Author’s note (07 Aug 2016): When this article was written 18 months ago, the shampoo being reviewed did not contain honeysuckle. A snapshot of the ingredients at that time can be found in the body of the text. The product has since been reformulated to contain honeysuckle oil. You can find the new ingredients here.
Is it fair to randomly pick one ingredient from a product label, Google it, and scream bloody murder if you come up with something that sounds dangerous? Vani Hari (the “Food Babe”) seems to think so.
Turnabout is fair play, so I’ve read approximately 100 articles published by The Babe and selected some products and foods that she recommends. I’m going to give these items the same treatment. The first item is a doozy, linked to kidney disease and cancer, lacking a claimed main ingredient, and chock full of a chemical Vani Hari despises. And–<gasp!>–there may be hidden GMOs!
Phone the kids and wake the neighbors…
Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Shampoo
It won’t surprise people familiar with Hari that she earns a sales commission from most of the items she’s hawking. Such is the case with Aubrey Organics Hair Care Honeysuckle Shampoo. She’s in love with this shampoo, as you can see in the following blog post snippet.1 Note the encoded Amazon.com affiliate link2 in the lower left corner. This makes Vani’s cash register go “ka-ching!” if you buy the shampoo:
So let’s put on our Food Babe Detective Hats and scan the ingredients list for this shampoo3 and see if we can find anything dangerous:
Whoa! Didn’t have to go far! Tussilago farfara (coltsfoot) is a traditional herb linked to liver damage4,5 and cancer.6 Doctors warn against the use of coltsfoot for any purpose. Chemists say that coltsfoot contains substances known as pyrrolizidine alkalloids that can be toxic to the liver. An infant who was regularly fed coltsfoot tea by his parents developed severe health problems that only went away when the tea was withdrawn.4 Another developed liver damage and died after its mother drank coltsfoot tea during pregnancy.4
In a 1976 study, 67% of rats fed high doses of Tussilago farfara (coltsfoot) developed cancer, as opposed to 10% on low doses.6 If you use statistics the way Food Babe does, then you’re looking at a likely carcinogen.
Food Babe should have read the label on this one before shilling for the manufacturer. I suppose it would cut down on your affiliate commissions if people thought your products were linked to liver damage and cancer.
One scholarly resource4 hints that horticulturists may have bred a variant of Tussilago farfara with little or no levels of pyrrolizidine alkalloids. It would, of course, be horrifying to Food Babe9 if this type of coltsfoot appeared in her shampoo because we are straying into the territory of genetic engineering now.
We could dig a little deeper and query Aubrey Organics about the source of the corn sugar and soy protein listed in their ingredients. Corn and soy are two major GMO products in the United States and it’s hard to find non-GMO sources for those crops.10 But we’ll leave that for another day.
Anyway, Vani: whether you tinker with the genome of an organism in a test tube, by selective breeding, or any other means, you’re essentially doing the same thing. One method just gets you there faster. If your coltsfoot isn’t toxic, it’s genetically engineered.
You choose, Vani.
It Gets Even Worse
Having Hari down on the mat for a ten count, I could stop here–but it’s not in my nature.
Remember how Food Babe viciously attacked Starbucks for using artificial pumpkin flavoring instead of real pumpkin?8
Let’s look at the ingredients in this “honeysuckle” shampoo again (click the image below to enlarge it):
There’s no honeysuckle (Lonicera caprifolium) in this shampoo!!!
Yes, that’s right–Food Babe doesn’t hesitate to warn us about products that use artificial ingredients, then turns around and recommends a honeysuckle shampoo that uses artificial ingredients to produce a honeysuckle scent. Hey, call in the lady from the Wendy’s commercial:
Let’s Beat a Dead Horse
Playing by Food Babe rules, we’ve already got a cancer-causing, liver-damaging, fake-ingredient shampoo. Suppose we removed the toxicTussilago farfara and added some real honeysuckle. Would the shampoo then pass Vani Hari quality control?
Well, sadly: no.
In her New Year’s “Sugar Archives” article, Vani tells us we must avoid all products containing glucose:7
Oh dear. This may be tedious, but it’s back to that ingredients list again… Click to enlarge:
Ouch. Glucose appears three times. But according to Vani, we’re supposed to avoid glucose!!!
In the 100+ Food Babe articles I read, the woman displays an appalling lack of knowledge of chemistry, so I can forgive her for not knowing glucoside is derived from glucose. But if she’d read the product labeling, the other two glucose occurrences are spelled out for her.
So what’s going on here? Does she not read the labels on what she’s selling? Or do best sellers get a free pass even if she reads the label and finds problem ingredients? You cannot possibly miss the issues with this shampoo’s ingredients list!
By Food Babe standards, this product fails in three ways:
- It contains an ingredient linked to liver damage and cancer
- It contains artificial ingredients instead of the advertised natural one (honeysuckle)
- It contains “banned” ingredients (glucose, possible GMO corn and soy)
But, in closing, I’ll tell you what Food Babe won’t tell you about this shampoo, or any of the items she slanders:
Honestly, the only danger with this shampoo seems to come from drinking it. Doctors say coltsfoot is toxic when ingested, not when used in your hair (though one paper I read does say to stay away from the stuff). Glucose is not a problem unless, for example, you’re a diabetic–Food Babe is just scientifically illiterate when it comes to processed foods, and that’s why she objects to the sweetener. And there’s no difference in the safety of GMO foods and non-GMO foods. Food Babe just doesn’t understand the engineering process.
Finally, there is nothing at all wrong with mixing a bunch of non-honeysuckle chemicals together to obtain a honeysuckle scent. That’s what Aubrey Organics appears to have done. If you judged them by Food Babe standards, they would fail.
Please don’t judge Aubrey Organics by Food Babe standards. Buy from them. But please don’t buy from them using a Food Babe link.
Screen snapshots of Food Babe and Amazon.com web pages are used in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, commonly known as “fair use law”. This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.
“Where’s the Beef?” parody image used in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, commonly known as “fair use law”. This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.
(1) Food Babe: Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Shampoo
(2) Laughing All the Way to the Bank (Part 1)
(3) Amazon.Com: Aubrey Organics “Honeysuckle” Shampoo
(4) NYU Langorne: Coltsfoot
(5) Reversible hepatic veno-occlusive disease in an infant after consumption of pyrrolizidine-containing herbal tea
(6) FDA Poisonous Plant Database (Coltsfoot)
(7) Food Babe: Sugar Archives
(8) Food Babe: Artificial Pumpkin Flavor
(9) Food Babe: Anti-GMO
(10) Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S