So What’s the Deal with Sulfates?

So What’s the Deal with Sulfates?

What Sulfates Really Are and How They Are Not Good to Your Hair and Scalp?

Ever questioned why shampoo rapidly turns into foam when mixed with water? The answer, for many supermarket shampoos, is the addition of chemical foaming agents like and sodium Laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate. Known as sulfates, these ingredients help shampoo mix into water, making the foamy texture you get when you massage shampoo into your hair and scalp. Sulfates are usually found in mass-market shampoos, containing most of the brands you’ll find in your local supermarket. Compared to other cleaning ingredients in shampoo, sulfates are said to have the deepest cleansing properties. If you shop for body wash or shampoo, chances are you’ve noticed an increase in products advertising “sulfate-free” labels. Or perhaps you’ve heard advice from friends that sulfate-free is the way to go. But what’s really up with sulfates, and should you absolutely avoid them?

What Are Sulfates and Why They Are Not Good to Your Hair and Scalp?

Most people don’t put much thought into picking a shampoo for their hair—some will decide based on the shampoo’s smell, while others will choose based on what the shampoo potentials to do for your locks. Not many people understand the effects that certain ingredients can have on their hair and scalp.

One of the most common ingredients used in many shampoos are sulfates. Sulfates are cleaners used to make the shampoo lather. They’re inexpensive to use in shampoos, which clarifies why more than 90% of shampoos have them. The most common sulfates used in most shampoos are:

  • Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES)
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)
  • Sodium Myreth Sulphate (SMS)
  • TEA Laureth Sulfate (TEA)
  • Ammonia Laureth Sulphate (ALS)

These sulfates are also confined in most household cleaning products! Would you put household washing products on your hair? I don’t think so! So why put sulfates on your hair? At low applications, sulfates are considered safe to use. However, everyday use of products with a high concentration of sulfates may give to cell damage and excess stripping away of natural oils and hair proteins. People with kinky or dyed hair should strongly consider leaving sulfates because they’re pretty harsh cleansers. Using sulfates on color-treated hair can be too strong and will likely strip the hair color. Sulfates not only band hair protein — in some people, they can cause painful allergic rash called contact dermatitis and severe skin irritation. Compared to other cleansing ingredients in shampoo, sulfates are said to have the deepest cleansing effects. Not everyone will experience skin dermatitis or rashes after using shampoo or conditioner that contains sulfates. Still, it’s best to avoid shampoos that have sulfates just in case, as there’s nothing cool about dealing with a scalp rash.

Effects of Sulfates on Your Hair and Scalp

Sulfates have the potential to wreak total chaos on your hair. There are many negative effects that sulfates can reason to your hair follicles, hair shaft, and your scalp. Some of these include:

Scalp Irritations

Sulfates have the latent to worsen dandruff and eczema. In turn, they also leave your scalp feeling itchy and tight.

Hair Loss

Sulfates destroy and damage your hair follicles, which leads to hair loss. This is especially true if you don’t properly wash shampoo out of your hair.

Fading Hair Colour

If you colour your hair, the violent cleansing that sulfates give you will slip your hair of that colour, leaving you with dull, faded locks.

Dry Hair and Scalp

Sulfates strip all of the natural oils on your scalp, thus leaving your hair and scalp dryer than normal.

Sulfates and Hair Protein Removal

Hair is made of protein — in fact, the hair itself is a protein thread. About 91 percent of each of your hair fibers is protein, along with many other nutrients. When the protein that makes up each of your hairs is damaged, it can weaken the hair, affecting its appearance and strength.

Sulfates are closely related to damage to hair protein. In fact, one study from 2005 shows that hair absorbed in a sodium dodecyl sulfate solution loses two times as much protein as hair absorbed in water. This can lead to divided ends, breakage, and hair that is difficult to manage. Because of this, sulfates are best avoided if you want to improve your hair’s health, strength, and appearance.


Sulfates don’t essentially pose health risks for all users. However, if you have a sensitivity to sulfates or if your hair is fine, dry, or damaged, it may be best to pick a different type of shampoo. You might even just prefer to avoid them overall to be on the safe side.

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