A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Do manufacturers put blood plasma into hair shampoo?

October 17, 1986

Dear Cecil:

What is this story I hear about manufacturers putting blood plasma into hair shampoo? Supposedly this is the source of the protein in all those shampoos and conditioners that promise to put protein back in your hair. Is this true? Is our hair so dead that we must pump new blood into it?

Cecil replies:

This is one of the great modern folktales, pumpkin, and believe me, what you've heard so far is strictly the PG version. One of the more rococo elaborations has it that the protein comes from blood drained from starving Haitians, while another claims it comes from — get ready for this — aborted babies. The latter story may derive from the fact that face creams offered by European clinics occasionally include cells from sheep placentas and the like. Horrified spokesbeings for several American cosmetic companies, however, assure me that no U.S. manufacturer would use such a thing.

That's not to say the origin of hair shampoo protein isn't a bit on the grisly side. Much of it comes from "food industry by-products," i.e., boiled animal leftovers. In Revlon's Flex Balsam & Protein Body Building Conditioner and Body Building Shampoo, for example, we find such ingredients as "hydrolyzed animal protein" and "keratin amino acids." The former is derived from the hooves of cows (mostly) whose other components wound up on somebody's dinner table. Keratin, on the other hand, is derived from animal hair. Sounds gross, but animal by-products are used in many household products, so try to steel yourself.

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