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Elaborate hair care is intrinsic to the modern beauty routine. But how ethical is your brand of choice? We recommend you choose companies whose ethical claims have been verified by the Cruelty-Free International and the Soil Association – and by the Ethical Company Organisation.

Keyword-ResearchLook out for our new sector-specific Ethical Accreditation certification marks which now cover over 15 different consumer product sectors. These are additional to our original Ethical Company mark that features on the packaging of over 100 million consumer products every year.

Synthetics and ‘the natural look’

Over the past few years, booming interest in organic produce has caused the mainstream cosmetics companies to flirt heavily, and successfully, with the natural image in launching their new product lines. This corporate romance with nature can be criticised as a cheap attempt to appear ecologically sound, as the few token ‘natural’ ingredients invariably mask the usual synthetic chemical cocktail. Having said that, not all synthetics are controversial. In fact, it is quite a nuanced issue that requires a nuanced and scientifically-informed perspective, just as when assessing skincare products. From this perspective, parabens and things like methylisothiazolinone remain controversial, as do certain buffers like cocamide MEA. Meanwhile, Dimethylol as well as other synthetics, such as Polyquaternium-7, continue to be on the controversial list.

The long list of ingredients on the back of a shampoo bottle can be hard to decipher without specialist chemical knowledge. A commonly-used shampoo ingredient, due to its propensity to foam, is sodium laurel sulphate, or its milder form sodium laureth sulphate. Claims about the former’s damaging health effects point to it being an allergen, with symptoms including skin and eye irritation. Industry replies to such concerns emphasise that these chemicals are used in measured amounts that have been legally decreed as safe for use within the scale of human consumption.

Dandruff is a problem that many people are tackling with medicated shampoos. Anti-dandruff shampoos can contain potentially toxic chemicals and there is some evidence to suggest that they can even aggravate the problem for some individuals.

One of the big issues, as we have stated in other sections, is that the science is lagging behind. The health and beauty industry is a maze when it comes to navigating the truth, especially for the average consumer who may not have the time to pick at all the fine details or has a decent knowledge of chemistry. The deeper point is that if not all chemicals (synthetics included) are “bad”, the issues for the consumer is in discerning the “good” from the “bad” or controversial. Even scientists with degrees in botanical chemical science, let alone biology and chemistry, will frequently say that it is wise to be careful when it comes to what you put on your skin or, in this case, what you apply on your hair.

In that there isn’t enough scientific evidence to completely understand the long-term (health and environmental) effects of certain controversial synthetic chemical ingredients in our shampoo and conditioner products, it is wise not to buy into the sensationalism on either end of the debate and follow the evidence.

In the meantime, the smart choice is to be conscientious of your products and their ingredients. For the consumer, this is also means that major brands need to be transparent.

Animal testing

Some companies skirt around the issue of animal testing, and at the same time keep themselves open to new ingredients, by adhering to the ‘five-year rolling rule’. This means that five years must have elapsed since the ingredient was tested on animals. Naturewatch and Cruelty Free International support use of the ‘fixed cut-off date’, whereby companies refuse to use ingredients tested on animals after a certain date.

Ethical alternatives

In the days before shampoo, people resorted to more imaginative methods of achieving glossy locks. Soap was used as an all-round cleanser for hair and body, but as water has become more alkaline (hard) its effectiveness has declined, leaving hair rough and tangled. In areas with a soft water supply, using a plain soap with conditioner is an option. Additionally, it is possible to dispense with shampoo completely. But many people find this to be antiquated and also experience the transitional period unpleasant, as the scalp’s naturally-produced oils (washed out by shampooing) kick back into action.

The best option for the majority of consumers who wish buy ethically is to purchase a brand that ranks top on the ethical index. You will find a mixture of options, from the purely organic to the more mediate.

In terms of overall ethics, we recommend you try shampoos and conditioners from the companies that have been accredited by the Ethical Company Organisation, as we can regularly verify their ethical credentials via our annual independent audits.

Ethical Comparison – Shampoo & Conditioner Rankings Detailed Table

Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.

We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Green people, Honesty, Faith in Nature, Fushi, Neal’s Yard, Neem Shampoo, Suma, Weleda, L’ Occitane, Caurnie Soaps, Lush, Avalon Organics, Charles Worthington, Odylique, Original Source, Origins, Vosene, Elvive, Fructis, John Frieda, The Body Shop, Elixir VO5, Simple, Sunsilk, Tresemmé, Tropic Skincare, Superdrug, Aussie, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, Pantene Pro-V.

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Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning we earn commission if you click through and make a purchase. Placement and use of these links has no bearing in terms of the ethical scores that we give to a brand.  All commission earned by The Good Shopping Guide is re-invested into the research carried out by The Ethical Company Organisation.