Dandruff Shampoo Could Mess Up Waterways

Dandruff Shampoo

Story at-a-glance -

  • Fungicides from dandruff shampoos have been detected for the first time in water that has already gone through wastewater treatment plants
  • The fungicides may be killing algae, harming growth in larger plants, and impacting fish and other marine life
  • Dozens of contaminants, including herbicides, caffeine, and pharmaceutical drugs, have been detected in waterways, with unknown human health and environmental consequences
  • Dandruff is often related to an overgrowth of yeast and may be effectively treated naturally by reducing your intake of sugars and grains

By Dr. Mercola

Many people assume that the water flushed down their drains is of little consequence to the environment, with any contaminants of concern being removed by wastewater treatment plants.

In reality, however, most wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to remove various medications and other chemicals that may end up being flushed or poured down your drain.

Among them are fungicides that are part of widely used dandruff shampoos. If you use a medicated shampoo, each time you wash your hair you could be contributing to gradual environmental destruction.

Study: Fungicides from Dandruff Shampoos in Our Water

New research published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry has detected fungicides from dandruff shampoos in waterways. According to the study:1

Emerging pollutants such as personal care products can reach the environment via effluents from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) and digested sludge. Only recently, the antidandruff agent and antimycotic climbazole was detected for the first time in a WWTP effluent with concentrations up to 0.5 µg/L.”

The risks of fungicides persisting in waterways are immense. Not only are algae dying as a result, but larger plants are having trouble growing properly. Even fish and other marine life are being adversely impacted.

Unless these chemicals of question are going to be removed, and fast, from personal care products, it’s clear that more effective wastewater treatment is necessary.

Half of Emerging Chemicals of Concern May Persist After Wastewater Treatment

Each year, nearly 5 billion gallons of treated water, or effluent, are released into the Great Lakes basin from the 1,400 wastewater treatment plants in the US and Canada.2

This water is supposed to be clean, but a report by the International Joint Commission has echoed the recent Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry study in revealing that concerning chemicals are being left behind.

After reviewing 10 years of data from wastewater treatment plants, they found that many of the 42 compounds analyzed were not being effectively removed.  The results revealed:3

  • An herbicide, an anti-seizure drug, two antibiotics, an antibacterial drug, and an anti-inflammatory drug were detected frequently and had a low removal rate
  • There was a low removal rate (less than 25 percent chance of removing 75 percent or more) for 11 of the 42 chemicals
  • Triclosan, which is a known hormone disruptor in fish, was detected frequently with only a medium removal rate

The authors expressed concern about exposure to even low levels of such contaminants on a long-term basis. Antibiotics, for instance, may spread resistance even at very low exposure levels. The study’s lead author told Scientific American:4

“The compounds show up in low levels – parts per billion or parts per trillion – but aquatic life and humans aren’t exposed to just one at a time, but a whole mix… We need to find which of these chemicals might hurt us.”

18 Unregulated Contaminants Found in Drinking Water

Federal scientists have also reported finding traces of 18 unregulated contaminants in one-third of the water samples collected from 25 municipal utilities across the US. As reported in Scientific American:5

“Included are 11 perfluorinated compounds, an herbicide, two solvents, caffeine, an antibacterial compound, a metal and an antidepressant...

‘The good news is the concentrations are generally pretty low,’ said Dana Kolpin, a research hydrologist with the USGS who participated in the study. ‘But,’ he added, ‘there’s still the unknown. Are there long-term consequences of low-level exposure to these chemicals?’”

Past studies have also detected a variety of pharmaceuticals in drinking water, and laboratory studies show human cells do not grow normally when exposed to even trace amounts of certain drugs.

According to one comprehensive survey of US drinking water, the 11 most frequently detected toxic pharmaceuticals overall were:

Atenolol, a beta-blocker used to treat cardiovascular disease Atrazine, an organic herbicide banned in the European Union which has been implicated in the decline of fish stocks and in changes in animal behavior Carbamazepine, a mood-stabilizing drug used to treat bipolar disorder
Estrone, an estrogen hormone secreted by the ovaries and blamed for causing gender changes in fish Gemfibrozil, an anti-cholesterol drug Meprobamate, a tranquilizer used in psychiatric treatment
Naproxen, a painkiller and anti-inflammatory linked to increases in asthma incidence Phenytoin, an anticonvulsant used to treat epilepsy Sulfamethoxazole, an antibiotic
TCEP, a reducing agent used in molecular biology Trimethoprim, another antibiotic  


Even more concerning, chlorine and other water treatment chemicals, in addition to being somewhat toxic in and of themselves, react with ordinary organic particles in the water (manure from livestock, dead animals, fallen leaves, etc.) to create hundreds of extremely toxic carcinogenic byproducts, which aren’t monitored or regulated at all. These toxic byproducts have been labeled “disinfection byproducts,” or “DBPs,” and there are 600 we know about and probably hundreds more that we don’t …

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Filtering Your Water Is Now Essential

I strongly recommend using a high-quality water filtration system unless you can verify the purity of your water. To be absolutely certain you are getting the purest water you can, you'll want to filter the water both at the point of entry and at the point of use. This means filtering all the water that comes into your house, and then filtering again at the kitchen sink.

I currently use a whole house carbon-based water filtration system, in addition to a reverse osmosis (RO) filter to purify my drinking water. You can read more about water filtration in this previous article to help you make a decision about what type of water filtration system will be best for you and your family. Since most water sources are now severely polluted, the issue of water filtration and purification couldn't be more important. The downside of RO water is that it extracts many minerals and destructures the water, but those can both be effectively remediated.

How to Get Rid of Dandruff Naturally

One of the best ways to help keep our waterways cleaner would be for most people to switch to natural personal care products, which would mean no concerning chemicals would be going down the drain (at least from your toiletries). This makes sense personally as well, since virtually everything you slather on your skin or put on your scalp goes into your bloodstream, and can affect your overall health and internal balance. Even if you’re struggling with dandruff, you can often resolve it naturally.

Dandruff is a very common condition that can be cause for some embarrassment. By the age of 20, about 50 percent of Americans have suffered an outbreak. A small amount of flaking is normal as skin cells continually die and flake off your scalp, but some people experience an unusually large amount of flaking, either chronically or as a result of certain triggers. Dandruff may also be accompanied by redness and irritation.

Dandruff is believed to be caused by a fungal infection, specifically a species called pityriasis capitis. Another yeast-like fungus, malassezia globosa, has also been implicated. The fungi live on your scalp, feeding on skin oils. The malassezia globosa fungus uses enzymes called lipases to metabolize the oils, creating a by-product called oleic acid. The acid penetrates your skin and triggers skin cell shedding. One of the best ways to solve a yeast issue is to cut down on your intake of sugar and grains, which you can learn how to do using my nutrition plan.

Sugar will increase the growth of fungus and yeast, and processed grains also break down to sugar very rapidly. Even juices or consuming lots of fruit can perpetuate the growth of the fungus. The types of fats you ingest are another important component. Make sure you’re getting sufficient amounts of high-quality animal-based omega-3 fats, which are really important for reducing inflammation.

Other options include using oil of oregano, lavender oil, or tea tree oil on your scalp. Many people find massaging their scalp with vinegar, colloidal silver, or baking soda, which changes the pH, is also helpful. There is also evidence that honey applied topically to the scalp is quite effective in cases of extreme scalp inflammation and dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis).6 Each of these natural treatments has natural antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties that can reduce inflammation and effectively treat infections without posing a risk to waterways, your health, and the environment.