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Friday
Jan182013

An "Organic" Shampoo Exposed

Organic fakers can be very tricky and hard to spot. There's a certain brand of shampoo out there (which shall remain nameless) about which we have received a lot of questions over the last two years. Me and my team are on the case; wait to you see what we found out!  

At first glance, their ingredients look fine. 

Ingredients: Purified Water, Olive Oil (and) Coconut Oil (and) Potassium Lactate, Vegetable Glycerin, Peppermint Oil*, Fennel Extract*, Hops Extract, Balm Mint Extract, Olive Leaf Extract*, Ginger Extract*, Mistletoe Extract*, Allantonin (Comfrey Root), Citric Acid, Niacin (Vitamin B3), Lemon Grass Oil*, Burdock Root Extract*, Sage Extract*, Rosemary Extract*, Grape Seed Extract*. *Certified Organic Herb

Just some oils, water, and a bunch of extracts.  But, looking more closely at this ingredients list, one problem stood out at me. How does this product lather?  It's seemingly just a blend of herbal extracts (none of which are known to have saponins or any natural lathering agents), water, and oil. It should look and act like salad dressing! 

The shampoo is a thick gel-like consistency with a slight pearlescence.So, I decided, it was time to investigate.  I ordered some of their shampoo.  The consistency was that of a typical shampoo, a thick gel-like consistency with an interesting pearlescence.  It lathered moderately (not as much as a conventional one would) and rinsed well.  But, the ingredients were still baffling.  What was the active cleansing agent?

I thought initially that perhaps the coconut and olive oil were saponified oils (soap).  If they were, the pH of the shampoo would be alkaline, so I tested it: slightly acidic.  If you try to make a soap acidic, it turns in to a goopy, mushy mess.  A soap has to be alkaline in order to act like soap.  So, that ruled out it being a soap.

Potassium lactate is a salt that is sold in a water-based solution. It has no lathering or cleansing properties.The company claims that the potassium lactate works together with the oils to create lather.  So, I got my hands on a bottle of potassium lactate so I could do some experimenting. But first, I needed to figure out how much to add.  I sent a bottle of the shampoo to my friend who works as an environmental chemist.  He was also baffled by the ingredients list and how they didn't match up with the physical properties of the shampoo.  He suggested doing what they call a full metals test.  This would test all of the levels of metals (potassium is considered a metal.)

What came back from the lab surprised us both.  Only 34 parts per million of potassium.  That's .0034% potassium.  To give you perspective, for a 16 oz bottle of shampoo, that would be .016 ml.  Practically 1/5th of a drop! First of all, potassium lactate isn't a lathering agent. Second, there's no way that something in such a miniscule concentration would cause a product to lather up.

But wait.  There's more.  

The test also found 9180 ppm of sodium, and 4170 ppm of sulfur. In practical terms the formula is 1% sodium and .5% sulfur.  Where is this coming from?!  None of the other ingredients would provide sodium or sulphur. (E-mail me if you're interested in my detailed analysis, I have an ingredient-by-ingredient breakdown that is too long to publish here.) Well, without an answer to the sodium and sulphur mystery, let's move on to another issue.  

One thing that our test told us was that the formula was 60% water.  Let's assume that everything is correctly labeled from the most abundant ingredient to the least.  Peppermint essential oil, like I mentioned, would be used at around 1%.  That means that all of those extracts listed after the mint only make up a very small amount of the formula, at less tan 1% each. Let's say that peppermint eo is 1% and the rest of the extracts and additives after it comprise a total of 5% of the formulation.  

We know that the potassium lactate is .0034% of the formula...1/5th of a drop.  That leaves the remaining 33.99% of the formula to the olive and coconut oils and vegetable glycerin.  

I took all of the ingredients listed on the label and blended them together; this is what they really look like. Note the separated water and oil. It is a runny liquid consistency and has no lathering properties. Also note the difference in color. Vegetable glycerin is a water-loving, water-soluble ingredient.  So, the glycerin would dissolve in the water. However, water and glycerin do not mix with oil. Without some kind of emulsifier, these ingredients, no matter how much you mixed them, would separate in minutes.  None of the extracts or ingredients listed on the bottle act as an emulsifier. I have had a bottle of this shampoo for two years now and there is absolutely no separation; it's completely stable.  

I found a listing of their shampoo from a few years ago before a labeling redesign.  The formula was exactly the same except for one thing: it listed cocamidopropyl betaine after the water. So, according to their label, they took out the one agent that lathered and emulsified, and instead added "coconut oil and olive oil and potassium lactate."  It just doesn't add up.  Coconut oil, olive oil, and potassium lactate just can't do the job of a detergent.

There is one thing, though, that would explain all of these mysteries: sodium lauryl sulfate.  Or another surfactant. The presence of SLS would explain the presence of the sodium and the sulfate we found in our testing.  Sodium lauryl sulfate would lather.  It would be able to combine the water, glycerin, and oil. Perhaps it's not sodium lauryl sulfate that they're using, but sodium coco sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, or one of those related surfactants. Maybe they're still using cocamidopropyl betaine, and the sodium and sulphur we found were just contaminants. The metals test showed only 1% sodium, and using 1% sodium lauryl sulfate wouldn't be enough to make everything lather, so perhaps it's a combination of sodium lauryl sulfate and another surfactant. We don't know for sure. But the bottom line is this: there is no way that the ingredients on the label of this shampoo are an accurate and full disclosure.

Reader Comments (78)

I googled the ingredients listed by Col (thank you). So, the company that profits from the sales of this shampoo is XX? Seriously? X?
[Comment edited so as not to disclose the company name.]

Fri, January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKrisInAustinTX

@Thiele--Send us an e-mail at info@bubbleandbee.com. We have a new option that works in hard water!

Fri, January 18, 2013 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Can't they be reported on for being fraudulent?

Fri, January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCJ

@Amy--Unfortunately Wen is a chemical cocktail!

Wen Cleansing Conditioner Ingredients:

Water (Aqua), Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Prunus Serotina (Wild Cherry) Bark Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Hydrolyzed Wheat, Protein, Panthenol, Butylene Glycol, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Polysorbate 60, PEG-60 Almond Glycerides, Amodimethicone, Citric Acid, Menthol, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Fragrance (Parfum, Limonene).

With FRAGRANCE that can contain anything on a list of over 2000 chemicals, including endocrine-disrupting phthalates.

PEG-60 and Polysorbate 60 are both ethoxylated chemicals at risk to be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane.

Methylchloroisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone , a known neurotoxin http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/todays-chemical/2010/1/23/methylisothiazolinone.html

And loads of quaternary ammonium compounds: http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/most-controversial/2011/8/31/quaternary-ammonium-compounds.html

Fri, January 18, 2013 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

I alternate between this brand and another, so very disappointing to learn of this. I just noticed a few people have linked to your post on their facebook page...wondering how they will explain this...

Fri, January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCaitie

Hi Stephanie! While I would love to use your shampoos, I cannot do the apple vinegar rinse. I have been using a shampoo with the following ingredients that include oil and glycerin
- Sapindus Mukorossi Aqueous Extract
- Aloe barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Gel
- Vegetable Glycerin
- Lauryl Glucoside
- Saponified Olea europaea Oil (Olive Oil Soap)
- Japanese Green Tea
- Olea europaea (Olive) Leaf Extract
- Panax Ginseng Extract
- Nasturtium officinale (Water Cress) Extract
- Hibiscus Leaf Extract
- Simmondsia chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil
- Hamamelis virginiana (Witch Hazel) Extract
- Olea europaea (Olive) Oil
- dl-Panthenol (Provitamin B5)
- Cymbopogon flexuosus (Lemongrass) Essential Oil

is a similar issue present with this shampoo as well? Thank you!!!!

Fri, January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTT

The Lauryl Glucoside is what's going to lather and emulsify the water and oils. So, it looks like an honest label. I would question, though, how it's preserved.

We do have other options other than vinegar--send me and e-mail at info [at] bubbleandbee.com and I'll give you more details!

Fri, January 18, 2013 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

I look forward to your articles and posts. Have you ever reviewed natural hair dyes? I've been trying for years to find something natural (or at least not completely full of chemicals) to cover grey.

Fri, January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAVL

Thanks, AVL. I do actually have a suggestion for hair color. (Other than henna, of course.) It's this: http://www.palettebynature.com/

Fri, January 18, 2013 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

For those asking for different shampoo options, try the shampoos from Real Purity. Don't know if they'll meet your ingredient standards, but take a look and see. Real Purity has their own site where you can read the ingredients of their various products. I personally like them and rotate between the 3 shampoos. I also don't use them full strength. I squirt a little shampoo in an empty shampoo bottle, fill it with about an inch and a half of water, give it a quick shake and then squirt it throughout my scalp. Saves shampoo and doesn't over-cleanse the hair by stripping all of the oils.

Fri, January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterElle

Thank you for all your hard work to help us be better informed consumers. I have to say that my loyalty to your Bubble and Bee products grows as I read each post on Chemical of the Day. I get so frustrated when I shop at the local health stores because I find the products that one should feel safe with, but, then there's one of those chemicals you brought to life for me. Why would I run all over to find products without the bad ingredients when they are right here. Some people forget their time is worth money. I say Stop running people...you found it ..right here! Slowly my family and I are switching over to your products as we use up what's in the house. Some of those products I've just thrown away but some are "ok" products just not as superior as what I am finding yours to be!

Sat, January 19, 2013 | Registered CommenterTherese

This is just infuriating. I have extreme hard water and gave B&B the old college try and conversed with Stephanie and tried all the suggestions she gave and I still could not use it at my house. Worked amazing on vacation in another area of the country though! So I researched and researched and came upon this "excellent" shampoo. I knew it wasn't true organic, that was just part of the brand name. But I really did not expect they were flat out lying. I did suspect something wasn't kosher as my scalp has been telling me otherwise, but I believed them anyway. I had just emailed them again *last week* to confirm no chems. "Nope!" So who are we to believe? Anyone have a truly organic chem-free option? I used Terressentials and that also did not work for me. I spent 8 months trying all no-poo options and my hard water hindered all of it. Thank for you for keeping us informed, I'm grateful for the info but also almost wish I didn't know it because now I'm back to square one.

Sat, January 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

I bought a tube of cream from a Australian company that claims their products are safe, free of harmful chemicals, etc (even safe to eat!) The cream is to soothe irritated skin and I bought if specially for my son who is experiencing a bad case of eczema. One of the ingredients listed is Polysorbate-60. I was suspicious but then I was desperate to find a steroid alternative so I let my son use until I was free to google. I almost fainted! It is an ingredient that may cause skin irritation.

Sat, January 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline

For those who don't like the ACV rinse, due to the smell, I have found that coconut vinegar is a very nice option. It is slightly more expensive, so I save it for special days, but definitely worth trying. I use it after Bubble & Bee's Peppermint & Tea Tree shampoo and I love it. To help save money, I will wash with the shampoo only once or twice a week...the other days I just do a water rinse, ocassionally adding a couple of drops of tea tree oil. The results have been amazing. Thank you, Stephanie!

Sat, January 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

I've been using this shampoo recently and am wondering if these ingredients hold up under scrutiny (thanks!):

Organic Euterpe oleracea (Acai) Berry, Organic Rubus fruticosus (Blackberry), Organic Rosa canina (Rosehips), Organic Punica granatum (Pomegranate), Organic Fair Trade CertifiedTM Rooibos, Organic Aloe Barbadensis Vera Leaf Juice, Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate (from Coconut), 100% Naturally-derived Betaine (from Sugar Beets), Vegetable Glycerin, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate (from Coconut + Amino Acids), Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate (from Coconut + Amino Acids), Cocoglucosides Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride (Sugar Conditioner), Sodium Levulinate (from Corn), Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride (Guar gum conditioner), Potassium Sorbate (food grade preservative), Organic Argania Spinosa (Argan) Oil, Organic Fair- Trade CertifiedTM Olea Europea (Olive) Oil, D-Alpha Tocopherol Acetate (vitamin E), Hippophae rhamnoides (sea buckthorn) seed oil, Organic Curcubita pepo (Pumpkin) seed oil, Ubiquinone (CoQ10), Argania spinosa (Argan) Stem Cells, glycerophosphoinositol lysine (from sunflower), Almond Extract, Cinnamomum aromaticum (Cassia Bark) Oil

Sat, January 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKate

The B&B Hard water shampoo can be found under the . on the shopping menu. It works just like the regular shampoo - no need to add baking soda or anything - and you use the acidic rinse after rinsing out the shampoo. So far it's worked for me with my hard water predicament, so if you have hard water order a bottle and give it a try! Also, I like the smell of it, but it does fade away so if you don't like it there's no need to worry.

Thanks for doing stuff like this for us, Stephanie! I am so glad I use your products.

Sat, January 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

I would be fascinated to see what the ACTUAL ingredients turned out to be. I'm wondering if this is same shampoo I've been using; since I've had suspicions that the lather was too good to be true.

Can I get a list of the ingredients you found? Is there anyway I can get the name of the company, to see if it's the same product I've been using?

Thanks for letting me know.

Sat, January 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBill Gluth

Ive been alternating between these for more than 6 meses to clean my hair and they work wonders for me: BB soap bars and Dr Bronners liquid Castille Soap. I especially like Castile soap, my hair gets a shine I've never had before with any other shampoo I've tried!

Sun, January 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGustavo

Thanks, Stephanie! In trying to avoid the potential for challenges with hard water, I use Terressentials Pure Earth Hair Wash and absolutely love it. Couldn't imagine using anything else.

Mon, January 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCD

Bill Gluth, if you do a google search of the ingredients Stephanie listed in the original post, you can tell exactly which product she tested. Comes up as the first listing.

Mon, January 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJess

I used to use this brand of shampoo. I don't use it any longer. I actually called the manufacturer to get more information about the ingredients and she said that they outsource the production of their shampoo to a formulator. When I started asking specifics about the potassium lactate, all I got were vague answers. For a while I was getting into lotion and soap making, and so I understand the chemistry of emulsification and saponification. The woman's answers didn't sit right with me and I felt the company was not one I could trust. Now I have my own hair care routine that I developed through trial and error. Below is a description of what I do:

Shampoo: 1 cup of RO (reverse osmosis) water, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp of Dr. Bonner's peppermint soap
ACV Rinse: 2-3 tablespoons of Bragg's ACV and 1 1/2 cups of RO water
Final Rinse 1-2 cups of RO water.

Soak hair with shower water and sprinkle shampoo mixture all over head. Massage into scalp and work into a lather from root to tips of hair. Ring out excess water and soap. Rinse with ACV dilution. Do a final rinse with RO water and do a quick rinse with shower water. For some reason if I rinse too long with shower water after all three steps then I get a small amount of residue, but if I just leave my hair alone after the RO rinse it comes out soft, shiny and smooth.

On a side note: I have an RO filter installed in my kitchen sink and so it doesn't cost me much to make this shampoo. For those who don't have this luxury then this may not be a practical solution for you. The reason I use RO water is because there is something in the tap water that comes from that shower which reacts with the Dr. Bonner's to create a horrible residue in my hair. We have a filtering shower head that removes chlorine and flouride. I am not sure what it is about the tap water that causes the issues with buildup, but I do know that it boils down to chemistry. I have very straight fine hair and have found this to be the best natural method that doesn't leave a build up.

Tue, January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterShannon

Thanks for the tip, Shannon. The reason that you get residue with the tap water is due to "hardness" aka calcium deposits. There's a chemical reaction between the soap and the calcium deposits that forms a new compound we know as soap scum. We also offer a soap-based shampoo and suggest a vinegar rinse afterwards--it works great! I'll have to pass along the RO filter tip to our customers as well!

Tue, January 22, 2013 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Hi Stephanie,
Thanks so much for keeping us out of the dark as much as possible, and for your fabulous products! I tried your hard water shampoo and so far haven't had success, maybe I should use the RO water filter option suggested above.
For now, I am using a natural shampoo that I really like, although I would rather use something that has far less ingredients, even natural ones, like yours.
The ingredients are:
Purified Water, Decyl Polyglucose, Lauryl Polyglucose, Cocos Nucifera (Coco de Cream)**, Chondrus Crispus (Seaweed) Extract**, Tussilago Farfara (Coltsfoot) Infusion**, Stellaria Media (Chickweed) Infusion**, Urtica Dioica (Nettles) Infusion**, Equisetum Arvense (Horsetail) Infusion**, Ulmus Fulva (Slippery Elm) Infusion**, Althaea Officinalas (Marshmallow Root) Infusion**, Symphytum Officinale (Comfrey Root) Infusion**, Calendula Officinalis (Pot Marigold) Infusion**, Chamomilla Recutita (Chamomile Flowers) Infusion**, Avena Sativa (Oatstraw) Infusion**, Hippophae Rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn) CO2**, Citrus Paradisi (Grapefruit) Extract
*Organic **Certified Organic ***Wildcrafted ****Biodynamic/Demeter Certified

I understand that the two sorts of polyglucose are the ones that make the shampoo lather mildly. The makers of the shampoo say that theirs are non-toxic, plant-derived versions.
Thanks and take care!!

Thu, January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

Thanks, Monica!

The only issue that I would see with this shampoo would be the Grapefruit Extract. I'm assuming this is Grapefruit Seed Extract, the synthetic preservative that you can read about here: http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/most-controversial/2010/1/27/the-truth-about-grapefruit-seed-extract.html Not only is it a hidden synthetic, but not a very reliable preservative. :-/

Thu, January 24, 2013 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Now I don't feel so bad for grabbing the kids Suave shampoo since I ran out of the shampoo you are talking about and needed something fast....sigh...My problem is what to use for my kids, 5 and 8. I won't be able to get them to rinse with vinegar. We have hard water too.

Thu, January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBecca

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