Q What's the green perspective on medicated dandruff shampoos? Are there more natural alternatives?
A You know those annoying commercials that use snow as a metaphor for a dandruff? Well, their solution to your scalp's weather woes is about as helpful as George Bush's response to global warming.
First of all, mainstream dandruff shampoos are loaded with super-toxic chemicals like coal tar - the black liquid distilled from coal (found in Neutragena Therapeutic T-Gel). The stuff has long been linked to cancer, but the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. says there's nothing to worry about when using it in such small quantities. Still, do you really want to rub coal juice into your hair?
Another common flake-busting ingredient is zinc pyrithione (found in Head and Shoulders). What could be wrong with zinc? Well, in this form, lots. The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation put out a report stating that by that pouring 3ml of dandruff shampoo with 0.8 per cent zinc pyrithione in a 1,000-litre aquarium, waiting 24 hours, then adding fish half the fish died within four days. This despite the fact that the ingredient is said to degrade quickly in water.
Another big snow-buster is selenium disulphide, which is classified as very toxic to aquatic organisms, with long-term environmental effects. It's also, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, a probable human carcinogen. Tsk, tsk.
"Second generation" flake fighter piroctone olamine is considered about 100 times less toxic for aquatic life than zinc, but it's still synthetic. Sulphur and salicylic acid are other active dandruff shampoo ingredients that aren't considered toxic to water critters. No similar data could be found on ketokonazole (patented by Nizorol), but taking the potent anti-fungal internally has been linked to birth defects in animals.
The ironic thing is that lots of dandruff hair washes contain notorious skin and scalp irritant sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate. Before you even buy a dandruff shampoo, I'd make sure your regular shampoo doesn't contain irritants like SLS, which might be at the root of your problem.
Most dandruff is caused by yeast or fungus. Try cutting back on sugar and refined foods, taking antifungal oregano oil internally and washing your hair with natural tea tree oil shampoos available at health stores.
Some sufferers swear by using one part apple cider vinegar to three parts warm water every few days. Let it soak into your scalp before shampooing with a really mild shampoo. You can also use the pH-balancing vinegar straight.
If you only see flurries in winter, pop extra omega fatty acids and vitamin B6 and consider a humidifier . Rubbing pure aloe vera into your scalp is another soothing remedy. And try washing your hair in cool water, that is if you can hack it (brr).
Q Is there such a thing as a natural hand sanitizer?
A By now most of us have heard about how antibacteria mania is lowering our defences against germs. But there's something about a grabbing onto a subway pole in flu season that makes you wish there were hand sanitizers at every station.
Despite the ick factor of sharing tight spaces with coughing strangers, our germ-phobia is wreaking some serious eco havoc. Beyond accumulating in fatty tissues and potentially contributing to a rise in drug-resistant bacteria, triclosan, the active ingredient in a lot of antibacterial soaps, deodorants, toothpaste (hell, it's even in some eye shadows, lip glosses and perfumes), is scarily finding its way into rivers. The thing is, when exposed to sunlight it turns into a mild dioxin. And when you throw chlorinated water into the mix, it could turn into a much nastier form of the pollutant.
Interestingly enough, British supermarkets decided to ban the substance from their products in 2003. Canada has not. Bottom line, stay away from antibacterial soaps and read your labels. Even some health store brands, like Jason's Tea Tree Oil Satin Soap, have triclosan in them.
But, the good news is hand sanitizers don't generally have triclosan in them. They have ethyl alcohol, synthetic perfumes and other chems. Sure, the alcohol comes from "natural" sources (grains), but there's nothing natural about the petroleum-based blue number 1 used as a dye.
Antibacterial soap critic and Columbia U prof Elaine Larson says that such alcohol-based hand gels kill germs without spreading antibiotic resistance. But if you want to go natural, just wash your hands thoroughly (no skimping on lather time!). It rinses away the bad bacteria, not the good. For those times when you can't get near water, try Plant Power 's all natural hand sanitizer. It's a handy lavender, oregano oil, bergamot and citronella spray ($14.99 at Big Carrot on Danforth). Bactegon ($4.99 at Noah's locations) contains natural stuff like aloe and rosemary, but its active ingredients are ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) just like the mainstream stuff. Same goes for Nature's Gate Sanitizing Hand Gel. Do you want to use it instead of soap? No, but for the occasional extra-sticky situation when a sink's nowhere in sight, it's not a bad thing.
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