When the greener product just doesn’t work

My two year quest for an effective, all-natural shampoo is over. It ended last week when I noticed that my newest bottle of all-natural shampoo (this time from Etsy…probably should have known better) seemed to be causing my hair to fall out. My panicked reaction:  I went to the store and bought a $3 bottle of Citre Shine. Sodium lauryl sulfate? Check. Artificial fragrance? Check. Sigh.

Kevin raised his eyebrows when I brought home a bottle of something that didn’t have a speck of green on the label. I felt slightly uneasy about all the chemicals I was choosing to reintroduce to my life. (It ranks a 6 on the Cosmetics Database.) In the end, I decided I was more fed up with natural shampoos than I was paranoid about a small amount of synthetic chemicals.

No joke —  my hair feels softer, cleaner, and shinier than it has in years. It stopped coming out five strands at a time. That made me wonder: is it reasonable to expect people to pay up to 20 times as much for an all natural product that works half as well just because it’s greener?

Probably not. For the most part, I’ve had pretty good luck with natural products. I love my Seventh Generation dish soap and laundry detergent. Sure, Palmolive has better lather and Tide might be able to get things whiter, but the green versions work fine for everything but shampoo. I tried everything from the light green drugstore versions to the expensive stuff that had to be ordered online. The expensive stuff worked…okay. The bad ones were fairly awful, and most of them still had synthetic chemicals.

I understand that the planet is more important than my hair, which is an evolutionary leftover with minimal actual function. But do I really have to sacrifice every personal vanity to be green[er]? Can’t I keep one? How selfish is it to want hair that isn’t sticky, heavy, tangled, or falling out?

All of which is to say that I can kind of understand it when someone who wants to be more environmentally conscious tells me that she’s tried a green alternative and it doesn’t work as well as her beloved Brand X that she’s been using for the past y years. Sometimes it takes a lot more persistence to find a viable green option. Sometimes the green version really doesn’t deliver, even though it costs more. Sometimes it’s hard to make myself buy the green version, even knowing all of the environmental reasons that I should.

And every once in a while, I give up. It’s not ideal, but the world will not end because I switched back to regular shampoo. Two steps forward, one step back. No one said it was going to be easy.

What are some of the green setbacks you’ve encountered? And what on earth should I do with the rest of my hair-removing, all-natural shampoo? 


30 responses to this post.

  1. I had chronic dandruff for decades and tried everything. Finally found that by rotating each month among dandruff shampoos that contain three different active ingredients, I no longer have dandruff. I suppose learning to embrace a snowfall of flakes on my shoulders would enable me to use green shampoos, but that’s not going to happen.

    I have transferred shampoo and body washes that I didn’t like to a pump dispenser for use in the kitchen for washing hands. 🙂


    • Hi Donn,
      I’m pretty sure I also wouldn’t choose green shampoos over perennially snowy shoulders! Everyone’s version of green looks different. Mine happens to still involve the occasional incandescent light bulb and conventional shampoo…


  2. Posted by Amy on 06/20/2011 at 15:25

    Strangely enough, I have the opposite reaction to green shampoos. My hair loves them! I have very dry, wavy hair though and the chemicals (especially sulfates) just amplify the problem and make it fall out. It just goes to show you how different people react, doesn’t it? I think I just react oddly to chemicals in general though, I’ve noticed that natural products don’t irritate my skin as much either.

    I sometimes use a hair gel to help my curls stay less frizzy. I don’t think the one I use is very green, but it works wonders.


    • Hi Amy!
      That’s great that green shampoos work for you. I have very straight, rather oily hair. I guess it likes being stripped by SLS. I know other people have had issues with the green laundry detergent I use, so there’s definitely variation in what works for whom.


  3. Well…. I’m just about to celebrate my 3 year “no poo” anniversary. (“No Poo” meaning no shampoo – not an extreme case of constipation!) I confess that I didn’t do it for environmental reasons – shampoo was giving me terrible eczema and hives – so I suppose I had a bit more motivation than your average bear. And it did take a good deal of both patience and experimentation to make it work, but the rewards have been SOOOOOO worth it. My hair has never looked better. No more frizz, no more ends that look like straw, no more heavy weighted down hair. Seriously, it’s shiny and manageable, and it has more bounce than ever… the ends actually curl nicely. And the very best part is NO more skin problems!

    My system:

    Step 1: Wash with a weak baking soda solution (2 tablespoons in a 500 ml bottle – use about a quarter cup).
    Step 2: Rinse with a citric acid or ascorbic acid solution (same mixture as above – 2 tablespoons per 500 ml bottle – but I use about half a cup per rinse)
    Step 3: Condition with a few drops of jojoba oil. Rub it into the ends, let it sit at least 5 minutes, then rinse with hot water.

    The other secret is that you can’t use any products that have silicone in it because the natural stuff won’t wash it out. This means any ingredient ending in “cone”, “xane” or “zane”. I learned that one the hard way! Once I washed out all of the leave-in conditioner with a clarifying shampoo and stopped using the stuff I was home free.

    Totally cheap, totally natural and totally fabulous! I was actually having problems with thinning hair before, but it’s now thicker than ever and I couldn’t be happier. I will NEVER use shampoo again!


    • Hi Eco Cat Lady,
      I gave the baking soda and vinegar thing a go for several weeks a while ago, and maybe because I wasn’t measuring things out very precisely or because of the silicon already in my hair, it didn’t work for very long. The first couple days were fine, and then things got stickier, oilier, and generally worse from there. 😦 I’ve heard that there’s a turning point after which things get better, but I’d feel awkward showing up to work with really gross hair while waiting for it to improve. So maybe if I can manage to work from home again in the future, I’ll give it another go.


  4. Really sorry to hear this. If you don’t mind forking out have to tried John Masters? I find his products wonderful and I’ve recently been sent a bottle of BiOrganics conditioner which is the best conditioner I’ve ever used; it’s pretty cheap for a ‘green’ product too.

    You’ll find that shampoo suits someone else, so offer it on Freecycle…

    My disasters were bread. I just couldn’t bake bread; but this year I succeeded and I’m really proud of myself. I just got arsey with myself and determined and changed my mindset then found a recipe at last which worked. So don’t give up on your shampoo hunt. Use up the bottle of stuff you have bought which makes your hair feel fab and then try another product perhaps..

    Oh, my other green setback? I’ve never, EVER giving up my car (and I have a 4×4 so there)


    • Hello, Mrs. Green!
      I just looked up prices for John Masters Organics…yep, a bit on the steep side. I’ll keep it in mind the next time I’m interested in splurging. Since my current natural shampoo seems to remove hair, I’m tempted to use it on my legs…It’s probably just a matter of time until I try another natural shampoo.

      This year has also been the year I got over my fear of making bread. It wasn’t that I’d failed before; I just assumed it was difficult and that I was likely to fail. I have to admit that I occasionally still buy supermarket bread for daintier sandwiches, but for the most part I make my own now.


  5. Re shampoo: I like John Masters organics – seems to be the best of all green shampoo I’ve tried so far.
    Sometimes I also do this for my flyaway, straight & very fine hair:
    1 – Rub jojoba oil, coconut oil or other oil of choice into the hair, making sure to massage scalp well
    2 – Wrap hair with towel and let oil do his job for a few hours
    3 – Take some chickpea flour, make a paste with it and work into your hair & scalp, making sure to get everywhere.
    4 – Rinse
    5 – Wash again with chickpea paste, and then rinse; I also add a few drops of ylang-ylang essential oil to the paste, to mask the smell of chickpea fade.

    This is time consuming and I do it only when I have time, but my hair loves this treatment! In theory, you could use chickpea flour all the times instead of shampoo.

    My green setback? Car, domestic appliances, and moisturisers.


    • Hi Cristina!
      Good to hear another vote for John Masters. I will see if my local Whole Foods has a better price than is showing up online, although I doubt it! My hair tends to be oily, so I hesitate to put more oil on it, but my oily skin has responded well to jojoba, so it’d be worth a shot.

      I’m sorry you haven’t had any luck with moisturizers yet. I’m not as picky with those, since my hands will drink up anything after pottery.


  6. I’m currently unsatisfied with my Burt’s Bees pomegranate shampoo & conditioner (only cleans and conditions the top layer of hair–no real lather to speak of) but it’s not making my hair fall out. Yikes!

    In terms of green options that I’m struggling with, I’m having a difficult time eliminating all plastic from my life (sorry Beth Terry). I really want to, and have made some significant strides, but plastic is everywhere! Even gum (which I’ve now stopped chewing). So every time I eat a granola bar or open a bag of frozen veggies, I feel horrible. But I’m trying not to let the green guilt get me down. At least I’m trying.

    And yes, for now, a car is too difficult to give up since I live 30 min from work and there’s no public transportation from my home. 😦

    Thanks, Jen!


    • Hi Jen,
      I haven’t even gotten close to eliminating plastic from my life, either, but I’ve noticed that the more stuff I make from scratch, the less packaging ends up in the recycle bin. I’m definitely not ready to give up my frozen veggies, though. I wonder if their environmental impact is significantly different from canned. Anyway, I suppose what it comes down to is that there are so many ways we could be better that we can always start with the things we’re happy to change!


  7. I use Live Clean and am pretty happy with it. I am intrigued by the other comments on using coconut or jojoba oil for conditioner, and may try that next. Hair falling out would be a total no-go for me too. I have not yet ventured into the relm of baking soda/vinegar. HOWEVER. I have oily hair too (quite) and I switched to showers every 2nd day 6 months ago, which was PAINFUL at first but now totally fine. My oily hair adapted. I think it is also good to not condition the roots, only the ends.

    I also make hand soap out of old shampoo, for what it is worth!


    • Posted by Amy on 06/23/2011 at 11:20

      If you have oily hair, I find jojoba oil to be lighter than the coconut oil. I’ll use the coconut oil as a pre-wash treatment sometimes, but the jojoba oil to smooth flyaways. I have very dry hair that loves oil products, so I’ve tried a few out 🙂


    • Hi Sherry,
      I usually wash my hair every day, too — I guess I could start letting it go a day in between and hoping it will adapt! How long did it take for your hair to adjust?


  8. That sucks, Jennifer. I hate having to give up on green options, too. Luckily my shampoo is working great so far. My hair a little more tangled, so I set aside a little more time to deal with it. Considering I now only have to wash my hair every three days, it’s not a terrible inconvenience.


    • Hey Andrea,
      Fortunately, I think shampoo has really been the only green option I’ve really given up on, and from all the encouragement I’m getting, probably not permanently. But I now feel some sympathy for people who complain that green products don’t work as well. I guess it goes back to the idea of compromise.


  9. Posted by Jacki on 06/23/2011 at 19:59

    I have had the same problem, and been disappointed with expensive cr@ppy products. I now use this: http://www.everescents.com.au/ It’s aussie and i’m not sure if they’d ship international (or whether the carbon miles on that would be worth it) but I have found it actually works better than regular stuff for me…and they have this great organic harispray in a refillable pump spray as well. If you really want a sample feel free to email me. 🙂


  10. Uggg-it’s so frustrating trying to find a green product that works for you and come up empty handed. Why isn’t this easier? Hair falling out-that’s crazy Jennifer. I’m so sorry you had to deal with that. I don’t blame you for running to the store. I’m pretty happy with all my shampoos-but you have to find something that works for you. Take a break and maybe you’ll be re-energized and ready to start the research all over again.


  11. That sucks! I went through a phase with organic shampoos, and had a tough time finding a good one too. I now use a baking soda and apple cider vinegar wash, and my hair doesn’t fall out or anything. I would recommend trying it out if you’re out of options.


    • Hi Lynn!
      I tried the baking soda and vinegar thing for a few weeks. It was fine at first, but things got a little sticky and gross after that. I’ve heard that the baking soda doesn’t work so well for oily hair, but I could certainly try alternating it with my not-very-green shampoo.


  12. I tried a “natural” shampoo/conditioner that has menthol in it. OMGoodness … it made my head itch & burn. The stuff wasn’t cheap!! Have you tried any of the shampoo bars? I’ve heard that they work better than the liquids. I have a bar which I’ll be trying soon so … stay tuned.

    My “green failure” is skin moisturizer. I have totally whimpy skin and my hands break out in a rash in a moment’s notice. I’ve tried “natural”, organic hand lotions … they usually turn my skin red and cause a lot of irritation. There are some things, like shea butter, that don’t irritate my hands but they don’t really help them either. The thing that helps is petroleum-based lotions. In fact, when my hands are really irritated, the one thing that cools the burn is to plunge my hands into a jar of Vaseline. I hate it but … the alternative is painful. 🙂


    • Hiya!
      I think that was what was in my last natural shampoo. It got into my eyes a few times and stung, but it wasn’t until it seemed to be making my hair come out that I gave up on it. The shampoo soap bars tend to work better for dry hair — they tend to coat oily hair if I use them more than once every few weeks. When you do use them, you can definitely skip the conditioner!

      I’m sorry to hear about your moisturizer woes. Lotions don’t always work extremely well for me, since my hands get really dried out by clay, but they never cause my hands to break out in rashes, either. Have you tried just plain oil (olive, avocado, grapeseed…)?


      • Hm … oil … my grandmother used to take a little olive oil and rub it into her skin. She had the most lovely skin … at age 96 it was smooth and supple. I’ll give that a shot … thanks for the idea!


  13. I have fine, oily hair and like the Desert Essence Organics Green Apple & Ginger shampoo. It seems to work pretty well on my hair. That said, I have yet to find a “green” dishwasher detergent that works well. It seems they all leave a film or simply don’t get things clean at all. Most “regular” commercial ones are phosphate-free these days, so I mostly want to avoid the chlorine. I’ve tried several “green” brands and so far haven’t been happy with any.


  14. Oh … I wanted to share a site with you:
    This shop is owned by one of our “regular” Change The World Wednesday participants. I’ve never tried her products so can’t vouch for them but Alicia is real nice so I’m wondering … perhaps if you were to talk to her about the problems you’ve faced, she might be able to help? Just a thought! 🙂


  15. Hi (again) … Jessica of Cloth Diapering Mama (http://www.clothdiaperingmama.com/2011/06/30/proud-green-hygiene-ctww/) wrote about her “no-poo” experience. I thought you’d find it interesting … I sure did! It sounds like she has had a great amount of success with it!


  16. i too am struggling with the shampoo thing. I have been trying some different natural soaps, castile, even bar soaps.. They leave my hair sticky, but I do a rinse with apple cider vinegar and this seems to help. I will try pre-mixed baking soda though. This may work better than a paste. The last time I did the no-poo method I did get past that awkward stage and it took about 2 weeks.


  17. I just wanted to throw a sort-of-green shampoo suggestion out there. Have you tried Renpure? Or maybe it’s Ren Pure. You can get it at walgreens, it’s fairly cheap, fairly green, and works really good on my 3 feet of bone-straight hair. Thanks!


  18. I’m in love with the solid shampoos from Lush cosmetics! They have plenty of different versions for different hair types. Plus, no plastic bottles. Lush.com. Also, for suggestions as to what to do with the shampoo you don’t want to use on your hair, use it as bubblebath or showergel. Good luck!


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