Woman shampooing her hairWhat is it about the women in shampoo commercials who gasp and sigh in orgasmic ecstasy as they lather their locks with glorified soap? If they only knew exactly what was in those suds, their exclamations might be less “oooh” and more “ew.”

Thanks to gravity, whatever you rub into your scalp during your shower could also end up dripping all over your (completely exposed) body. And in many cases, that includes cancer-causing carcinogens like PEG compounds and sodium laureth sulfate; preservatives like DMDM hydantoin and hormone-disrupting parabens; and the antibacterial agent triclosan, which builds up in human breast milk and can be toxic to the aquatic life on the other end of your drain.

Even those flowery or fruity fragrances (found in 80 percent of shampoos) can cause quite a stink — especially if they contain phthalates, which have been linked to reproductive problems.

But lest you think a dirty hippie lifestyle is the only way to escape this toxic soup, let me shower you with hope. There are a number of eco-brands out there promising safe formulas without the type of chemicals that make the Environmental Working Group squirm. And some of them even provide that same “ooh-and-ahh” feeling while still giving your hair some oomph.

I tested five such eco-brands, choosing to purchase the travel-sized bottles in an effort to save money, space, and unwanted volumes of shampoo I might not like. Keep in mind your results may vary depending on your hair type (mine is long and straight and rather thick).

Here’s a rundown:

Avalon Organics shampooAvalon Organics Nourishing Shampoo
Eco-claims: Safe, effective, pro-organic body care without artificial colors, synthetic fragrances, or parabens; E.U. compliant
Scent: Lavender
Price: $1.99 / 2 oz.

The Avalon shampoo created a good lather — nice and bubbly — without having to reapply. The lavender scent was calming without being overpowering. Afterward, my hair felt clean and soft.

 

365 Everyday Value logo365 Everyday Value Shampoo
Eco-claims: Free of parabens, animal ingredients, artificial fragrance, and unnecessary chemicals; made with biodegradable ingredients; not tested on animals
Scent: Citrus grapefruit
Price: $1.29 / 2 oz.

I liked the refreshing grapefruit smell of the Whole Foods brand shampoo, but it left my hair feeling almost too squeaky.

 

Kiss My Face shampooKiss My Face Whenever Shampoo
Eco-claims: No sodium laurel sulfate or preservatives; no animal ingredients, no artificial colors, not tested on animals; 100 percent biodegradable
Scent: Green tea and lime
Price: $1.29 / 1 oz.

The combination of green tea and lime fragrances was interesting, but not my favorite. The shampoo itself lacked adequate lathering for my thick, lengthy locks. At half the size of the other bottles, this one is also the most expensive.

 

Giovanni Tea Tree Triple Threat shampooGiovanni Tea Tree Triple Treat Invigorating Shampoo
Eco-claims: Certified organic; no animal by-products and cruelty free
Scent: Peppermint, rosemary, and eucalyptus
Price: $1.99 / 2 oz.

The “invigorating” label on this shampoo is no joke — the peppermint-rosemary-eucalyptus combination is a scent to be reckoned with … and I reckon I’ll stay far away. The peppermint was too overpowering and stung my hairline even after the shower. Add to that the poor lather and watery consistency of the shampoo and I’d say this one was more “trick” than “triple treat.”

 

Dr. Bronner's shampooDr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps 18-in-1 Hemp Almond Pure-Castile Soap
Eco-claims: Contains no synthetics, no petrochemicals, and no “floral water fluff”; certified organic; not animal tested; 100 percent biodegradable; 100 percent vegan
Scent: Almond
Price: $2.49 / 2 oz.

I loved the sweet almond smell of this one, but it was the most watery of the lot, and the liquid consistency made it hard to get the soap from bottle to head for lathering up. Once I did, though, it felt like I had poured paste in my hair. No matter how much I rinsed nor how much conditioner I applied, I couldn’t get a comb through my hair. A blow-dry left me with a huge ‘fro, and my hair felt horribly sticky all day long.

Wondering where I’d gone wrong, I asked coworkers if they’d used Dr. Bronner’s before — the bottle doesn’t instruct you to dilute it, but had they? — and got an interesting response: the only fan of the stuff is a brunette with super fine hair (her “added volume” is my super-‘fro). So I suppose it depends heavily on your hair type — still, I wouldn’t recommend it.

 

The bottom line: The Avalon Organics shampoo provided the best clean for the least green — and left my locks smelling and feeling great.