You may have heard of sulfates before...rather, you may have heard of sulfate-free. Sulfates have been getting a lot of attention in hair care recently—with good reason. While often misidentified as carcinogens (an agent with the capacity to cause cancer in humans), there are still plenty of reasons to steer clear of sulfates used in shampoo.
What are sulfates…and why are they in shampoo?
In short, sulfates are chemicals used as cleansing agents. They belong to a class of cleansers called anionic surfactants, which break down oils, dirt, and also emulsify to give cleansers their foaming or sudsing action. The purpose of these chemicals in shampoo is to create a lathering effect and to remove oil and dirt from your hair.
Not all sulfates are created equal
That is, some sulfates should be avoided in shampoo, while others are fine. The main types of sulfates used in shampoo are:
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)
Sodium laureth sulfate, a slightly more mild sulfate
Ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS)
The first sulfate on the list is one of the most common found in shampoos: SLS. SLS is a surfactant, meaning it lowers the surface tension between ingredients and creates the lather often associated with shampoo and other hair products. However, SLS is also known to strip the protein from hair, depleting the hair and scalp of beneficial protective oils. Products containing harsh surfactants like SLS are also known to contribute to color fade. SLS can cause frizziness and dry hair. In severe instances, SLS can also irritate the scalp, causing redness, dryness and itching.
For this reason, we never use sodium lauryl sulfate in our products, opting instead to use sodium laureth sulfate, a gentler alternative. Sodium laureth sulfate is also used in our hair color to ensure a full, even application of color, and total removal of color from the scalp and hair while rinsing.