I was really pleased when I found Uniquely Emu and its highly refined emu oil products that many of us are finding invaluable for their abilities to help thinning hair grow thick and strong. So you can imagine that I was excited to receive samples of Uniquely Emu’s Revitalizing Shampoo ($13.95) and Revitalizing Conditioner ($13.95) to test. Unfortunately my test turned out to be the equivalent of tripping over in the middle of a victory lap.

I love what they are doing for my hair, but while the conditioner is something I would recommend the same cannot be said of the shampoo. Plus, I have found that both formulas are available under another brand name (Country Divine) at a slightly lower price.

As far as the shampoo is concerned, Uniquely Emu has marred a perfectly good – probably excellent – product with sodium lauryl sulfate. And I am not just splitting hairs here. It’s actually unforgivable that a quality niche brand is still using an ingredient that even drugstore brands proclaim to be free of. Heck, even the latest from TreSemme says it is “now with fewer sulfates”.

If anyone needs a recap on sulfates, studies have shown  “significant correlations” (in the words of one) between SLS and contact dermatitis. The Journal of the American College of Toxicology says that it has “a degenerative effect on the cell membranes because of its protein denaturing properties”. The Journal adds that “high levels of skin penetration may occur at even low use concentration. Worryingly, tests on young animals showed permanent eye damage – even when the SLS was applied to areas other than the eye.

In addition, the shampoo contains coal tar, another controversial ingredient. At least one study associates it with cancer and, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, preparations that include more than 5% of crude coal tar are Group 1 carcinogen. Against that, the National Psoriasis Foundation and the FDA insist that concentrations between 0.5% and 5% are safe. However, the FDA insists that it is safe. The EWG gives it a perfect (hazard) score of 10. Not good.

Happily, the conditioner (which I shall continue to use) is almost squeaky clean. I love the idea of standard hair care products with emu oil. Research has shown that emu oil can wake up even dormant hair follicles. Polysaccharides and phospholipid rich emu oil is joined by aloe vera. Ginseng can also summon research to prove it helps hair. There is a Korean study on mice that demonstrated ginseng accelerated the recovery of hair cells and prevented apoptosis in hair follicles.

A novel and rather good idea is the inclusion of grape seeds in the conditioner – you’ll see little dark flakes in the formula – that are there to exfoliate the scalp.

The rich and creamy formulas leave my hair soft and shiny. I feared that products so unctuous would be heavy and make my hair a little greasy. Far from it, in fact I’ve found that I can last three days (depending on how sweaty my scalp gets from NYC’s summer humidity) until the next shampoo. NB: curious folk might want to know that standamul is cetearyl alcohol and Germaben llE is a preservative based on a couple of parabens.

Ingredients in shampoo

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Ethyl Sulfate, Laureth 3, Glycerine, Glycol Stearate, Emu Oil, DL Pathenol (Vit B5), Aloe Vera Extract, Ginseng Extract, Chamomile Extract, Comfrey Extract, Mallow Extract, Coal Tar Extract, Germaben II, Linoenyl Dea, Fragrance, FD&C Yellow 6.

Ingredients in conditioner

De-Ionized Water, Standumul Concentrate 1002, Emu Oil, Deoiled Grape Seeds, Lactic Acid, Aloe Vera Extract, Mallow Extract, Chamomile Extract, Calendula Extract, Ginseng Extract, Comfrey Extract, DL Panthenol (Vit B5), Germaben IIE, Fragrance, FD&C Yellow 6.