Have you ever looked at a shampoo bottle and read the phrase “sulfate free”? Odds are you’ve seen this term before as it has become a pretty popular phrase. A lot of shampoo and other beauty products are starting to list this term on their bottles, as people are generally wanting to use less and less of products containing sulfates. But what are sulfates? If you’ve wondered this question before, then you’ve come to the right place. I’d like to
explain what sulfates are and why you should avoid them.
What Are Sulfates?
Scientifically, sulfates are synthetic ingredients partially based on sulfur, which is derived from petrolatum or other sources. The largest part of the molecule comes from lauryl alcohol, which is derived from coconut oil or other plants. To make sulfates, lauryl alcohol is reacted with sulfuric acid. Sulfur can be found naturally on earth, but for manufacturing it’s generally produced using petrolatum (BetterHealthMag).
In laymen’s terms, sulfates are detergents that are found in many cosmetic products including shampoo, toothpaste, face wash, and soaps. They are surfactants, which attract both water and oil. This allows the shampoo to remove the dirt and oil from your hair and wash it down the drain.
A Quick History of Sulfates
Prior to 1930, people washed their hair using soap with added herbs for fragrance. In 1930, Proctor & Gamble created the first sulfate-based shampoo, called “Royal Drene.” This product revolutionized the world of shampoo, and was not much different from the shampoo we use today.
Common Types of Sulfates
Although there are hundreds of different types of sulfates, the most common sulfates found in hair products are Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Ammonium Laureth Sulfate and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate.
Sulfates are probably not nearly as bad as people make them out to be. As humans, we have all most-likely been using them for most of our lives without horrible side-effects. They do not cause cancer or any other major damage to your body. However, they will strip most of the natural oils in your hair and scalp, drying your hair out. This can lead to hair damage, breakage and split-ends. This can also cause your scalp to start over-producing oils to overcompensate for the dryness.
They can also cause irritation to your skin, hair and eyes, which could lead to itching or swelling. Beyond all of those side-effects, sulfates can also fade your hair color a lot quicker.
Unfortunately, when you read the term “sulfate-free” shampoo, it usually means that shampoo is free of the common forms of sulfates, listed above. Since shampoo still needs to clean your hair, any other alternative will also strip natural oils. That’s how shampoos work; they are meant to cleanse the hair. The only real alternative is to not wash your hair, but I would not recommend that either.
If you are sensitive or have had bad reactions with sulfates, I would look into using a natural, organic shampoo with less chemicals. I would keep trying different things until you find something that will work for your skin-type.
I think sulfates are probably not nearly as bad as people think. When used in small doses, like that of shampoo, they will probably not cause much damage. Just always be sure to condition your hair after washing it and follow-up with deep conditioning treatments. Another option is to wash your hair every other day (which lets your natural oils build up).
Have you ever had any bad reactions when using sulfates? Do you have any great sulfate-free shampoo that you would recommend? I’d love to read your feedback in the comments section below!