What Makes Shampoo Biodegradable?


There’s no doubt that many of us are becoming more aware of how our daily lifestyles and beauty routines can potentially damage the environment.

We’re all starting to recycle more often, save energy and perhaps swap some of the products we use for eco-friendly alternatives.

There’s one essential personal care item that most homes will have at least one bottle of: shampoo.

Many of us wash our hair at least several times a week, and some of us will use shampoo every day.

But have you ever thought what happens to the shampoo suds that wash away down the plug hole every time you wash your hair?

Most of us won’t have paid attention to the list of ingredients in our shampoo, but most will contain elements such as sulphates, sodium chloride and silicone.

Every time we wash our hair, these elements are washed away down the drain into our waterways, but scientists are becoming increasingly concerned that even modern water treatment works are unable to remove them.

If you check nearly any bottle of shampoo, it’s like to contain sulphates.

One of the most common sulphates found in shampoo is sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), which cleans hair and also produces the familiar foamy texture.

However, SLS can irritate the scalp, so more and more people are opting for SLS-free shampoos.

Parabens are another potentially worrying ingredient found in shampoo.

Used as preservatives to prevent bacteria forming in shampoo, there’s a chance that they’re harmful to humans, and some studies have shown that some parabens can mimic the activity of hormones and have been linked to an increase in breast cancer. See some recommended paraben-free shampoos here.

It’s not just humans at risk too.

When not treated fully in water treatment plants, the surfactants in detergents affect the natural defences of marine life against chemical substances and pathogens.

How Does Shampoo Work?

Washing our hair with just water alone usually isn’t enough to remove the oil the scalp produces (known as sebum).

Detergents in shampoo contain surfactants which lower the surface tension between the water and the sebum. Each surfactant molecule has a hydrophilic head which attracts water, and a lipophilic tail to attract oil.

When you rinse your hair, the water is pulled along by the hydrophilic head of the surfactant, washing detergent away from the hair and scalp and down the drain.

Biodegradable Shampoos

If you’re concerned about the potential risks of every day shampoo, you might want to consider a biodegradable shampoo that won’t not contaminate our water systems and with ingredients that will fully biodegrade without causing harm to the environment.

To be considered fully biodegradable, a shampoo mustn’t contaminate water or soil wherever it is disposed of, either down the drain and into the water system, or in landfill.

A fully biodegradable shampoo should be made from “ingredients that can decompose completely, often with the aid of bacteria” (source).

Biodegradable shampoos tend to use bio surfactants organically grown from microbes to clean the hair, instead of elements such as sodium lauryl sulphate.

And it’s good news when it comes to cleaning your hair with biodegradable shampoos—they can be just as effective, and they’re also safer if you have a sensitive scalp.

Even hairdressers recommend shampoos that are free from sulphates and parabens, particularly if you’ve had a straightening treatment or hair extensions which can both be damaged by using regular shampoo.

Biodegradable shampoos are becoming more widely available, and you can always try making your own from natural ingredients.

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