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Part One


Did you know that sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is just meant to clean?  Did you know many shampoos have glorified ‘bubble bath’ added to them which produces lather in a attempt to make you believe that you’re cleaning your hair? Did you know exotic additives in shampoos may be meaningless because the SLS will wash them away anyway?

Chemist Steve Miller, the owner of Gable’s Cosmetics Inc knows all about these issues.  He gave a lecture to hair care professionals in which he revealed some rather startling information about the manufacturing process of hair care products.  In some cases, Miller challenges what we think we know, and what we’ve been told about certain hair care products.

Gable’s Cosmetics in Los Angeles, CA is one of the few privately owned cosmetics companies in the US and was established in 1932 by Miller’s grandfather.

Miller is a private label manufacturer which means he makes the actual product which companies slap their labels onto and ship to the salons, grocery stores, drugstores, etc. where we buy it.

“I’m a private label contractor.  I make products to put your name on ’em so you can sell it for a high price to customers who have no money, “ Miller joked with the hair care professionals to which he was speaking.

Private label works best with anonymity, meaning you ain’t supposed to know that Company X’s Awesomely Unique Conditioning Shampoo is actually not as awesome, and sometimes not as unique, as you thought it was…. nor was it even made by Company X.

Before you get the idea that this is some random manufacturer who does things outside of the industry norm, think again.

Chances are, you, your mama or your grandmama have used or are using at least one product his company has manufactured at some point in time. But that product was probably in a bottle with somebody else’s brand name slapped on the label.

Basically, he’s one of the people who knows where the bodies are buried. When it comes to whose products contain what, he’s the guy who would know because he may have actually manufactured it.

In his lecture, about 1 hour and 30 minutes of which was posted at youtube, Miller is quite blunt on a lot of things we’ve been told by advertisers of personal care products.

On the issue of shampoo, for example, Miller is quite direct.  He says that despite all the promises (called “cosmetic puffery”) being made by companies selling shampoo, it’s just meant to clean the hair. Period.

Almost ALL the extra stuff in that shampoo bottle is washed out by the main ingredient found in most regular shampoo: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate.

“All I make is shampoo, conditioners, hair spray, styling gels, and all those products.  And [shampoo] is just supposed to clean,” Miller told the attendees.

He continued, “Detergents were a hygiene product to get [off] whatever crap was on your head and scalp to prevent disease and bacteria.  You, as hairdressers, are now in charge of making someone look pretty.”

Miller then gives a short history about the difference between soap and detergent (shampoo).  He takes out the current whipping boy, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, and explains why it’s used.

He doesn’t tell the stylists what to think.  But he does quite honestly make you wonder about just why SLS was hated and why the marketing gold of ‘sulfate-free shampoo’ has been so prevalent nowadays.

SLS was originally invented by the Germans, but there are two other popular detergents found in shampoos as well: Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

Miller says:
“Primarily the first one ever used, SLS,  seems to become a villain because now we’re on an anti-sulfate craze.  But the German scientists figured out that using sulfates was just like the fat in your hair, and it needed a mate. And it figure out ‘well where was the grease?’

Everybody had a greasy head of hair and a greasy body.  [The inventor] just invented half the molecule to look for the grease that was on your body.

The two [molecules] combined in any temperature of water. You swish it around in your head… and you washed yourself…

When you apply this detergent to your head; if you wet the client,  pour this on, let it run into the sink and squirt, all the stuff comes off that quickly. You don’t need to do the manipulation [of the hair]. “

What SLS does is look for the ‘fat’/grease/oils/etc on your hair.  It binds with whatever it’s meant to bind with and rinses it out. Period.  Unless you use a special toothpaste, you may even see SLS in your toothpaste or your liquid hand soap.

As Miller says, sodium lauryl sulfate really was made just to get stuff clean.  The only difference in each regular shampoo you buy in the store — if there’s truly a difference and not just a minor additive difference — is basically the PERCENTAGE of SLS in each shampoo.

Let me type that again: The only difference between a lot of the shampoos with SLS in them are minor additives and the PERCENTAGE of sodium lauryl sulfate.

However, this raises the question as to whether it’s the PERCENTAGE of SLS used to make the shampoo which may be causing dryness in our naturally curly hair OR if it’s the actual SLS itself.  Provocative statement, I know.

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Given the fact that I have experimented with a watered down Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) shampoo without suffering from the strawlike dryness I used to get, I’m likely to believe Miller’s implications about SLS.

I’m sure there will be people who argue up and down about the evils of SLS. I used to be one of those people.  However, I’ve seriously had to rethink everything which has been marketed to me by the very people who want me to believe what they want me to believe.

Interestingly enough, at’s website, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a 1-2 (Low Hazard) on the concern chart.  Sodium Laureth Sulfate, an ingredient often used in shampoos as a “replacement” for regular SLS, is a 3 (Moderate Hazard)!

But quite honestly, I’m not so sure sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is anymore harmful than anything else found in the off-the-shelf products we use.

DMDM Hydantoin, Urea, and whether your lipstick contains lead should concern you much more than SLS.

Other unpronounceable ingredients found in hair gels, mousse, setting lotions, hair serums, shine products, etc. should make you more worried than SLS.  You rinse off SLS every time you wash your hair, while those other products sit on your scalp and in your hair for an extended period of time.

And I’ll say it again for those who didn’t catch it above: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is in some toothpaste you use in your mouth everyday!  For example, Toms of Maine’s Antiplaque Tartar Control Plus Whitening Toothpaste contains Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (15).

Crest Pro Health Fluoride Anticavity Toothpaste contains Sodium Lauryl Sulfate along with Propylene Glycol, and even Polyethylene (16)! Yikes!

It’s ridiculous to me for people to be so adamant about only using SLS-free shampoo, while using SLS in their mouth every morning and night!

Another example of this special kind of weirdness is the use of relaxers, which can be quite hazardous.  Some women who get relaxers will cuss you out (at least in their heads) if you preach to them about using that “creamy crack”.  But some of these same women will absolutely NOT use an SLS shampoo! WTH?

SLS = BAD. Sodium hydroxide = OK??  Whut?!  Getting a relaxer AND complaining about the evils of sulfate shampoo will always be a ridiculous thing to me.  Sorry.

// Bubble bath in hair? Wash Your Hands with Shampoo?  What the *bleep* //

Did you know that you can technically use shampoo as a body wash AND as a hand soap?

Steve Miller’s point is that the only varying differences in all these detergent based products are the: (1) percent of SLS in each; (2) amount of foamer (bubbles);  (3) smell;  (4) other small amounts of additives.

For example, the first ingredients in Aveeno Naturals Foaming BATH are “Water, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Laureth Sulfate…”.

The first ingredients in Nexxus Therappe Luxurious SHAMPOO are “Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamide DEA, Cocamidopropyl Betaine…”

The first ingredients in Softsoap Crisp Cucumber & Melon liquid HAND SOAP are “Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine…”

Are you seeing a pattern here?  Companies seem to be simply renaming the same basic formula, throwing in a tiny amount of eye-catching extracts and putting it on the shelf.  Same $hit, different flavor.

Because SLS can be a low foamer, in order to bulk up the ‘foamy-ness’ in shampoos manufacturers add a glorified bubble bath to the product to give us the feeling that we’re really cleaning our hair.  That glorified bubble bath is Cocamidopropyl Betaine.

This foaming ingredient, Cocamidopropyl Betaine/Cocamide propyl betaine (look for “betaine”), may be the real culprit that contributes to buildup and the straw-like feeling of hair.

Miller continues in his presentation:
“We add bubble bath.  The next ingredient [in shampoo is] cocamide propyl betaine which looks kinda like a caramel color.  The betaine is basically nothing more than bubble bath.  We [manufacturers] put it in your product just for one purpose: to give you something to mentally feel good about.  It adds lather. Doesn’t do anything for the cleaning, but it’s a placebo.  Makes you feel good.  You think it looks like soap.  We try to make it look like soap.

We make a variety of these depending on which bottle of product that you wanna buy. The question [of percentages] becomes ‘a little bit, a little more, medium, super medium, very medium, and tons and tons’ until [foam] comes out your ears because some of you really have to have ‘soap’ to think it works.”  

(He’s talking about the percentage of cocamide propyl betaine in that last sentence)

Miller says the glorified bubble bath can be a ‘leave behind’ ingredient depending on how well you rinse or how easy the product is to rinse out of the hair.

This could contribute to buildup and cause a spiraling effect:  If you didn’t rinse out the bubble bath product well, your conditioner can’t penetrate your hair like it’s supposed to.  And your leave-in conditioner may not be as effective as it can be.  In addition, any styling products with ‘cones’ will also keep the hair from getting enough moisture (water).

Next thing you know, you have superdry hair and you lay all the blame on the SLS.  It may have been a contributing factor, but it may not have been the only problem.

Miller also states the obvious about shampoo: “Everybody’s been programmed to figure if it doesn’t lather, it doesn’t work. “  True. Don’t even pretend like you didn’t think that way at least once in your life, even if you don’t anymore.

Some of the more expensive brands are now stripping out the SLS and the glorified bubble bath.  WEN products, for example, have gotten rid of both SLS and Cocamide Propyl Betaine.

On the issue of WEN, Miller says:
“….You actually hear them advertise: ‘WEN is formulated not to have a lot of lather’.  Well, he doesn’t put any foamers in it.  It saves money.  About 50 cents per bottle. Little more profit to his pocket.  It doesn’t foam because it’s not supposed to foam.  It’s just supposed to clean and remove the dirt.”

Well, ok.

I guess we can take it the mean that removing SLS and other products may not be done by the manufacturers simply out of the kindness of their hearts and your safety.  There’s money to be saved by taking out parabens, SLS, -cones and the like.

// Do cynics rule the cosmetics industry? //

Have you ever used a shampoo that just didn’t seem to get your hair clean?  After you used it, it just didn’t feel like the dirt was removed even after using it twice?

In his lecture, chemist Steve Miller also talks about one client who came to him simply wanting his shampoo formula to lather well and smell good. That’s it. Yeah, you’re not misreading.

The client was adding a lot of extra extracts and vitamins to his “shampoo” checklist.  But according to Miller, that client said he didn’t care if the shampoo had any detergent (cleaning agent) in it.  That company’s main goal was for their product to have a bunch of lather and a good smell so that you would buy it.

Miller says:
“I said [to the client] ‘well by the way what percentage of detergent do you want?’ He said, ‘I don’t really care if it has detergent. I just want it to lather a lot and smell good and people will buy it’.  You got it. As long as the check cleared, we made his shampoo… Basically he sold bubble bath for your head.  I guess if you used enough water, it probably would get something clean. I don’t know.  I didn’t care.  Money talks.  I’ll put anything in a bottle as long as it’s not illegal.”

Ouch. It may sound cynical but think about how many products you’ve tried partially because it smelled gorgeous.  Then think of how many products you refused to buy (even if the ingredients were great) because you just couldn’t stand that smell!

But Miller is at least telling it like it is from his perspective.  This industry is a multi-billion dollar industry.  Don’t think for one minute he’s the only manufacturer who has his client’s needs as his first priority.

Miller says while he can’t make a molecule lie, he will sell you what his client wants to manufacture because that’s what he does for a living.  That is the business of manufacturing products on a large scale.

“Everyday someone will walk into my factory and wanna put their name on a bottle hoping to be the next big ‘candy line’,”  Miller says.

A ‘candy line’ is what they refer to as products sold in the salons which some of us buy thinking we’re getting something awesome and specially made for our hair.

Miller says aside from the bottle, perfume and percentages, it’s really all the same basic stuff.

The people who go to Miller’s manufacturing company to get him to make their brand label shampoos and other products, in turn, ask salons to carry that brand… often with a hidden motive.

Miller says to the attendees:
“Same sauce. Same bottle. Different color. Different perfume. New name. Then somebody’s out there telling you when they walk into your salon how it’s gonna make you better, happier, more money. [You] sell it to your customers; advertise. And at some point in their career, when they get to be really really big, they will sell it to the grocery stores and abandon you like they have for the last 60 or so years with every brand from [inaudible] to, currently, [Paul] Mitchell and Redkin.”


It’s true that many former ‘salon exclusive’ brands can now be readily found at Walmart, Krogers, Target, Walgreens, etc.

Whether for cynical reasons or not, some companies also market their products exclusively to certain communities.

Yall know how you used to walk into a Target or Walmart and they had the section specifically targeted for black women’s hair?  That ish wasn’t by accident whether you think they did it cynically or not.

Miller says that the brand Johnny B, for example, “markets his products exclusively to the Hispanic community”.

Johnny B was founded in 1994 intended to reach men who frequented barbershops and salons. (11)  It became popular in the Latin community.

Founder Al Anorga was quoted as saying “It’s no secret that I initially created the line for Latinos like myself who weren’t finding quality products for their hair type and needs.” (12)

Johnny B’s products were also part of the swag bags given to the presenters and performers at the Latin Grammy Awards at least as far back as 2007.

But of Johnny B’s products, Miller says, “The Asians won’t touch [Johnny B products] with a ten foot pole. Just happens to be the way it goes.”

Wow.  I don’t know if he intended to sound as if he was speaking about all Asians or if he was talking specifically talking about salons and stores catering to Asian hair care.

// You really think this brand is better than that brand? //

Miller is also very knowledgeable about why people decide to buy certain products in the stores.

He even uses the example of cuticle softener, of all things, to highlight the power of branding by making us believe we’re getting something special which ‘the other brand’ allegedly doesn’t have.

Miller’s encounter with a lady who was purchasing one brand over another may make you think twice about being loyal to those cynics.

“…And I asked her just out of curiosity, this is where my sin started, ‘why are you buying Super Nail when you can buy the Gable brand right next to it for a dollar a bottle less?’  Her comment was ‘Oh I love the Super Nail.  It is so wonderful. I’ve been using it for 20 years.  And Gable’s is just trash’.  That’s when I lost it.  [audience laughter] I said, ‘Well let’s look at the ingredients. Look, they’re identical.  They’re the same ingredients’…

I’m the Gable company.  I bottle for Super Nail.  Never ever should have told her who I bottle for.  It was a sin. May I burn in hell for that. [audience laughter]
She realized ‘You bottle for this company and I’ve been buying it all this time for more money?’ And then she said every expletive I have ever heard in my life. I thought she was a sailor. I was so embarrassed on that…
She put it back on the shelf and bought [another brand], which was pink… which was even a dollar more.
I didn’t wanna tell her I make [that brand] too. I just put pink food coloring in. [Audience laughter]  Same thing.  All 7 brands… were my product.  I just changed the color.  I don’t even change the perfume on any of them.
Blue, three whites, a pink– yeah.  What was the difference?  But for some reason, each one costs more…”

So if Miller’s company produces 7 brands of one type of product — each with a different name brand on the bottle — he’s getting paid no matter which brand you buy.   Same thing for other private label manufacturers.

Remember, Miller is the guy which some of these companies go to in order to get their own name on a product.  It’s his type of company (private label contracting) which creates some of that stuff you guys love so much.  It just has somebody else’s name on the bottle.

Miller later says he shouldn’t have told that lady anything: “It was a mistake.  I should have let her be happy, but that was my mistake.”

{ads1}It’s the same with shampoos.  Unless you are jumping from sulfate shampoo to “natural” shampoos, you could be getting a very similar thing in a different bottle.

Earlier I wrote that aside from the bottle, perfume and percentages, it could really be all the same basic stuff.  That’s true, according to Miller.  He spoke a little about the small differences between brands of regular shampoo in response to an audience question.

Different brands with the same stuff may have a different effect on your hair.  Not because of the ingredients, but rather because of the percentage of each ingredient used.

Miller says: “If I’m making the shampoo and I’m giving you a shampoo with a 6% active detergent, it could be that in a second shampoo I’m giving you an 8% active detergent base.”

Maybe this explains why one SLS shampoo leaves the hair feeling like straw while another has a smaller effect.

He goes on to say:
“What we do is maybe, I’ll add 6% (holds up a bottle) on one shampoo.  Maybe I’m at 8% on one shampoo.  

The stuff that I sell the [beauty] school is 18% [detergent].  I want it to work fast.  I want no bubbles.  I want it to clean quickly. You may not like that at home and therefore the effect [on] the hair will be different to you.

…Everybody’s physiology is uniquely different. Some people are very oily.  Other people are not oily.  Other people have very dry skin very quickly and need moisturization almost constantly not matter what they use. So we try to make a product that is adjusted to meet every physiological need… because you’re all unique individuals.”

// Redding -> Jhirmack ->  Redken -> Nexxus -> LA Looks = Same dude //

Chemist Steve Miller gives an example of how brands can change but are basically small iterations of the same thing.

He says he grew up remembering Jheri Redding (William Redding), a hairdresser and chemist who was one of the first to advocate pH balanced shampoos and is allegedly credited as the inventor of the modern day hair conditioner.

Redding was also the one to advocate adding vitamins and minerals to products way back in the day.

And, yes, he is THAT ‘Jheri” Redding who developed the ‘jheri curl’.

Redding was married 4 times and in at least two of those divorces, he apparently lost control over 2 brands through divorce settlements, according to Steve Miller.

Miller says:
“Jheri Redding had Jheri Redding shampoos… When he came into the factory to make his product,  he was the guy that advocated putting  mayonnaise in products, eggs in products, Eucalyptus oil in products.  He wanted the new concept.

He lost that in a divorce settlement with his first wife.  He started Jhirmack.  You’ve probably gone to the grocery store and seen Jhirmack at Ralph’s or Albertson’s… He lost that in a divorce settlement with his second wife.

Met [unclear], who was a really nice lady, an out of work actress.  They put their names together and formed a company called Redken…

They ran that company for years.  She sold it for $400 million bucks.  He took his son Steve Redding and started his 4th company, Nexxus.  

If you wanna see a feud, you wanna see the Redken reps and the Nexxus reps.  They go head to head.

The next company he did was LA Looks. By that time, you salon owners wouldn’t put it in your salon.  You were tired of designing something in that was going to go to a grocery store or another distribution chain.  And you wouldn’t design it in.

So if you go to Target today or Walmart, you’ll see LA Looks.

The man had 4 sauces, same stuff, changed the perfume,  and basically had you guys design it in to your salons… Once you did, he yanked it into the grocery stores. “

Redken has been bought out by the french company Loreal.  LA Looks was reportedly sold in April 2012 to Newhall Laboratories.  Nexxus was owned by Alberto–Culver which itself was purchased by British–Dutch company Unilever.

6 months ago, I may have completely dismissed any notion that sulfate wasn’t the devil in shampoo form.  I, too, had thought that it was the reason why my hair was dry as hell.

However, I had to be honest with myself and realize that my hair was dry as hell when I hadn’t used a traditional sulfate shampoo in over a year.

While I do think high percentage sulfate shampoos can cause some curlies’ hair to feel like straw, I now know some of the other ingredients in the shampoo could be making it worse.

Part 2 Coming Soon






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