I have been told by a friend that some ingredients in hair and body wash can harm aquatic life. I live in the UK and I'm not sure how our water processing works, but I can see that the amount of these things we collectively wash down the drain could be very bad. I have heard of using baking soda and apple cider vinegar to replace conventional shampoo and conditioner, but I have not managed to find a quick and easy way to use these effectively.

Does anyone know what specific ingredients I should be looking out for to avoid and why? Also, any recommendations of brands or UK retailers that supply environmentally-conscious shower products?

  • EWG's skindeep database lists thousands of personal care products (mostly US I think) and shows potential health risks for their ingredients. It is however more focused on human health than the environment.
    – THelper
    Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 6:37

1 Answer 1


Here is a good resource for compounds which can be harmful, although they are more related to health rather than environmental concern.
That said, anything which is toxic to humans is likely toxic to other organisms, especially when concentrated and bioamplified. I'll summarize the environmental effects below:

The really common ones you hear bad things about are phthalates, sulfates, and parabens (many companies/products will promote the fact if they are free of these compounds)

  • Sodium laureth sulfate (a foaming agent) might contain 1,4-dioxane, which persists in the environment.

  • BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) used as preservatives in lipsticks and moisturizers, among other cosmetics and food preservatives. They are toxic to aquatic organisms.

  • Coal tar-derived colours and P-phenylenediamine (classified as toxic in the EU) are also toxic to aquatic organisms and environments

Also toxic to aquatics:
DEA (diethanolamine), Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and triclosane.

Plastic "micro-beads" are also really bad because water treatment facilities do not filter them out and they can be eaten by fish, etc., and may break down to other harmful things as plastic does. They are currently being phased out in Canada, though I don't know if the UK has already done this.

  • 1
    Nice answer, but I'm missing parabens on your list that are suspected to have an endocrine disruptive function. Also some more info about microplastics: they can be found in soaps, shampoos, toothpaste and various other personal care products that have a 'scrub' material. They often are listed on products under the name "polyethylene". There is an app that lists products that contain microplastics but I'm not sure how complete the app is (more info here)
    – THelper
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 8:20
  • Thanks, I forgot about parabens. I might also expand later about triclosan and antibiotic resistance, unless anyone else brings it up first Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 13:10

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