One of the very first things I learned from Marta, before I had even started at Truth in Aging, was that scrutinizing the label on a shampoo bottle can be an unsettling experience.  Harmful sulfates and preservatives crop up in all sorts of shampoo products, especially cheap ones, like Suave, V05, and Pert Plus. I recently switched onto White Sands Volumizing & Color Secure Nourishing shampoo ($13) because of its sulfate-free stance.  So for the sake of safe, clean hair everywhere, I performed an exhaustive study into what else it excludes and includes.

Ever wonder how a shampoo formula gets developed?  Well, first you start with a surfactant, or a suite of surfactants that act synergistically, which cleans hair by stripping sebum from the shafts. How gently this process is carried out depends on how harsh the surfactant is.  White Sands uses cocamidopropyl betaine, a semisynthetic compound derived from coconut oil, which has anti-static and humectant properties, attracting moisture from the air and keeping hair from drying out.  Though it's not as damaging as the synthetic detergent sodium lauryl sulphate, cocamidopropyl betaine has been shown to cause contact allergies on sensitive skin.

The semi-natural surfactants in White Sands continue down the list, accounting for the first three ingredients after water.  Coconut-derived lauramide DEA, builds and stabilizes foam in shampoo and can be slightly drying to the skin.  As long as there is no free diethanolamine (DEA) present as a contaminant, there should be no risk of cancer-causing nitrosamines, which is nice.  Yet another coconut oil derivative, sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, is a mild cleanser for both skin and hair that removes surface oil, bacteria, and dirt.  It has been determined safe for use in rinse-off products and in leave-on products at concentrations under 5%.

In the next step, you toss in a few discretionary ingredients depending on whether you want a clear, pearlescent, or opaque look.  White Sands went with the latter.  Thickeners, such as sodium chloride, and conditioners, such as dimethicone, provide the desired feel.  In White Sands, panthenol lubricates hair follicles and seals their surface, making strands appear shiny.  Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine is a natural hair conditioner that helps improve hair health and strength.  The combination of jojoba oil and aloe vera gel nourishes and thickens the hair, lending it a healthy shine.

Adding sunscreens or humectants will help retain moisture, while foam stabilizers and chelators will tie up trace ions.  Some additives simply offset the effects of another ingredient.  White Sands threw in some allantoin, which is an organic salt extracted from herbs such as comfrey or produced synthetically from uric acid.  Linked to anti-aging claims in skincare products, allantoin is used here to relieve skin irritation often triggered by a detergent agent.

Marketing materials for White Sands's shampoo put the spotlight on the glycolic extract heliogenol.  Not only does this extract possess strong protective properties, but it also prolongs the life of hair dye.  Heliogenol shields tinted hair from color loss by neutralizing the oxidative radicals generated by daily sun exposure, reducing UV damage by 18%.  Though there appears to be sparse heliogenol to go around in this shampoo, color-treated hair will certainly benefit from its inclusion.

Lastly, a nasty horde of fragrances, dyes, and preservatives round out the regrettable side of a shampoo's formula.  The fragrance of White Sands's shampoo is rather nice.  Evocative of a professional hair salon, its aroma reeks of cleanliness and indulgence.  In the preservative department, you get both methylchloroisothiazolinone, a known allergen and potential irritant, and methylisothiazlinone, a powerful biocide shown to be neurotoxic in lab studies with rats. Double your pleasure!

As with most products touting an absence of chemicals, synthetics, or parabens, White Sands fails to deliver a flawless formula.  Its elevated pH level (6.0), the highest in the White Sands line, might lend hair a nice texture, but it can also lead to scalp problems and dryness.  Though I like the healthy, residue-free shine I get from White Sands and I like to think that it's protecting my hair's color, I am not sold on everything that went into it. You can trade in your sulfates for preservatives, but which is really the lesser of two evils?

Ingredients:

Water, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Lauramide DEA, Sodium Lauryl Sarcosinate, Allantoin, Panthenol, Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Jojoba Oil, Aloe Vera Gel, Sodium Chloride, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazlinone, Benzophenone - 4, FD&C Yellow #5, FD&C Red #40, Heliogenol, Fragrance.