Shampoo's no fun without bubbles. Right?


Well, that’s one of those innocent sounding questions that can lead to a long and information packed answer that presses our “sorry I asked” button.  Since this is an article and not a business dinner where there is no escape from an unending exposition, it is safe to “write away” since you may safely stop reading the moment that button is pressed.

Surfectants

I bet you are saying, “There is nothing interesting in chemical compounds found in shampoo.”  Well, not so.  One of the culprits in the shampoo bottle is a class of chemicals called “Surfectants” these cause suds and dissolve oils.  They are helpful in the hair cleaning process and create that head full of lather we are all used to when we shower.  The problem with them is that they don’t break down quickly and end up exiting waste treatment plants.  As we know, fish don’t have locks of wavy hair so these chemicals irritate their”surfaces” too.

The most famous surfactant (if that is possible) is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate.  For the organic chemists reading it looks like this:



For nobody in particular it is spelled like this: CH3(CH2)11OSO3Na.  It’s a long molecule where one side is soluble in water and the other in oil.  I don’t remember which end is which but I don’t think it matters for us.  All we need to know is it’s in a lot of our household stuff like shampoos and toothpaste and its bad for living creatures in streams and rivers.

It’s also useful as an engine degreaser and has been shown to be a good shark repellent (seriously, I told you this was interesting).

So, a simple way to live more responsibly in the shampoo and toothpaste portion of your world is to look for personal care products that do not contain “sulfates”.  This not only keeps you clear of CH3(CH2)11OSO3Na but also variations that are similar and just as bad.


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