Sulfate Free Shampoo – The Truth About Sulfates
Since you’re here, you’ve most likely heard the latest buzz over sulfate free shampoo. If you haven’t, take a look on the back of your shampoo bottle and you’ll likely see ingredients like Sodium Laureth Sulfate. Perhaps you’ve heard that sulfates are bad for your hair and are now seeking the truth about sulfate free hair products. I know I was, and after doing a tiny bit of investigating, I’m glad that I switched to a sulfate free shampoo. And if you’re looking for a list of the best sulfate free shampoo, then you’ve come to the right place.
What is the role of Sulfate in Shampoo?
Try filling a glass of water to the brim, then slowly add a few more drops. You’ll notice that the water will rise above the edge but not spill over. This phenomenon is known as surface tension.
This concept of surface tension can be applied when washing your hair. Because there are millions of water molecules covering your hair when it is being washed, this creates a strong surface tension that prevents the penetration of water through the grease in your hair.
This is where sulfates come in handy; a sulfate is a surfactant. Adding a surfactant gives shampoo the ability to break the surface tension and penetrate through the oil in your hair more effectively than using water alone.
Now try adding a drop of detergent to your full glass of water. This will break the surface tension, causing water to leak down the sides. This represents how a sulfate would work in your hair.
This means that the addition of sulfates allows for a more thorough cleansing. Sulfates can be very potent or mild depending on their chemical composition. The reason why sulfates have been used in virtually every shampoo over the last few decades is because they are ridiculously cheap to manufacture and create many foamy bubbles.
Sulfates – The Foam and Bubbles Lie
Sulfates like Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS) are used to make nice, foamy bubbles, also known as lather. Many people are misinformed and associate lather with cleanliness. In fact, the amount of lather has no relationship to the quality of the shampoo.
Unfortunately, advertising has conned us through images of models with incredible hair using shampoo containing excessive lather. And as a consequence, the public believes that lather is necessary to achieve the best cleansing.
But now you’ve been educated that foam and bubbles are not necessary to do the job. What’s worse is it takes forever to drain.
Which Sulfates are in Shampoos?
The following are different forms of sulfates that may be added to your shampoo. I’ve listed them in order of most to least potent.
- Sodium Myreth Sulfate
- Triethanolamine (TEA) Laureth Sulfate
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
- Ammonia Laureth Sulfate
Why Use Sulfate Free Shampoo?
Firstly, we’d like to shut down the myth that sulfates are carcinogenic. There is no scientific evidence behind this claim.
The most common sulfate found in shampoo is Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS). However, a more potent type of SLS is actually used as a car engine degreaser. If it is capable of removing grease from a car engine, just imagine what it can remove from your hair. In fact, the sulfates can remove natural oils from both your hair and body, leading to dryness, thinning, or even hair loss.
Products like SLS have the ability to penetrate through the skin and enhance allergic responses, damage skin cells, and cause skin roughening, leading to conditions such as contact dermatitis.
Recent research has shown that long term exposure to sulfates can lead to the damaging of hair follicles and cause premature hair loss. Fortunately, stopping its use can reverse the harmful effects and restore the normal, healthy function of the hair follicle.
If you do use a shampoo containing one of the sulfates listed above, be sure to use a high quality sulfate free conditioner or body moisturizer to minimize the drying effects.
But sadly, sulfates are a great additive to help clean your hair. So you’re left with a dilemma. Do you want a thorough cleansing but risk damaging your hair or do you want to use a sulphate free shampoo that may require more frequent washing, but preserve the natural oils in your hair?
People Who Should Always Use a Sulfate Free Shampoo
- Individuals with sensitive scalps. If your scalp is already dry and itchy, then sulfate shampoos will make your grievances worse.
- Individuals with dry hair. Genetically, African American hair is more susceptible to dryness and friability than other hair types.
- Individuals with dyed or chemically injured hair. The sulfates can cause the coloring in your hair to fade and also worsen chemically damaged hair.
- Individuals with oily hair and skin. Although this may be contradictory since sulfates effectively remove oil, your body has a way of opposing this loss of oil by increasing its production to restore balance. As a result, your hair and skin may become more oilier than it originally was.
- Individuals with eczema. Sulfate containing products are known to produce irritations in individuals with susceptible skin conditions such as eczema.
Even if you don’t fall into this list, I would advise you to take extreme caution when dealing with products containing sulfates. My hair stylist often comments on how even people in their teens are showing early signs of hair loss. Although I cannot directly attribute it to the sulfates in their shampoo, it is definitely a precaution we can all take.
Take Home Message
When choosing a shampoo, always remember to examine the ingredients, even though it may be advertised as “SLS free shampoo.” A sulfate other than SLS may have been added to take its place.
You may notice that your sulfate free shampoo may not foam up as well as your previous sulfate containing shampoos. Keep in mind that excessive lather is not needed to effectively clean your hair.
And always use a sulphate free shampoo if you suffer from dry hair or have one of the conditions listed above like eczema. Or if you’re a guy like me who’s worried about losing his hair early, then feel free to make the switch. There’s no harm in experimenting with a sulfate free shampoo.