Sulfates are found in more than 90% of modern-day shampoos and body washes.
You may think that something so ubiquitous can’t be all that harmful. In truth, sulfates are one of the most severe chemicals found in cosmetics and can be the cause of some pretty nasty side effects, including dryness, brittle strands, itchy skin and dull, lifeless hair.
Understanding the basics:
Sulfate, in general terms, is a name for any mineral salts that contain sulfur, most commonly found in the form of detergents. The two most widely used sulfates are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). These chemicals can be easily identified as the suds and foam that build as you lather shampoo into your hair.
Sulfates exist in shampoos to remove the naturally occurring oil produced by your hair and scalp known as sebum. Sebum with time can accumulate bacteria, which is why it needs to be washed every so often. Sulfates, however, are a corrosive agent that not only strip away more oil than necessary but also damage the hair, destroying hairs’ protective barriers. Sulfates are even strong enough to be found in industry-strength cleaners and have been shown to cut through heavily soiled surfaces.
So are sulfates bad for my hair?
The simple answer is: yes. In minor doses, sulfates can be relatively harmless to your hair and scalp. But since sulfates are found in shampoos and cosmetic products, which are intended to be used daily, some nasty side effects begin to manifest after repeated washes.
Here are 6 reasons to avoid sulfates:
- Hair loss: Follicular damage is one of the most common side effects of persistent sulfate use. Damaged follicules have a harder time holding on to hair, which can lead to hair loss.
- Scalp and skin irritation: More sensitive scalps can be agitated by sulfates, leading to tender skin, redness, dryness and itching. This is because sulfates strip away the protective lipids (natural fats) that otherwise protects the hair.
- Dull and lifeless hair: As sulfates corrode hair, the strands become porous, which manifests as a faded color and an overall dull, lifeless appearance.
- Toxic byproducts: One of the byproducts of manufacturing SLES is 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen. And while manufactures try to remove this compound, only a certain degree can actually be cleaned, meaning some gets left in the final shampoo.
- Environmentally unconscious: Most industry sulfates are produced from petrolatum, a costly and non-renewable resource.
- Unnecessary: Harsh suds are not the only way to clean hair; there are many safer alternatives that cleanse hair without breaching our hairs’ natural protective barriers.
So are sulfates the end of the world?
When it comes to sulfates in cosmetic shampoos, there is no need for dramatics. But there is a need to be more conscious about the ingredients found in the shampoos we use on an everyday basis.
Choosing a sulfate free shampoo is a step towards breaking the cycle of sulfates stripping away your natural oils and your scalp hastily trying to make up the difference. Overtime, as the hair and scalp adjust to gentler cleansers, sebum is produced at a more natural rate. With time and healthier choices, you can enjoy more natural hair that not only looks healthier but is healthier.