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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 (81)

If you look at one of the similar flavors/fragrances from that same brand, it says "Cocomide Propyl Betaine" instead of "Olive Oil (and) Coconut Oil (and) Potassium Lactate", but everything else is just about the same. Does that make more sense as to why it was lathering? Is there any way possible that those mean the same thing, but they just tried to make it sound nicer? As far as I know, Cocamidopropyl Betaine isn't really that great, right?

Wed, February 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJessica


Sat, August 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMayday

@Mayday -- We (Bubble & Bee) actually don't have a shampoo marketed as a thickening shampoo, and our shampoos don't contain SLS. I think you might be thinking of Bumble & bumble. which does contain sodium laureth sulfate (in addition to a bunch of other stuff.)


Mon, August 7, 2017 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Stephanie, I don't want to get caught up in all the gimmicks of expensive haircare products ~ but I'm willing to pay for a good product that will help my hair. The labels are SOO confusing to me. People have recommended Monat but I don't want an expensive fad. I've used OTC and am fine with that also Aveda. I'm in my 40s my hair is thinning (stress and age lol) grey and fine curly hair. My hair just doesn't grow HELP please

Thu, January 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSherry

CASTILE SOAP FOR SHAMPOO AND BODY SOAP. LOOK IT UP. The most natural product with organic ingredients I've found is Dr Woods Unscented Hypoallergenic Baby Mild Castile Soap. I use this as shampoo and let me tell you, I have beautiful curls but my hair is very dry and this leaves my hair looking beautiful. I''ve also used this as a body and feminine soap since it has no harmful ingredients. I hear you can also use this as your dish soap and around the house for cleaning.

Sat, June 2, 2018 | Registered CommenterDayse M

Hi, so what is the consensus on Monat hair products? Thanks for any responses, testimonials etc.

Mon, September 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMeghan

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