Additive-Free Shampoos and Soaps

Vocab lesson!

無添加 (mutenka): additive-free
ラウリル硫酸ナトリウム (rauriru ryuusan natoriumu): sodium lauryl sulfate
ラウレス硫酸ナトリウム (rauresu ryuusan natorimu): sodium laureth sulfate

(sometimes sodium is just written as Na on the labels, too, as in ラウレス硫酸Na.)

What is SLS? SLS, sodium lauryl sulfate (or sodium laureth sulfate), is an additive in practically all national-brand commercial soaps, shampoos, and toothpastes. SLS acts as a foaming agent, but it’s a harsh detergent that’s really unnecessary for getting your body and hair clean. Using SLS products on yourself is kind of like using noxious chemicals to clean your kitchen and bathroom when baking soda and vinegar does the job just fine. But, to avoid getting on my, uh, soap box–in my personal experience, the SLS in regular shampoo and soaps dry out and irritate my skin and dull and frizz up my hair; my skin and hair are a lot healthier since I stopped using Herbal Essences and Bath and Body Works.

I know that there are others out there who try to avoid additives and/or SLS. However, looking for SLS-free products is particularly difficult in rural Japan, because we lack a lot of choice in the quantity of products available. The national brands and imported American national brands-Tsubaki, Pantene, Herbal Essences, Dove, Lion Brand, Naive–ALL of these shampoos and soaps contain SLS, even the ones that claim to be “gentle.” And of course, there’s the language barrier–it’s hard to look for SLS if you don’t know how to read it in Japanese!

Of course, in the city, there are many organic brands available in Japan in general; a large number have been imported from the US and Europe. However, the imported products are often exorbitantly priced. I saw some Nature’s Gate and Dr. Bronner’s products in Tokyo Station marked up to three times their US price–and organic/additive free/SLS-free beauty products are already more expensive than commercial brands!

What’s a additive-conscious rural JET to do?

First, there are domestic additive-free brands available even in drug stores in the Oku-noto. One brand is Cow Brand‘s 無添加 (mutenka, additive-free) line, which is made with milk. This line includes shampoo, hair conditioner, body soap, laundry detergent, hand soap, and dish soap. The brand is SLS-free; the shampoo is unscented, but the body soap in their “Milky” line (ミルキー), also SLS-free, comes in scents.

Cow Brand 無添加 shampoo contains

水 water
DPG (moisturizer)
コカミドプロピルベタイン Cocamidopropyl Betaine (from plant extract)
ココイルグルタミン酸2Na Cocoyl glutamic acid (plant amino acid)
スルホコハク酸ラウレス2Na Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate (derived from plants)
グリセリン glycerin
セテアレス-60ミリスチルグリコール ceteareth-60 myristyl glycol (base)
トリイソステアリン酸PEG-160ソルビタン PEG-160 Sorbitan Triisostearate(base)
ココイルグルタミン酸Na cocoyl glutamic acid 植物性アミノ酸系洗浄成分
PCA-Na sodium salt of pyrollidone carboxylic acid (natural moisturizer)
コハク酸ジエトキシエチル diethoxyethyl succinate (moisturizer)
ポリクオタニウム-10 polyquaternium-10 (conditioning plant extract)
クエン酸 citric acid

Many of these ingredients are also in Burt’s Bees and Nature’s Gate’s shampoos.

Cow Brand Products include
Shampoo (shanpuu シャンプー)
Moisturizing Treatment (conditioner) (toriitomento shittori トリートメント しっとり)
Silky Treatment (conditioner) (toriitoment sarasara トリートメント サラサラ)
Body Wash (bodei sohpu ボディソープ)
Foaming Face Wash (sengan fohmu 洗顔フォーム)
Hand Soap (hando sohpu ハンドソープ)

Another brand is Matsuyama, which is additive free. (Cow Brand and Matsuyama both have the brand name written in English on the bottle.) The ingredients are similar to Cow Brand’s but the line includes more scents. Matsuyama’s M line has scented body washes and shampoos–aloe, grapefruit, yuzu, shea butter, and amino, and a non-scented version as well. The M line has body soap, body lotion, hand cream, shampoo, conditioner, and bar soap. I really like the aloe body wash.

The brand also has the Leaf and Botanics line, a more expensive line of shampoos and soaps with different scents and luxury items like body scrubs; the M-Mark Brown Label line, a line of beauty products like facial moisturizers aimed at women; the Essential Mother Soap Series, aimed at mothers with babies; and the Goody Natural Cares line, for dogs.

My local drug store carries the non-scented M line, but the Kahoku Jusco’s beauty department has much more of the M line as well as the Leaf and Botanics line. You can also order online.

Where to shop
Most drug stores (Aoki, Shimeno) will carry at least a limited line of Cow Brand and Matsuyama’s Mutenka lines, and most of the products run from 300-600 yen. My local Shimeno carries some Dr. Bronner’s soaps for a marked-up price.

Jusco, Kahoku
Carries a wider selection of Cow Brand and Matsuyama than most regular drugstores, as well as several other (more expensive lines) of organic/SLS-free shampoos, body soaps, and fragrances. Most are Japanese, but they also have Dr. Bronner’s soaps imported from the US.

Noppukun, Nonoichi
Carries Dr. Bronner’s, Giovanni, Pax Naturon and several other domestic and imported organic/SLS-free soaps and shampoos. Also carries Pax Naturon laundry detergents and household soaps.

Lush in Kanazawa Forus

Lush makes all of their products local to the distribution area, so their products are priced similarly in Japan and in the US–no import fees, though they are already rather pricey. The store launch was March 12, 2010. Also has an online store in Japan. Their shampoos do contain SLS, but they have other nice organic and vegan products, and they don’t test on animals.

The Foreign Buyers’ Club
Carries a some American organic shampoos, conditioners, and household products in the Deli and Learning Center and many more in the General Store, but the prices are high and you have to pay shipping. If you order from the General Store, you’ll have to wait about a month for your shipment to arrive.
Sells Pax Naturon, Cow Brand, and other Japanese brands for reasonable prices, but you’ll probably have to pay shipping. (Also sells American brands like Burt’s Bees and Avalon for double or triple the price.)

Do you know other stores that carry SLS-free, organic, sustainable, or generally green health and beauty products? Other brands that are available in your local drug stores? Leave a comment!

Leah Zoller is a first-year CIR in Anamizu and has been known to spend hours smelling organic soaps and deciphering labels.


4 thoughts on “Additive-Free Shampoos and Soaps

  1. I’m a heavy user of Pax Naturon… I know this post is old, but I’m really conscious of additive free too… and it has to work as well. I just stocked up on PN, and I’m really loving their product line already.

  2. Leah, thanks for sharing your post over on SiJ – if you want to shoot me an email (I’m not sure what your contact info is) but wanted to ask you something.

  3. How is it now in 2015, more products in the stores? Tried to find Moroccanoil at a few hair salons today, but they didn’t have it.

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