The mass recall of 1.5 million Unilever hair products due to concerns over the cancer-causing chemical benzene has prompted many Canadians to throw out their dry shampoos.
The recall affects dry shampoos sold in the last two years, under the Unilever brands: Bed Head TIGI, Dove and Tresemmé.
Health Canada issued a recall following the detection of benzene in the products. Unilever said in its statement recalling the products was out of “an abundance of caution”, noting Canadians are exposed to benzene daily through other sources.
The government has received more than 100 incident reports, including skin irritation and allergic reactions, since the recall was announced.
For those who are ditching all dry shampoos and looking for alternatives, celebrity hairstylist Aaron O’Bryan says several products do a similar job.
“DIY (do it yourself) is always a great way to go,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview Thursday. “I do like corn starch… it’s very light, it’s an oil absorber, and you can also mix it with cocoa powder if you have darker hair.”
His other go-to item for a quick hair oil-absorber is cornmeal.
He suggests people put one to two tablespoons of cornmeal and a half teaspoon of salt into a shaker for easy application.
“Then you would let the cornmeal absorb… then you would just brush it out,” he said.
Dr. Sonya Abdulla, a certified dermatologist with the Canadian Dermatology Association, said people should be mindful of what types of alternatives to dry shampoo they are using.
“Dry shampoos have changed the hair care market and as we learn more about the use of benzene in skin and hair care, looking for benzene-free product alternatives would be the most suitable option,” Abdulla told CTVNews.ca in an email Friday.
Abdulla also noted any products or ingredients with “drying properties” such as tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar and witch hazel, would temporarily decrease oil but contain acids, harming the scalp.
She said those products are, “irritating, disrupt skin barrier function, and trigger symptoms like itching, burning and flaking. People with a history of scalp conditions like dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis or psoriasis are at higher risk of irritation with these astringents.”
Using rye flour is another good alternative to dry shampoo, O’Bryan said. The compound of the flour is a similar pH balance to the scalp, which he says is between 4.5 and 5.5.
“I think the rye flour lies in about a 5.0 (on the pH scale) so it doesn’t irritate the scalp,” he said.
If the pH balance of the scalp is off, people may have an overly dry or oily head.
Arrowroot powder is similar, and O’Bryan said it doesn’t irritate the scalp. With any powder alternative, he said people should allow the product to sit on the hair until it absorbs the oil then brush through to get rid of the residue.
Owner and president of The Hair Clinic Inc. in New Brunswick, John Cormier, said he does not recommend people leave any powders in their hair for long periods. Even the more natural products, such as corn starch and rye flour, can cause build-up, he said.
“They are safe, but they’re not recommended to use too often because they do clog up the pores,” Cormier told CTVNews.ca in an interview Friday. He has decades of experience in preventing and fixing hair loss and a Cosmetology Association certificate. “If you’re in a hurry, you want to do something quick and natural, but it’s not something you want to do too often.”
Clogged pores on the scalp can lead to a dry or oily head, allowing hair to break easier. Cormier said the best way to keep hair healthy and looking fresh is by shampooing every other day.
“I always recommend alternating shampoos,” he said. “I know sometimes we’re all in the hurry… But it’s still better to wash your hair.”
Both hair experts did not recommend any products that may be too harsh on people’s scalps, such as apple cider vinegar or perfumes.
“With overuse (it) can cause breakage so if you are going to use it, use it sparingly and don’t use it as often,” O’Bryan said.
He said people should generally avoid using products on the scalp that are manufactured as makeup powder or baby powder because of the processed chemicals.
Cormier said, in a pinch, the only product he uses is baking soda.
“The only thing that I use sometimes to strip away a little bit of the oil or sometimes hairspray, gels or mousse, is baking soda,” he said. “That’s the only thing. It’ll absorb and it’s natural and it’s okay to get in and rinse it out.”
He said people can use a bit of baking soda every once in a while to help absorb buildup before washing and rinsing hair later the same day.
With files from CTVNews.ca’s Alexandra Mae Jones
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