to degrease car engines. Lauryl sulfates are also responsible for making our shampoos sudsy. Parabens are chemical preservatives identified as methyl, propyl, butyl, or ethyl that can disruptively alter estrogenic hormones, interfering with the body's endocrine system.

Although the amount of lauryl sulfates and parabens we actually absorb from daily shampooing is arguable, it’s important to note a few things:

  • Both lauryl sulfates and parabens are absorbed through intact skin and have caused severe irritation — and damage — to the skin and eyes in higher concentrations.

  • Higher concentrations of lauryl sulfates and parabens alter the body’s estrogen hormones, which can stimulate breast and ovarian cancers in females and decrease male fertility rates.

  • The lauryl sulfates and parabens we wash down the drain in the shower are later absorbed by the fish we eat and the water we drink, raising an important environmental concern.

Lauryl sulfates and parabens are inexpensive, which is why cosmetic companies use not only in shampoo but conditioners, lotions, toothpastes and a variety of other cosmetics instead of natural, more expensive cleansers and preservatives. Natural products such as castile soap, baking soda, essential oils and vinegars, however, can cleanse just as well, last up to several months and do not carry potential health risks.

Besides potentially harmful chemicals, many cosmetics — or specific ingredients in shampoos — are tested on animals and/or contain animal byproducts. Although animal fats can make our hair smooth and shiny, slaughterhouses often sell their unusable animal products to cosmetic companies for use in our soaps. Glycerin is one common animal ingredient (although there is vegetable glycerin), but there are many others. The best way to be sure that your product is animal-free is to call the manufacturer if your product is not labeled accordingly.

If you’re not up for making your own shampoo, which can take a bit of work and often doesn’t result in the color and consistency we’re used to, there are many companies that make products without lauryl sulfates, parabens or animal products. Some brands include Burt's Bees, Kiss My Face, Jason, Nature’s Gate and Avalon Organics, although there are many others. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods also make body products without lauryl sulfates, parabens or animal products.

This week, I tried two types of shampoo recipes and one conditioner.

Rosemary Chamomile Shampoo
Adapted from
1 4-ounce bar Castile soap (I like Kirk’s)
4 cups water
¼ cup strong chamomile tea
10 drops rosemary oil

Using a cheese grater, finely grate the soap. Place in a large saucepan with the water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium and stir until soap dissolves completely. Add tea and rosemary oil and pour into a glass or heat-resistant plastic jar. Soap will be paste-like at room temperature. If it’s too thick for your taste, reheat, adding more water.

How it really worked: I liked this shampoo recipe because it degreases my hair, suds nicely, and the rosemary and chamomile combination balances soothing and refreshing. It leaves my hair with a slight residue, but the conditioner recipe cleans that out beautifully.

Olive Oil and Baking Soda Shampoo
Adapted from The Daily Green
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoons baking soda
2 tablespoons water

Knead the olive oil into your scalp. Wait 30 minutes. Mix baking soda and water together in a cup to make a paste. Knead mixture through scalp and hair in the shower and rinse.

How it really worked: My hair is not naturally oily, but kneading olive oil through my scalp left my hair way too greasy and heavy feeling.

Cider Vinegar Conditioner
Adapted from
1 part cider vinegar (I like Whole Foods brand)
3 parts water
rosemary oil

Mix ingredients together in a bottle. Pour over hair in the shower and rinse well.

How it really worked: This conditioner works fantastically well for removing residue and leaving my hair shiny. It also enhances my natural curls. Definitely a keeper!

If you’ve made your own shampoo and conditioner before or have more information about natural hair care products, I’d love to hear from you! I’m by no means and expert on the subject, but hope to try — and post — more shampoo and conditioner recipes in the next few weeks. Happy shampooing!

Emily Weingarten is a contributor to's Food and Drink section. You can follow Emily's blog at and contact Emily at