There’s a lot of buzz around the beauty world that sulfate-free shampoos might just be the way to go. But what exactly are sulfates, and why are they so bad for your hair? Are there any potential problems with using sulfate-free shampoos? The shampoo aisle can be a daunting enough place with brand names, chemicals, and products that claim to be organic/natural, so we’ve ironed out the details for you!
What are sulfates?
The most prominent sulfates in most shampoos are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), the most popular and strongest, and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), which makes the shampoo extra bubbly when you lather it into your hair. However, what most people don’t realize is that these chemicals are typically used in high power detergents such as car wash soap, toothpaste, dishwashing detergent—anything that foams, because they are known to cut through tough grease and oils. The reason most soaps have sulfates is because they are wetting agents that decrease the surface tension of water and cause it to spread out and—more importantly—they are cheap. Other sulfates you may want to watch out for are Sodium Myreth Sulfate, TEA Laureth Sulfate, and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate.
Wait, does this mean they are bad?
According to Best Health, “Health Canada, the European Union and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider SLS and SLES to be safe ingredients, as does The Cosmetic Ingredient Review, an independent U.S. organization that assesses the safety of ingredients in cosmetics.” While sulfates are technically safe—meaning you won’t get sick from them—this does not mean that they can’t have potentially damaging effects on hair and skin.
Pros of shampoos with sulfates:
Most research proves that sulfates are best at getting your hair super clean. In addition, sulfates are in virtually everything related to personal hygiene, so avoiding them can be tricky and sometimes more expensive. They leave your hair looking and feeling clean, which for many, is all that really matters.
Cons: How does that affect my hair?
By using a shampoo with sulfates, the chemicals act to strip your hair and scalp of natural oils, while ridding it of any dirt and grime. As a result, using these types of shampoos regularly can cause dandruff, an itchy scalp, and even skin and eye irritation. Your hair, especially if you heavily lather your ends, can start to become more brittle and dry, which can cause breakage. Yikes!
More hair problems:
According to Buzzle, sulfate shampoos can actually damage hair follicles, which often leads to hair loss or even clogging of exposed hair follicles. In addition, they can damage color-treated hair by causing it to fade faster, which can end in an endless chain of re-dyeing your hair, causing even more damage. Some research even claims that they cause curly hair to become frizzy or overly tangled.
Other effects of sulfates:
Because sulfates dry out your skin, they can start to irritate your face, chest, and back and could even be a cause of excess acne. If shampoo isn’t rinsed out completely or is used too frequently, it can leave a residue of detergent on your skin that causes it to produce more oil. While skin relies on oils to keep it supple, moisturized, and healthy, as pores secrete oil to rid the skin of toxins and restore an even, balanced skin tone, too much oil can cause breakouts, oily skin, and greasy hair.
If you have allergies, eczema, acne, or sensitive skin, sulfate-free shampoos might be worth checking out!
What do experts say?
This Huffington Post article quotes Dr. Rebecca Baxt, a New York-based dermatologist, who explains the current concern surrounding sulfate-heavy products: “I think there are so many chemicals in our personal hygiene products, foods and environment that people have become more aware and rightly concerned about the effects of all of these chemicals. Anything with fewer chemicals has become more popular.” However, others say sulfates are effective at getting rid of dirt and heavy hair products, so they may not be 100% harmful. The choice is yours.
What can you expect from the switch?
While your everyday (or however frequent) rinse, lather, repeat cycle may be less sudsy and not overly fragrant, the switch isn’t too much to get used to. You can expect fewer bubbles and not as thick a lather, since the removal of sulfates cuts out the detergents that lather up your locks. You may have to scrub your scalp a little longer in order to really work the shampoo into your hair. Also, that squeaky clean feeling may not be as noticeable with a sulfate-free shampoo, as you won’t be using a strong detergent anymore. You will get a creamier, more hydrating wash out of your sulfate-free shampoo that could do the trick on your thick or curly hair, or help rejuvenate thin, brittle hair.
What should I buy?
For those eager to make the switch to a sulfate-free shampoo, some of the recommended brands are as follows:
The thing that matters most when picking out a sulfate-free shampoo is reading the label. Some shampoos may claim to be natural or organic, but still have harsh chemicals like SLS and SLES. So while the shampoos listed above name a few, it’s best to read labels and find your favorite new shampoo!