new irritants

bah humbug
Exciting news! And we all know that you can never have too much excitement. Except when it comes to skin. And that ancient curse, “may you live in interesting times.” So … exciting news about over-excitement: good news because it’s news and, well, new; bad news if you’re my skin.

Adding these to the list:

  • decyl glucoside (aka decyl polyglucose)
  • cetearyl alcohol: though OK in low-contact wash-off stuff like bar cleansers
  • cetearth-20
    (often combined with cetearyl alcohol as emulsifying wax; and ditto)

How they were discovered:

  • my scalp got bumpy and itchy and, eventually, that itching turned hurty 😦
  • and, by a happy coincidence, it was time for my regular allergen check-up

Problems, as it’s rare in nature for there to be one simple cause working by one single mechanism:

  • shiny new irritant in otherwise very gentle and much-beloved shampoo
    = scalp irritation. I was also using this shampoo as an all-over cleanser, and had got bumpy bits elsewhere. Some were quite amusing in their own way.

I must apologise to you, gentle readers: please understand that some parts of me (in the mind, anyway) are still somewhere around 6 or 10 years old, so I’m easily amused by this sort of low-brow physical comedy, especially if below the belt (with further apologies for the additional puns via the metaphorical also being literal). On the other hand, better to laugh than to cry, when teetering on that fine line between comedy and tragedy.

  • + harder water: where I live, our water is very very soft (low mineralization and acidic). This wrecks the water-pipes. So zinc has been added to the water, to save our pipes. One of its other effects is hardening the water, and making it more basic. It’s not yet properly hard hard hard water, the kind that strips your skin off your bones and requires adding a water-filter (at least at shower-heads and taps).
    = scrubbing more at scalp to get it clean: besides using up more shampoo than usual, this aggravated the irritated bumps
  • + shiny new irritant in otherwise very gentle and much-beloved conditioner
    = further irritation and exacerbation

Alas, this means an end to the glory days, the very golden age, of Curelle shampoo on me. It was great. No thinking about products, no decisions when you run out and go shopping.

So off I went to look for replacements, in local shops and online…


This, of which I keep some around anyway, in case of emergency. And some other of their basic stuff too:

free & clear shampoo

or (same stuff, can be bought in real shops here, but more expensive)

cliniderm shampoo
or  this: I got a bottle while in the mood / zone, that is, OMG I AM ACTUALLY SHOPPING AROUND FOR STUFF, LIKE HOW NORMAL NON-CRUNCHY PEOPLE FUNCTION, you know, “making decisions” based on greed and lust and matchy-matchy disorder:

earthsafe clean air shampoo

and, the clear winner in the conditioner-stakes—I have no very clear idea why but it was a complex and intricate process which included many stages, moving in mysterious ways, and took some time—this:

earthsafe clean air conditioner



By a happy coincidence, someone on MUA was asking about shampoo without decyl glucoside. Anyone else out there whose skin is irritated by it, here are some options for you [UPDATED after post-work grocery-shopping trip to Whole Foods]:


A’kin / Al’chemy Unscented Very Gentle Shampoo (Australia, also in EU)
INGREDIENTS: Aqua (purified Australian water*), Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate(from palm), Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultain (from coconut), Lauryl Glucoside (from coconut, palm & glucose), Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate (from coconut), Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (from palm), Sodium Chloride, Glycerin*, Glyceryl Laurate*, Sorbitol (from GMO free maize), Sucrose Cocoate (from sugar cane & coconut), Citric Acid*, Sodium Citrate*, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate (from coconut & sugar cane), Sodium Gluconate (from GMO free corn), Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, Tetrasodium EDTA
*derived from botanical sources

I’ve not used this. I’ve seen it when in the UK, but bought something else because it was rather expensive in comparison. Looks good on paper, has decent reviews online.

Carina Organics Botanical Therpeutic Shampoo (Canada)
INGREDIENTS: Aqua (water), Elaeis guineensis (palm) oil, Cocos nucifera (coconut) oil, Glycerin, Pinus banksiana (pine) extract, Medicago sativa (alfalfa) leaf, Matricaria chamomilla (chamomile) flower extract, Echinacea purpurea flower extract, Urtica dioca (nettle) leaf extract, Thuja plicata.

Check with the manufacturers. I’m not entirely sure about this one, the ingredient-list is not properly composed: detergents made from coconut and palm oil should be listed using their INCI names. I’m presuming this shampoo doesn’t include decyl glucoside, as otherwise (following how they’ve written out the other ingredients) it would appear as Zea mays (corn) extracts / glucose, and there’s nothing corny in this shampoo. Decyl glucoside is produced by the reaction of glucose (from corn starch) with the fatty alcohol decanol (from coconut oil).

Cliniderm Gentle Shampoo (Canada: see Free & Clear below, same stuff)
INGREDIENTS: Aqua, Lauryl Glucoside, Coco-Glucoside, Acrylates Copolymer, Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Sodium Cocoyl Glycinate, Glycerin, Sucrose Cocoate, Panthenol, Pentylene Glycol, 1,2-Hexanediol, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Disodium EDTA, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Chloride

Good, nice, I like it; and (see above) a current regular. This or the Free & Clear shampoo, which is the same stuff and may be cheaper, depending. Both are made by PSIco, which is the parent company for the Free & Clear and Vanicream brands. PSIco also make some of the Cliniderm products: this shampoo, the conditioner, and the basic moisturising cream (but not other products, and NB PSIco is cruelty-free whereas Cliniderm’s parent company is not). Good cleaning stuff in that one, plus disodium EDTA to help with mineral content of harder-ish water (a.k.a. chelator).

Druide Pur & Pure Shampoo (Canada)
INGREDIENTS: Aqua, Sodium lauryl glucose carboxylate, Lauryl glucoside, Cocamidopropyl betaine, Trifolium pratense (Red clover) Extract*, Potassium olivoyl hydrolyzed oat protein, Glyceryl oleate, Coco-glucoside, Hydrolyzed rice protein, Glycerin, Levulinic acid, Maltooligosyl glucoside, Hydrogenated starch hydrolysate, Olea europeae (Olive) Oil*, Olive oil polyglyceryl-6 esters, Citric acid, Potassium sorbate, Sorbic acid, Sodium benzoate.

I really liked this one, and its matching conditioner too. A bit on the pricey side, but recommended.

EarthSafe Clean Air Shampoo (Canada)
INGREDIENTS: Aqua, Potassium Cocoate, Pinus Banksiana (Jack Pine) Resin, Pinus Resinosa (Red Pine) Resin, Pinus Strobus (Eastern Pine) Resin, Thuja Plicata (Western Red Cedar) Resin, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Acetic Acid, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Trifolium Pratense (Clover) Flower Extract.

That one is interesting: doesn’t look on the ingredient-list like it would necessarily be that great on cleaning hair and dealing with harder water, but the combination of the main cleaning agent and the vinegar seems to do the trick. The company is based in Ontario, though, so they would have more experience with harder water than most of BC has to deal with… Lathers up well, cleans well, doesn’t strip hair, and combined with the conditioner leaves hair looking and feeling jolly nice. A pleasant surprise.

Earth Science Fragrance Free Shampoo (USA)
INGREDIENTS:  Aqua (Water), Sodium Myreth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Chloride, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Panthenol, Lactic Acid, Polyquaternium-7, Citric Acid, Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose, Glycerin, Sodium Hydroxide, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate.

I’ve used that one in the past and it’s fine, but not that great at cleaning hair in the longer term. It was, for example, a disaster when used in a very hard-water area of the US.

Free & Clear Shampoo (USA)
INGREDIENTS: purified water, lauryl glucoside, coco glucoside, acrylates copolymer, disodium cocoyl glutamate, sodium cocoyl glycinate, glycerin, sucrose cocoate, panthenol, pentylene glycol, 1,2-hexanediol, sodium cocoyl glutamate, disodium EDTA, caprylyl glycol, sodium hydroxide, sodium chloride

Same goes as for Cliniderm above: same stuff.

Jason Fragrance-Free Shampoo (USA)
INGREDIENTS: Aqua (Water), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (1), Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Salvia Officinalis (Sage) Leaf Extract, Ascophyllum Nodosum Extract, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Glycerin, Panthenol, Sodium Sulfate, Sodium Chloride, Citric Acid, Benzyl Alcohol, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate

Good: can’t use it currently due to skin issues with aloe vera.

Nature Clean Pure-Sensitive Shampoo (Canada)
INGREDIENTS: Water/Eau/Aqua, Cocoglucoside, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, Glycerin, Xanthan Gum, Sapindus Mukurossi Peel Extract, Chondrus Chrispus (Carageenan), Citric Acid, Beta-Glucan, Bisabolol, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate.

OK, but a bit drying on me.

Urtekram No Perfume Shampoo (EU)
INGREDIENTS: Aqua, sodium cocosulfate, aloe vera barbadensis leaf extract*, glycerin**, lauryl glucoside, coco glucoside, sodium chloride, glyceryl caprylate, glyceryl oleate, sodium cocoyl glutamate, polyglyceryl-4 caprate, glyceryl undecylenate, citric acid, tocopherol, beta-sitosterol, squalene.
(* = ingredient from Organic Farming, ** = made using organic ingredients).

One of the ones I used a lot in the EU; a “no” for me right now due to the aloe vera.

Whole Foods fragrance-free shampoo (normal to dry) (USA)
INGREDIENTS: aqua, sodium myristoyl sarcosinate, cocamidopropyl hydroxysoltaine, sodium cocoamphoacetate, sodium chloride, disodium cocoamphopropionate, gluconolactone, sodium benzoate, phenethyl alcohol, glyceryl capylate, citric acid, glycerin, stearyldimonium hydroxypropyl laurylglucosides chloride, hydrolysed soy protein, arctium lappa root extract, panthenol

Whole Foods fragrance-free shampoo (normal to oily) (USA)
INGREDIENTS: aqua, sodium myristoyl sarcosinate, cocamidopropyl hydroxysoltaine, disodium cocoamphopropionate, sodium cocoamphoacetate, sodium chloride, gluconolactone, sodium benzoate, phenethyl alcohol, glyceryl capylate, citric acid, hydrolysed soy protein, panthenol, arnica montana flower extract, thymus vulgaris flower extract

I’ve used the “normal-dry” one; OK on the irritation front (in that there was none), but the result on hair was drying and leaving hair sort of flat and somewhat dull. Also makes for a very decent face and body wash.

Some more shampoos without decyl glucoside but with fragrance:

  • Andalou
  • Aubrey Organics: Island Naturals, Baby shampoo (but not others)
  • Carina Organics: various
  • DermaMed (I only looked at kids’ ones)
  • Earth Mama Angel baby
  • Kiss My Face
  • Nature’s Gate
  • Sukin
  • Weleda

For information:
Most of the baby shampoos I looked at had decyl glucoside (Burt’s Bees Baby Bee, Hugo, Seventh Generation)
Fragrance-free shampoos from the following brands DO contain decyl glucoside but are otherwise fragrance-free and non-SLS:

  • Allergenics (also their wash)
  • Avalon Organics
  • California Baby Super Sensitive
  • Curelle
  • Desert Essence
  • Elave
  • Green People
  • John Masters Organics bare
  • Prairie Naturals arctic sun


I didn’t actually look very far. Here’s what I got. I may (or may not) add others that fit the bill—in that they don’t contain cetearyl alcohol, ceteareth-20, or any of the other usual suspects I avoid—at some point. I found one, and it works, and that’s good enough for me. The brands mentioned above would be a good place to start your own search, as well as, well, performing a search on this site. I kind of remember putting up some posts about fragrance-free (i.e. no scent at all; “unscented” can contain masking fragrance) products, including hair-care.

EarthSafe Clean Air Conditioner (Canada)
INGREDIENTS: Aqua, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Cetrimonium Chloride, Pinus Banksiana (Jack Pine) Resin, Pinus Resinosa (Red Pine) Resin, Pinus Strobus (Eastern Pine) Resin, Thuja Plicata (Western Red Cedar) Resin, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower

Depending on your own skin and (in the case of irritable, reactive skin) known irritants, any of the above may be good ideas for you. YMMV: if your skin (including scalp, neck, and behind the ears) has been known to get itchy, bumpy, inflamed, sore, and generally be a PITA: then do some detective work on what the triggers are, and avoid them. Keep a list of these ingredients and check for their presence on the ingredient lists on any new products. I would still recommend the Curelle shampoos and conditioners to most people, especially here in Vancouver where they are readily available and very reasonably priced. For most of the population, and even for much of the sensitive-skinned population, they’re absolutely fabulous.

With apologies to makers of hair care products on behalf of my freaky skin…

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