Propylene Glycol Free Dandruff Shampoos

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Propylene Glycol is a chemical commonly added to shampoos that as built quite the reputation.

Yes, it’s also used in anti-freeze, but is the reputation deserved?

In this article, in typical Dandruff Deconstructed fashion we’ll take an evidence-based approach to evaluate the science and risks of humectants in shampoos, and review the alternatives for those with sensitivities.

What is Propylene Glycol?

Propylene glycol, or ‘propane-1,2-diol’, is a synthetic alcohol used as a ‘humectant’ in shampoos. It has a range of uses outside of cosmetics, commonly found in products manufactured by the chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industries. Interestingly, propylene glycol has freezing point below water – approximately -60°C – and so can be used in antifreeze products [1].

Propylene glycol is synthesised as a by-product in petroleum and natural gas refineries. The chemical process is complex, although generally involves high temperatures (over 150°C), and catalysts to speed up different steps of the reaction, including: benzene, 4-toluenesulfonyl chloride, nickel, and sulfuric acid [2].

[Note: propylene glycol is so commonly used that over 900,000 tonnes are made each year]

What are Humectants?

Humectants such as propylene glycol strongly attract water, due to molecular –hydroxyl groups. This means that they can ‘lock in’ water molecules, helping to moisturise the scalp and hair follicles. Humectants are important in shampoos, because they help to counteract harsher ingredients like surfactants and alcohols [3].

Propylene glycol is one of the most common humectants, but others to look out for include:

* tripropylene glycol

* triethylene glycol

* polypropylene glycol

* glycerin

Many shampoos will use a combination of these humectants, depending on the concentrations of surfactants and drying ingredients. If a shampoo claims to be ‘moisturising’, you’ll almost certainly be able to find at least one of the above on the ingredient label.

What are the risks?

Propylene glycol helps to moisturise the scalp and hair follicles, but it is also associated with a number of adverse effects. A number of studies have evaluated the risks from everyday use, and research has also started to evaluate the environmental impact.

1. Risks to humans

Propylene glycol is relatively non-irritating and well-tolerated, even at high concentrations. Studies have found increases of up to 180% in the risk of respiratory irritation, eczema, and asthma, although the results are generally inconsistent and suffer from poor methodologies [4,5]. It appears as if the highest risks are with paint and cleaning products, due to long exposure times – this is less of a concern with shampoos that are quickly washed away.

While propylene glycol is generally considered a low toxicity ingredient, it can cause severe contact dermatitis in some individuals. It’s not clear what makes some people more susceptible, but those with other skin conditions such as eczema seem to be at the highest risk.   [6].

Note : Seborrheic Dermatitis is a form of eczema, so sufferers of seb derm should in particular be aware of this ingredient.

2. Risks to the environmental

Propylene glycol is biodegradable within 24-50 hours of exposure, but the process requires large quantities of oxygen. Concern has been raised about the impact of this oxygen consumption on aquatic animals, possibly altering biodiversity profiles – although the impact is still being researched. Outside of this concern, the breakdown products of propylene glycol are known to not bioaccumulate or cause toxicity to aquatic life [7].

Are there any alternatives?

There are a number of ‘natural’ humectants, but they aren’t commonly used in shampoos because propylene glycol is generally well-tolerated and extremely low cost. These alternatives can be found on high street shelves, and offer those with diagnosed sensitivities a less irritating shampoo.

1. Hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is found throughout the human body, and plays a role in a number of physiological processes, including: building cartilage, joint protection, tissue repair, and cell adhesion. It’s a less irritating alternative to propylene glycol in shampoos, because as a much larger molecule it can’t be absorbed through the skin [8].

2. Glycerin

Glycerin is similar to propylene glycol in terms of molecular structure, but is derived from triglycerides found in plants or animals, instead of from the petrochemical industry. Glycerin is very well-tolerated, and is used a humectant substitute in many ‘sensitive skin’ products [9].

The Best Propylene Glycol Free Dandruff Shampoos

Pharmaceutical Specialities Free & Clear Shampoo

Pharmaceutical Specialities Free & Clear Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp and Psoriasis

Pharmaceutical Specialties formed in 1974 to “start a company to make better products than were commercially available for people with sensitive skin”. And boy, have they achieved it with this Free and Clear shampoo.

What is perhaps surprising on a website dedicated to dandruff treatments is that this isn’t a dandruff shampoo at all.

It’s rather a "a non-medicated, mild shampoo for sensitive skin and scalp.”

That said, we can’t use a medicated shampoo all the time, and this is my go to shampoo for those “between” washes.

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BIOM8 Skin Conditioning Oil

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

BIOM8 Skin Conditioning Oil is now part of my daily skin care routine. It’s as simple as that. I have lost count of the number of products I’ve reviewed over the years and I can count on one hand the number of products that have impacted me on this level.

If you suffer from dry skin, facial seb derm or rosacea I simply can’t recommend this product highly enough.

It even makes a good beard oil!

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Maple Holistics Hydrate Shampoo

Maple Holistics Hydrate Shampoo

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

Maple Holistics Hydrate Shampoo has been superbly formulated to soothe and moisturize the scalp and hair. The ingredients have been carefully selected to decrease the chance that the product will irritate the skin. Using multiple low dose surfactants is a stroke of genius and only the fact the shampoo contains only one potential contact allergen says it all.

This is as close to perfection as you get in the commercial shampoo world.

I simply can't recommend this highly enough.

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Nurture My Body Everyday Fragrance Free Shampoo

Nurture My Body Everyday Fragrance Free Shampoo

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

Nurture My Body Everyday Fragrance-Free Shampoo is an excellent gentle option for sufferers of a dry irritated scalp. The absence of any noteworthy irritants or allergens combined with the expert formulation of anti-inflammatory moisturizing ingredients makes an excellent change from the usual harsh surfactants and other toxins that lead to a vicious cycle of irritation and inflammation.

They've managed all of this in a shampoo that foams and washes well.

It's not particularly cheap, but this is simply one of the finest dry scalp shampoos out there.

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Dead Sea Spa MAGIK Mineral Shampoo

Dead Sea Spa MAGIK Mineral Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp and Psoriasis

Dead Sea Spa MAGIK Mineral Shampoo is a combination shampoo containing both salicylic acid and zinc pyrithione.  The thinking behind this shampoo is that the salicylic acid will soften and exfoliate existing build up and the zinc pyrithione will help prevent new build up from forming.

I’m generally a big fan of combination shampoos and this is no exception.  The shampoo feels great, has a nice light smell and leaves the hair feeling extremely soft.  It only contains one known contact allergen too - cocamidopropyl betaine.

If you suffer from mild seb derm I can’t recommend this highly enough.

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Sebamed Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Sebamed Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

Sebamed is one of the gentle yet most effective seb derm shampoos available.

The active ingredient is Piroctine Olamine - an excellent anti-fungal agent.

The rest of the shampoo has been formulated with panache.

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DHS Fragrance Free Tar Shampoo

DHS Fragrance Free Tar Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

DHS Coal Tar Shampoo is an expertly formulated shampoo containing 0.5% coal tar and is the gentlest coal tar shampoo we’ve yet reviewed

We can't recommend this product or this company highly enough.

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Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo

Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

Quite simply the best pure Salicylic Acid shampoo we’ve yet reviewed. The shampoo contains 3% Salicylic Acid combined with a fragrance free, sulfate free and virtually every other nasty ingredient free formulation. It does this and still feels luxurious when washing.

Neutrogena should be exceptionally proud of this top top class shampoo.

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Tru Moroccan Repair Shampoo

Tru Moroccan Repair Shampoo

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

An impressive dry scalp treatment shampoo with an innovative formulation.

I have to applaud any company that can formulate a shampoo with so few allergens. The fact that it washes so well is marvelous. For those not sensitive to Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Phenoxyethanol or fragrances - this is an excellent shampoo.

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Eucerin Dermocapillaire Calming Urea Scalp Treatment

Eucerin Dermocapillaire Calming Urea Scalp Treatment

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

This dry scalp treatment isn’t a shampoo at all, but rather a leave on moisturizer that you apply to your hair after washing.

The advantage of this approach is that, while shampoos are designed to clean (and all the sensitizing issues that come with that) this treatment is designed to moisturize and nothing else.

You’re free to use the shampoo of your choice and us this treatment in combination.

It’s an excellent approach that I hope other manufacturers take notice of.

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Scalp 18 Coal Tar Shampoo

Scalp 18 Coal Tar Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

Scalp 18 Coal Tar shampoo is a 2% coal tar formulation that has a number of added essential oils to further nourish and soothe the scalp.

These essential oils do contain fragrance but if you're not sensitive to fragrances then this is a superb shampoo.

It is extremely gentle and washes like a high end salon shampoo.

If you’re not sensitive to fragrances then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this shampoo.

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Maple Holistics Tea Tree Oil Shampoo

Maple Holistics Tea Tree Oil Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

Maple Holistics Tea Tree Shampoo is an outstanding Tea Tree shampoo for treating Dry Scalp or Seb Derm. It doesn’t contain any artificial coloring or fragrance, sulfates, parabens, or carcinogens. It contains only three potential contact allergens, with two of the three being tea tree and rosemary essential oils.

The combination of cleansing agents used are gentle, effective and innovative while the shampoo smells ace and washes even better.

If you're looking for a tea tree shampoo, I can't recommend this highly enough.

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DHS Sal Dandruff Shampoo

DHS Sal Dandruff Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

DHS Sal Shampoo is a 3% salicylic acid shampoo designed to treat Psoriasis and Seborrheic Dermatitis.

It’s an outstanding shampoo that washes well, contains relatively few ingredients, is gentle and won’t break the bank.

If you’re not sensitive to sulfates and are looking for a good salicylic acid shampoo, this is an excellent performer.

Yet again, DHS have produced a shampoo that we can't recommend highly enough.

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Cleure Volumizing Shampoo

Cleure Volumizing Shampoo

Designed to treat Dry Scalp

Cleure Volumizing uses only a handful of skin conditioning agents and gentle cleansers to treat a dry scalp.

It contains only two potential irritants that should be considered low to moderate concerns, compared to other much harsher alternatives. This shampoo doesn’t use any sulfates, parabens, artificial fragrances, dyes, alcohol, salicylates, formaldehyde, or SLS, making it a good option for those with sensitive scalps who typically react to less gentle, conventional shampoo and other personal care products.

Unless you have severely sensitive skin and are highly reactive to any potential irritants, we suggest trying this shampoo from Cleure and seeing if it calms your sensitive skin, and helps to clear up any dryness and itchiness on your scalp.

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Nizoral

Nizoral

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis

Nizoral is probably the most effective shampoo on the market to control seborrhoeic dermatitis.

It is still my go to shampoo if I suffer from a bad breakout.

The 2% edition is by far the best but the 1% can help too.

However, the 2% formulation can and does control severe cases of seb derm.

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Capasal

Capasal

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

Capasal have taken the unique step of combining 1% Coal Tar with 0.5% Salicylic Acid and added coconut oil.

It's perhaps the most original and interesting shampoo formulation we've yet seen

While the shampoo is SLS, fragrance and paraben free there are still a few known contact allergens in there. Unfortunately it smells like a coal tar shampoo too.

That aside Capasal is an excellent shampoo for those who suffer mild to moderate scalp psoriasis.

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E45 Dry Scalp Shampoo

E45 Dry Scalp Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

E45 is a brand synonymous with dry skin care.

If you frequently get dry scalps after washing then this shampoo could be an excellent choice.

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Aubrey Organics Green Tree Clarifying Shampoo

Aubrey Organics Green Tree Clarifying Shampoo

Designed to treat Product Build Up

A gentle clarifying shampoo may sound like a contradiction in terms, but Aubrey Organics have done a fantastic job formulating a clarifying shampoo with mild ingredients.

It’s possibly the gentlest clarifying shampoo we’ve reviewed yet.

It smells nice, it will clarify your scalp, it will help remove dandruff caused by product build up.

But this comes at a cost – it will dry your scalp if used too much.

Like all clarifying shampoos – use absolutely only when needed.

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La Roche-Posay Kerium Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

La Roche-Posay Kerium Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp

La Roche Posay is a combination shampoo, combining both Piroctone Olamine and Salicylic Acid. The Salicylic Acid will help exfoliate existing dandruff build up while the Piroctone Olamine is designed to prevent any new outbreaks. It’s a match made in heaven.

I can’t let a mention of a review pass without commenting on how luxurious this shampoo feels and smells when washing – better than any medicated shampoo I have ever tried. And I’ve tried lots!

There are a couple of harsh ingredients but compared to the majority of the shampoos on the market, this is a first class Piroctone Olamine shampoo.

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Giovanni 50:50 Balanced Hydrating-Clarifying Shampoo

Giovanni 50:50 Balanced Hydrating-Clarifying Shampoo

Designed to treat Product Build Up

The self proclaimed “natural-product industry leader”, Giovanni shampoos are multiple award winning shampoos entirely manufactured in the USA.

The 50:50 hydrating/clarifying shampoo has an ambitious purpose; to both moisturize and clarify.

It largely achieves this, although some of you may wish to use a conditioner too.

Excellent!

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References

[1] Dasari, M. A., Kiatsimkul, P. P., Sutterlin, W. R., & Suppes, G. J. (2005). Low-pressure hydrogenolysis of glycerol to propylene glycol. Applied Catalysis A: General, 281(1), 225-231.

[2] Brissault, B., Guis, C., & Cheradame, H. (2005). New highly functionalized primary allyl, hydroxyl, and tosyl poly (propylene glycol) s (PPG) from available PPG derivatization. Macromolecules, 38(20), 8244-8251.

[3] Lowther, A., McCormick, T., & Nedorost, S. (2008). Systemic contact dermatitis from propylene glycol. Dermatitis, 19(2), 105-108.

[4] Choi, H., Schmidbauer, N., Sundell, J., Hasselgren, M., Spengler, J., & Bornehag, C. G. (2010). Common household chemicals and the allergy risks in pre-school age children. PLoS One, 5(10), e13423.

[5] Dockrell, M., Morison, R., Bauld, L., & McNeill, A. (2013). E-cigarettes: prevalence and attitudes in Great Britain. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, ntt057.

[6] Lessmann, H., Schnuch, A., Geier, J., & Uter, W. (2005). Skin‐sensitizing and irritant properties of propylene glycol. Contact Dermatitis, 53(5), 247-259.

[7] Ramakrishna, D. M., & Viraraghavan, T. (2005). Environmental impact of chemical deicers–a review. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, 166(1-4), 49-63.

[8] Kraft, J. N., & Lynde, C. W. (2005). Moisturizers: what they are and a practical approach to product selection. Skin Therapy Lett, 10(5), 1-8.

[9] Rawlings, A. V., Canestrari, D. A., & Dobkowski, B. (2004). Moisturizer technology versus clinical performance. Dermatologic Therapy, 17(s1), 49-56.

 

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