How habits take shape in our brains—and how we can override them with new and (hopefully) better habits—is the subject of an exciting new book called The Power of Habits by New York Times writer Charles Duhigg.
I started reading it a couple of weeks ago and, ever the evangelist, have been talking about it to just about anyone who will listen since. You should all check it for yourselves, but here’s the opening premise:
For an act to become a habit, there must be a CUE, followed by a ROUTINE, and finishing with some sense of REWARD. When we start craving the reward before it happens, the act is transformed into a habit and imprinted so deep in our brains (literally) that even in some cases of severe brain damage, where most everything is forgotten, habits can still survive.
Example of a habit loop in action: If you’re a smoker—and FYI the lines between habits and addiction can often become blurred—talking on the phone might be a cue for you, the routine involves lighting up as you gab, and the feeling of reward could come from the nicotine itself or maybe the association between smoking and socializing.
The book posits—backed by exhaustive research—that if you want to change a habit, you must create a new one in its stead. So maybe instead of lighting a cigarette, you pick up a pencil and doodle while you’re on the phone, and when you’re off you admire your artistic skill and take pride in it. OK, pretty dumb example, but you know where I’m going with this. And if you don’t, Duhigg has created a helpful infographic on his blog (partially pictured above) to help people change their habits.
How does any of this relate to shampoo, or more importantly Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, that notoriously sketchy and stripping ingredient? For those not familiar with SLS (or its cousin SLES), it’s the stuff that makes most products foam and studies have shown that it’s often contaminated with a carcinogen. It’s also so harsh that it wreaks havoc on skin and scalps.
But part of why it was added to shampoos (and toothpastes, body washes and so many other things) is that studies by major personal care companies showed that consumers associated that foamy feeling with a reward (I’m oversimplifying here, but that’s the jist). And sure enough, if you ask anyone who’s ever tried natural shampoos, they all miss that foaming feeling at first. I’ve even had people tell me they’re addicted to it!
Can you think of other products that use the habit loop to sell more stock? Exfoliation comes to mind—people definitely crave that feeling! And just for fun: Any habits you’re trying to break these days?
Looks like we’re not the only ones singing the anti-sulfate song. The New York Times is reporting today that sulfates have some folks in a lather—which is not the best pun I’ve ever heard, but I’ll repeat it anyways. According to the article, a whole bunch of very mainstream brands have launched low- to no-sulfate shampoos. From the article:
Jennifer Disomma, the director for product development for L’Oréal Paris, said, “We do know sulfate-free shampoos are gentler on the hair fiber.” Yet the company’s Vive Pro line has shampoos that list sodium laureth sulfate as the second ingredient. Nine shampoos, in fact. In an e-mail, Ms. Disomma said, “Providing EverPure, EverStrong and VIVE Pro shampoos gives the consumer choices that meet her needs.”Jennifer Disomma, the director for product development for L’Oréal Paris, said, “We do know sulfate-free shampoos are gentler on the hair fiber.” Yet the company’s Vive Pro line has shampoos that list sodium laureth sulfate as the second ingredient. Nine shampoos, in fact.
Ruh-roh! Are these companies trying to have their cake and eat it too? Yes, of course they are.
But I have a few things to add that the article doesn’t mention. Yes, sulfates are bad for your hair because they strip out the good stuff that makes your mane healthy and shiny, but they are also bad because they can be contaminated with a carcinogen called 1,4-dioxane. This made news with baby products, but we like to forget stuff.
Also, are we sure these companies are even telling the truth? I, for one, am not. Not that long ago I posted about a company advertising that its shampoo was “low-sulfate” when in fact sulfates were way up there on the ingredient list.
The article ends with a very strange anecdote: A “mousy blonde” (as described by the writer) walks into a salon thinking that she needs a dye job, when really all she needs are some sulfates—and pop goes her color! This feels beyond absurd to us: You can clean your hair without sulfates everybody, and our hair challenge proved it.
Or you can not clean it at all like some weirdos (me!), but I’m curious: Can you live without the foam? Have you gone sulfate-free?
That’s right, this week over at GOOD we’re talking about your face—and what you don’t want near it. For those of you who have read the book, this top-10 list of bad chemicals will likely be familiar. Hey, nothing wrong with a little refresher, right? Here’s the repost:
A quick skim of this list reads like a prescription from Dr. Obvious. Clearly nobody wants lead or petroleum on their faces, right? But if you’ve been reading this series, our blog, or our book, you know that the cosmetics industry uses all kinds of ingredients in its products—some dangerous, some just plain confusing. What many of them have in common is that that don’t belong anywhere near our largest organ.
Here’s why: Many of them have pretty damning scientific data on record. They’re also not doing anything for your appearance—and in some cases they may be making matters worse. And thus, here is our mantra: If you can’t be sure a product is safe, and it isn’t doing your looks any favors, why bother using it? With that in mind, here’s a top-10 list of common ingredients, contaminants, and byproducts that are bad for your health and duds for your face.
|1. Petroleum and related petrochemicals The danger risk for this group of ingredients ranges from a mellow yellow to code red. Petroleum distillates are toxic solvents used in mascara, hairspray, and callus treatments. But your run-of-the-mill moisturizer probably contains something like mineral oil or paraffin in it, which are not considered dangerous per se, they’re just really, really bad for the environment and they suffocate the skin and may interfere with perspiration.|
|2. Lead-tainted lipstick In 2009 the FDA discovered that of 20 lipsticks it tested, 20 were contaminated with lead. In many cases, the lead levels exceeded those set by that same FDA for candy—and since they don’t set restrictions for cosmetics, this feels like a fair model of comparison, right? Not so according to the FDA, which claims that we don’t eat our lipstick. Lead is a neurotoxin and lipstick goes on our mouths, which combine to make this debate officially ridiculous. Go for organic small-batch lipstick lines, or kiss a beet instead.|
|3. Formaldehyde-leaching preservatives Our crusade for clean cosmetics started after the discovery of formaldehyde in a hair treatment (and later in our nail polish), but this known carcinogen is also “donated,” as the pros like to say, by preservatives such as quaternium-15, DMDM-hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, and diazolidinyl urea. That means it’s both pervasive and often unlisted, not appearing as an ingredient on labels. It’s considered a human carcinogen by many health agencies worldwide, and when it’s not giving rats nose cancer, it might still be giving you a rash.|
|4. Fragrance It’s broken-record time, but here goes: Fragrance is in everything from your fancy perfume to your face wash. It represents a concoction of mystery ingredients, whose secrecy is protected by industry-ass-kissing trade laws. Lab studies by the EWG have shown them to contain a whole cocktail of hormone disruptors(among other things). Which is nice, since our hormones regulate, oh, everything: genital size, fertility, weight, acne, and beyond.|
See the next five
Images by Brianna Harden
|5. Parabens This popular preservative group used in more than 10,000 products became very controversial when their presence was discovered in the tissue of breast tumors. What that data actually means is hotly debated but studies have shown that certain parabens mimic estrogen, the female sex hormone. This could be bad news for both men and women. Look for ingredients on the label with “paraben” as a suffix to avoid these bad boys.|