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Understanding synthetic shampoos usage for dandruff

Understanding synthetic shampoos usage for dandruff

Dandruff - dead skin
Synthetic shampoos are excessively drying and irritating.

The lead chemical used by an anti dandruff shampoo is a fungicide – this could be ketoconazole, zinc parishioner or selenium disulfide, miconazole and even hydrogen peroxide or common bleach. Now the thing to note is this: this solution is logical only if your dandruff is caused by a fungal infection like seborrhoeic dermatitis. If your persistent dandruff is simply scalp dryness due to excessive shampooing, fungicides do not help heal the root cause.

Worse still, they are excessively harsh and drying on the scalp and could aggravate dry dandruff. This could explain why people using an anti-dandruff shampoo feel that they are worse off than before and why their dandruff is this persistent, despite religiously using an anti dandruff shampoo.

Fungicides are not just the reason behind persistent dandruff. They also have more serious environmental issues associated with them.

CYP3A suppressing effect of Ketoconazole:
With the increasing use of fungicides in anti dandruff shampoos, it should come as no surprise that these fungicides find their way into fresh and salty water bodies through our sewage lines. As is common with many classes of synthetic chemicals, fungicides like ketoconazole are easily absorbed into the body of fishes and other aquatic organisms – they store in the fatty organs and  bio accumulate with increasing exposure.

Fungicides are a serious cause of water pollution

Studies indicate that increasing doses of these fungicides retard the activity of CYP3A, an important enzyme group present in human beings and aquatic organisms like fish. This enzyme group helps catalyze many reactions in drug metabolism and also help synthesize cholesterol, steroids and other lipids. CYP3A has 4 sub enzymes: variant A4, variant A5, variant A7 and variant A43.

Variant A4, i.s CYP3A4, is found in the liver and intestine. It oxidizes xenobiotics (foreign molecules like toxins and drugs), helping removing these from the body. The complete range of uses of CYP3A4 is still not known: it is found in the intestine where it helps regulate the absorption of many nutrients and drugs into the body. It is also found in the brain, but its role in the CNS is still unknown. CYP3A4 contributes to bile detoxification in the body, elimination of phytochemicals in the food we eat, the termination of the action of steroid hormones,  and helps in drug absorption of over half of all drugs prescribed today.

Variant A5, i.e CYP3A5 is a variant found in the prostrate gland and liver. It catalyses many reactions involved in drug metabolism and also help synthesize cholesterol, steroids and other lipds in the body.

Variant A7, i,e CYP3A7 carries a similar role as CyP3A4 in fetuses, where CYP3A4 is not expressed.

In rainbow trout and killifish, ketoconazole accumulation decreased the catalytic activity of the CYP3A enzyme group by 60 – 90%. As CYP3A group of enzymes help in containing and removing xenobiotics like pharmaceutical drugs, heavy metals and viral and bacterial loads from the body, aquatic organisms where this enzyme is suppressed may be highly diseased and risky to eat.

Ketoconazole depresses CYP3A enzyme activity

Similarly, we cannot completely rule out the long term effect on human beings who use Ketoconazale based products topically. The Skin is a highly absorptive surface and is used in the pharma industry for dosing many drugs into the body. The scalp after repeated exposure to shampoos is broken down due to the effect of SLS and SLeS on the scalp.

This makes it easier for Ketoconzalae to cross the skin barrier and enter the body. This could have a slowly bio accumulating adverse long term effect. Use of harsh fungicides like Ketoconazole also destroyed the natural microbiome barrier of the skin and scalp. This again opens the body to a host of invasions from harmful and more aggressive micro organisms.

Soil and water contamination with Ketoconazole
As we rinse out ketoconazole and other such potent fungicides from the hair after every wash, we discharge these potent fungicides into our grey water. In India and many countries, grey water is not treated at the municipal levels. Many times it is discharged into fresh water bodies or into the soil, where it contaminates soil and ground water. Groundwater across the world is slowly and surely being contaminated by pharmaceuticals, and synthetics from the drugs we consume, and from the personal care products we use on ourselves.

Discharging more and more of such a potent drug into the water stream again affects aquatic organisms and eventually ourselves.

We can see that in many cases of persistent dandruff, the problem is not even due to fungal organisms. The issue is really of scalp dryness due to the use of harsh and drying shampoos. So we are attempting to tackle persistent dandruff with a solution that will not even help. Even in the case of fungal dandruff, better, safer and more holistic remedies are available in Ayurveda and Siddha that treat this problem much more holistically and effectively without the risk to human health, health of aquatic organisms and soil and water safety.

Ayurveda has many effective herbs to treat chronic skin and hair conditions. 
Ayurveda offers us a wealth of anti fungal herbs like Shikakai, Soapberry, Neem, Babchi, Desert Date, etc which are highly effective in tackling fungal dandruff, and chronic skin issues like atopic dermatitis, eczema, etc,  without any of the other side effects that occur when we use fungicides like Ketoconazole. In Ayurveda we have seen excellent results with our anti Dandruff hair care range even in very chronic and very persistent cases of fungal dandruff, some of which are decades old. This point is made to re-iterate that there is no need to resort to dangerous and harsh products for solving most of our hair and skin problems.

Persistent dandruff: How fungicide based shampoos destroy the hair and scalp:
Many people are prescribed with an OTC fungicide based anti dandruff shampoo without properly analyzing if they have fungal dandruff or not. Even if you have fungal dandruff, a Ketoconazole based shampoo is an overkill, does not guarantee permanent solution to the problem, and has many adverse effects on the hair and scalp.

One of the common side effects caused by fungicides on hair and scalp is skin and scalp irritation. Because of their harsh and excessively drying nature, the sebaceous glands in your scalp can get aggravated leading to extremely dry or extremely greasy hair.

Other allergic reactions may include severe itching, burning or irritation, redness or pain on the scalp, oozing or weeping of skin, eye redness and swelling and hair loss.

High use of synthetic anti dandruff shampoo weakens hair

Commonly those with persistent dandruff end up having high hair loss or weak brittle hair. This is in part caused by the use of the anti dandruff shampoo which dries up the scalp aggravating Vata in the head area. Aggravated vata makes hair dry, brittle, weak, prone to split ends. Hair growth is also poor in such cases.

Persistent Dandruff: a much exploited condition
Dandruff used to be an isolated problem and a specialized problem, usually affecting men, 20 – 30 years ago. However today, it is one of the most commercially exploited scalp conditions – estimates of dandruff in urbanized populations range from 20% to 50%! And it is now a gender agnostic condition – women and men suffer from dandruff.

It is important to note here that while dandruff has rapidly increased among urbanized populations the incidence of many fungal origin skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema and seborrhea have not multiplied this rapidly.

If fungal organisms are the reason behind dandruff, then we should have seen a similar increase in fungal derived skin conditions. If fungal organisms are not the cause, why are anti fungal shampoos and steroid based topical creams being prescribed?

Secondly what is the reason for this persistent dandruff?

Persistent dandruff: Synthetic Shampoos are a trigger. Synthetic shampoos are harsh, irritate the scalp, use dangerous probable carcinogens and can increase scalp greasiness, premature graying and hair weakness. They can also dry out the scalp , increasing scalp flaking and persistent dandruff. 

a. SLS and SLeS in synthetic shampoos : a leading cause of persistent dandruff
SLS and SLES dissolve your hair and scalp’s sebum layer and strip skin of all its natural oils leaving you with dry skin and hair. “The lathering power of liquid soaps is actually an enemy. It can bubble the oil out of your skin” says Dr. Marianne O’Donoghue, associate professor of dermatology at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Dermatology.

sls and sles dry out and irritate scalp severely

Skin below 35 years reacts aggressively to this systematic stripping of sebum. With the increased use of SLS and SLeS based shampoo, you may find your skin and scalp becoming oilier, creating a vicious cycle where you are compelled to wash more frequently.

If you find that your hair is getting greasy and oily a day after shampooing, then you need to investigate your shampoo – the excessive harshness of this product usually forces a defensive skin reaction where the scalp starts to aggressively produce sebum to make up for the loss every time you shampoo.

Of course this will only prompt you to use more shampoo to counter this greasy defense – the result: damaged and dry hair and scalp.

b. MEA, DEA and TEA in synthetic shampoos: Scalp Irritants triggering itching and scalp flaking
Ethanolamines are a class of chemicals added to shampoos that help increase foam and make the shampoo thick and pleasing in the way it looks and feels. However these ethanolamines are not innocent chemicals.

Ethanolamine based products can trigger contact dermatitis, and irritate your scalp leaving your hair feeling dry and lifeless and breakdown your hair’s keratin structure. This leads to itchy dry scalp, persistent dandruff and weak, lifeless, brittle hair.

Ethanolamines in shampoos trigger contact dermatitis and persistent dandruff

Even an industry funded body like the Cosmetics Ingredient review is cautious about the use of ethanolamines – they ask users,( i.e., us who love our synthetic shampoos), to use Ethanolamines only briefly, scrub vigorously and to not use it continuously.

Contrast that with the Shampoo industry’s prevalent paradigm: where we are asked to wash frequently, even every single day, and rinse and repeat shampooing to ensure our hair is “clean”.

On a practical basis, it is impossible for a synthetic shampoo user to follow these industry standards when it comes to ethanolamines. Most users are in a hurry, and do not understand the harmful effects of synthetic shampoos. Similarly most shampoo users do not take the effort to “vigorously rinse out shampoo residue” – therefore many shampoo users will have traces of ethanolamines on their scalp that will irritate the scalp and break down the keratin structure of hair. The result: persistent dandruff that does not go away no matter how much anti dandruff shampoo you use.

Long term effects of synthetic shampoos : bigger problem than persistent dandruff
The BIG issue with toxic chemicals like pesticides / fungicides / herbicides , apart from their actual toxic nature, is their ability to linger, long after they have been used.

Unfortunately, the same is the case with the products we use on ourselves.

A recent paper published by researchers at Cornell University attempted to do something utterly fascinating: capture 3D photographs of our microbiome and the chemicals that reside on our skin to understand how the two interact. As a part of this research, the volunteers were asked to forego shampooing and bathing for a few days and 3D photographs were taken before and after this abstinence.

The results are scary:

SLeS persists on the scalp several days after the last shampoo – and we assumed these chemicals would get washed right out !!!  On the female volunteer, avobenzene lingers on her neck several days after a sunscreen was used and washed off, lingering on despite the shower and the soap.

Human skin is one of our key organ groups in protecting our body from invasion. Unfortunately, the skin is also extremely susceptible to the synthetic formulations we apply, rub and wash it with. The dermal route is one of the fastest routes of letting synthetic chemicals bypass your powerful intestinal tract (where they would be made less harmful), and directly invade your major internal organs.

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