Using sulfate-free products has become a trend. Even if you don't know what sulfates are, where they come from, what they do, how they're beneficial or harmful, you still may be choosing to buy sulfate-free products because everyone seems to be running away from sulfates.
So let's break it down.
What are sulfates?
Sulfate are surfactants (which is a term for various detergents, emulsifiers, and foaming agents) that attracts both oil and water. Sulfates allow grime and dead skin cells to be removed from your skin and scalp and washed away with water
In simple words, sulfates are what creates lather - the beautiful foam that we all associate with “clean”
So why are sulfates considered to be the enemy?
Every curly would answer - because sulfates strip your hair,
They do. And that’s exactly why they should be used. As long as you know how to use them.
Sulfates are especially important when clarifying your hair. No matter what products you use, you WILL get build up. It doesn’t matter if you are avoiding silicones. All products can cause build up. Let’s repeat that for the curlies at the back: ALL products can cause build up. Even the natural sebum produced by sebaceous glands can cause build up. Sweat and dirt from the environment causes build up too.
You don’t want build up. Build up results in:
- Clogged scalp
- Hindered hair growth
- Blocking other products from entering the hair strand
- Weighed down hair
This is why it’s important to use a sulphate shampoo to clean your hair, at least once a month. Some curlies do it once a week - it entirely depends on your hair type.
You just need to be mindful of what kind of sulfates work for your specific hair type as not all sulfates are made equal.
How do you identify sulfates in ingredient labels?
The most common sulfates found in shampoos are Lauryl Sulfates and Laureth Sulfates. These are usually the second or third ingredient listed on your ingredient list.
Examples of Lauryl Sulfate detergents:
- Sodium lauryl sulfates
- Triethanolamine lauryl sulfates
- Ammonium lauryl sulfates
These are very good cleansers for hair and create great lather. They are also very easily rinsed out of here. They’re excellent cleansers too. But they can be harsh on hair so they are recommended for people with oily here.
Examples of Laureth Sulfate detergents:
- Sodium laureth sulfate
- Triethanolamine laureth sulfates
- Ammonium laureth sulfates
These are less harsh than lauryl sulfates and are recommended for medium to dry hair.
So should you avoid entirely sulfates?
There is no reason to avoid sulfates unless you have a very sensitive scalp or you have eczema or another medical condition.
If you have oily hair or a lot of danfruff, sulfates can be great for your hair. They will cleanse it with minimal effort needed.
If you love lather and foam while taking a shower, sulfate shampoos are your best friend.
If your hair is dry, fine or frizzy, sulfates CAN be harsh but not necessarily. It is best to limit your use of sulfate shampoos to once a week. It is important to note that most products with sulfates also contain many conditioning ingredients to balance the harsh effect of sulfates while still cleansing your hair properly.
If your hair is color treated, harsh sulfates may strip away the color.
But if your regular sulfate shampoo is giving you good results and you’re not seeing any dryness or scalp issues, there’s absolutely no reason to give it up entirely.
Do you absolutely need a sulfate shampoo to cleanse your hair?
Absolutely not. There are many ingredients other than sulfates that can wash off silicones such as sodium cocoyl glutamate, polysorbates, caprylic acid, Lauramide DEA, cocomidopropyl betaine.
We’re not here to ingredient police but just to bring scientific facts that can help you have a better hair care routine. If a sulfate-free shampoo is what you want to use, go for it. If you’ve always used a sulfate shampoo and like the results and feel of it, and it doesn’t have any adverse effects on your hair, then keep using it.
Stay tuned for another blog post on how you can cleanse your scalp without using sulfates!
But for all our sulfate-loving curlies, keep lathering away.