Inspiration from Meghan

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Friendly Correspondence: LUSH Cosmetics and Sulfate Use


I love LUSH cosmetics - or at least I love the way it looks. The smells that waft out the door and down the sidewalk are way to strong for me to actually go inside, so I'll just enjoy the above photo.

LUSH cosmetics prides themselves on using all organic, natural ingredients in their products which, as a consumer and as a healthy living cheerleader, would make me think this is a fine and dandy product to both use and recommend. Many of their products actually are - with their risk factor rated as low by the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Cosmetic Database. When a friend recently asked me what I thought of the products, I decided I should look a little further into what goes into this highly perfumed, super lathering soaps and shampoos.

What I found was sulfates. So I wrote them a letter asking why, as an organic branded company, they would choose to continue using sulfates. This is the response I received:

Hi Meghan,

At this time, all of our shampoos do contain sulfates, with the exception of our No Drought dry shampoo. I apologize for any disappointment that this has caused!

We choose to use SLS and sulfates because they have a long history of safe use, and feel like they are extremely effective lathering agents. This helps our products work better, and makes them the most economical as well, because a little bit goes a longer way, making products last longer.

We definitely understand that which ingredients people choose to use or avoid is their choice, and this is one of the reasons that we do our best to be as transparent as we can when it comes to product labeling. We list our products' ingredients on our website, in our shops, and in the LUSH Times newspaper. This way, our customers can make educated decisions about our products.

I personally wish that LUSH would offer an alternative to sulfates in at least one or two shampoos, but at this time, nothing has been created. I will keep campaigning for it though, and I will be sure to forward your feedback along to our product team.

Thank you again for having written in. We always really appreciate hearing feedback about our products, and the LUSH experience as a whole, as it helps us do the best we can.

I can't really explain to you what "a history of safe use" means. Does it mean no one had died from it? Likely. That no one has had a horrible allergic reaction? Probably not.

Check out how the EWG rates the product:

As long as people continue having unique allergies, there would never be a product that is completely hypo-allergenic to everyone. However, would you want to use a product, with suggested daily use, that has a high allergy and immunotoxicity risk?

I get that sodium laurel sulfate and sulfates are fun to have in soaps and shampoos (and tooth paste, dish soap, garage floor cleaner...) but are they essential for actually cleaning? Not really. I have been using a 100% sulfate and SLS free shampoo for two years and I have to say my hair is pretty clean after I wash it.

SLS has been associated with everything from neuro-degeneration, eczema, hair loss and has to the potential to react with other chemicals to become carcinogenic. It is a super strong detergent that may have its place in cleaning garage floors - but my hair? Sodium lauryl sulfate is a skin and eye irritant reported by the International Journal of Toxicology in 1983 to denature proteins on the skin's surface leading to cell membrane degeneration. This could thereby contribute to high levels of penetration of this chemical along with anything else it's hanging out with.

There are other ways to get a great lather in soaps and shampoos without using SLS and sulfates. Loads of herbs have saponin qualities and I love my soap nuts.

There are, of course, LOADS of products that are far more risky to your health than the mostly wholesome products found at LUSH. It's just that if I am going to spend the money for natural products I expect them to be really natural and not carry any kind of risk - moderate or otherwise. It can be tricky to do the right thing when there is so much conflicting information. Just be wise. Read the ingredient labels before any brand claims and then you decide if a product works for you.

I bet you want to know what shampoo I use... this one of course and I only wash every 8 or 9 days. Whoops... secret's out.

Question of the Day: Are you concerned with sulfates in your shampoo? How do you get your hair truly clean?

45 Responses to “Friendly Correspondence: LUSH Cosmetics and Sulfate Use”

  1. Eleanor said…
    baking soda! I boil water and mix in baking soda, spray some into my roots, massage, wash off and then for a conditioner I dip my ends into kombucha, massage in and wash off. I used to have to do this often while my scalp adjusted and while I had short hair but now I feel like I only have to do this every 2 or 3 weeks and my hair is always perfectly manageable and clean. I'm closing in on my 3rd year of being shampoo free and my hair is way way better than before and I don't have a scaly scabbed up scalp like I used too.... which was probably a reaction from the sulfates now that I think about it.
  2. Martina said…
    Don't stop the friendly correspondence! Who knows what good it could do?
  3. tanz said…
    @Erica... Being on a tight budget myself, I tried various versions of no shampoo for a while but the baking soda thing really weighed down my fine but thick and plentiful hair (we have really hard water too) so I went back to an SLS free shampoo and a dilute vinegar or citirc acid rinse. Then quite by accident I 'discovered' that if I just do the vinegar rinse (1TBSP vinegar: 2 cups water approx) after swimming in the sea I end up with beautiful, shiny, manageable hair. Everyone's hair (and home water quality) is so different that what works for one person won't necessarily work for any others but in all my web searching I never saw someone specifically reccomend salt water as a wash although there are some salt / sea spray like spray on products that are supposed to add body or something which I always found a bit nuts... anyway, just wanted to put it out there in case anyone else wanted to try (sea) salt water as a wash : ) I know it sounds really weird but it worked for me and the cost is negligible.
  4. Theresa said…
    Hi Meghan, I'm always interested in trying new clean hair products. Have you tried Nadine's conditioner as well? I have fine, wavy hair but lots of it, and need a little condish. =)
  5. Carol Lane said…
    I'm with you on your shampoo choice, Meghan! I have been using Living Libation's shampoo and conditioner for about a year and have never had so many compliments on my hair's appearance and smell! Washing my hair has never been so pleasurable, either!
  6. Pam said…
    I also use Living Libations shampoo and conditioner and it. When I made the switch I still continued to shampoo and condition every other day. I am surprised to see you go 8-9 days in between. I have not tried it. What do you do after exercising?
  7. Dawn Canning said…
    I love this post! I hear daily how people are disillusioned when they read ingredient lists on cosmetics. Especially in higher end brands or those who call themselves natural or gentle. I felt the same way as you did with LUSH as I did recently when looking at the ingredients on Kiehl's Gentle Foaming Wash For Baby. Somebody I know used it on her kids and told me it stung their skin…read the ingredients NO WONDER. Point being: LUSH is only one of many co's using harsh stuff in their products.
  8. Jonathan Barton said…
    Have you heard of "Faith in Nature"? Its a UK company that ships worldwide that doesnt use any harmful chemicals in their shampoos!! I had been using Head & Shoulders for a long time, and noticed I was developing a small thinning patch at the front of my scalp. When I started reading about the chemicals and their use in shampoos, I didnt (and still cannot) understand why these chemicals are in our daily products. I searched and eventually came across and have been using their products for 2 years now, and I no longer suffer from dry skin or itcy scalp, which I always had with Head & Shoulders. Now when reading ingredients, I follow one simple rule- If I cant read or pronounce it, it doesnt go into my body.
  9. Jessica said…
    SLS is a skin irritant (so are essential oils) but it is non-toxic (rates a 1-2 on cosmetic database). It does not release carcinogens - SLES does (1,4-dioxin because it is ethoxylated). Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate - are you against them as well?
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      Thanks for reading and commenting, Jessica! There is substantial evidence that sulfates (particularly SLS) are very irritating to people's skin. We prefer to avoid them for this reason- and definitely don't consider it a "low concern" that such irritants are present in "organic" shampoos. We are lovers of the natural around here- and our fave essentials oils (from Living Libations) don't irritate our skin. Hope this helps!
  10. Krissy said…
    After reading this I went to go check the bottle of Lush shower gel I have. Well turns out it not only has SLS but parabens too. With all their claims about how natural their products are, I never really thought to check them. Very disappointed, I guess I'll just have to read labels and not trust the marketing.
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      A tough lesson to learn but so important.

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