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Sulfates on Hair: Effects and Tips

Updated on June 08, 2015
Sulfate-free shampoo is can provide many great benefits for your hair.
Sulfate-free shampoo is can provide many great benefits for your hair.

What are Sulfates?

Most likely don't put much thought into choosing a shampoo for their hair—some will decide based on the shampoo's fragrance, while others will choose based on what the shampoo promises to do for your locks. As a hairstylist, I recommend shampoos to my clients everyday, and never once does anyone ask, "What are the ingredients used in this shampoo?" Not many people realize the effects that certain ingredients can have on their hair and scalp.

One of the most common ingredients used in most shampoos are sulfates. Sulfates are detergents used to make the shampoo lather. They're are inexpensive to use in shampoos, which explains why more than 90% of shampoos contain them. The most common sulfates used in these shampoos are:

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

These sulfates are also contained in most household cleaning products! Would you put househould cleaning products on your hair? I don't think so! So why put sulfates in your hair?

Effects of Sulfates on Your Hair and Scalp

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

  • Dry hair and scalp. Sulfates dissolve all of the natural oils on your scalp, thus leaving your hair and scalp dryer than normal.
  • Scalp irritations. Sulfates have the potential to worsen dandruff and eczema. In turn they also leave your scalp feeling tight and itchy.
  • Fading hair colour. If you colour your hair, the aggressive cleansing that sulfates gives you will strip your hair of that colour, leaving you with dull, faded locks.
  • Hair loss. Sulfates corrode and damage your hair follicles, which leads to hair loss. This is especially true if you don't properly rinse shampoo out of your hair.

You should especially avoid sulfates if you colour your hair, the aggressive cleansing that sulfates gives you will strip your hair of that colour.
You should especially avoid sulfates if you colour your hair, the aggressive cleansing that sulfates gives you will strip your hair of that colour. | Source

Switching to a Sulfate-Free Shampoo

When switching from your regular shampoo to a sulfate-free shampoo, there may be a few minor things that you will need to get used to. Even if you struggle with these changes, you should always keep in mind that switching to a sulfate-free shampoo is the beginning to having a healthier scalp and healthier hair. The struggle will be worth it.

1. No lather. The first thing that you are going to notice about sulfate-free shampoos is that they do not lather. This is a problem for many people because they do not feel that their hair is being properly cleansed. However, you must remember that the only reason that other shampoos lather so much is due to the sulfates that are contained in them. If you are going to avoid sulfates, you must accept the fact that your sulfate-free shampoo is not going to lather like your old shampoo did.

Some tips for getting the most lather out of your sulfate-free shampoo:

  • Make sure your hair is thoroughly saturated with water before applying the shampoo to your hair.
  • Wash your hair twice! The first shampoo will remove the dirt and oil from your hair, making it easier for your shampoo to lather during the second wash. Washing your hair twice with sulfate-free shampoo is still less damaging than washing your hair once with sulfates.

2. Oily Hair. You may also notice that after switching over to your new, sulfate-free shampoo that your hair tends to feel oily a lot faster than it used to. Now that you are not stripping your hair of all of its natural oils, some people may find that their hair feels like its becoming oily quickly. Although nothing can moisturize your hair as well as your hair's natural oils, this can be a problem for some people, especially if they don't like to wash their hair as often as others do.

  • One option would be to wear your hair in a bun or a ponytail on the days that your hair doesn't feel as clean as you would like it to.
  • However, I think the best option would be to start using dry shampoo. Dry shampoo is sprayed at the roots of your hair, and what it does is absorb any oil that is in your hair, leaving it looking and feeling as if you had just washed it. My two favourite and affordable dry shampoos are:
  1. Batiste Dry Shampoo (Original)
  2. Tresemme Fresh Start Volumizing Dry Shampoo

All in all, protecting your hair from the potential damage that sulfates can cause is well worth adapting to the changes that come along with using a sulfate-free shampoo!

Recommended Sulfate-Free Shampoos

There are many sulfate-free shampoos that are on the market to choose from. So to make it a little easier, here is a list of the top ten best sulfate-free shampoos out there.

  1. Pureology Pure Volume Shampoo
  2. L'Oreal Everstrong Sulfate-Free Fortify Shampoo
  3. Morrocanoil Extra Volume Shampoo
  4. Aveeno Pure Renewal Shampoo
  5. Joico Smooth Cure Shampoo
  6. Jason Natural Shampoos
  7. One 'N Only Argan Oil Moisture Repair Shampoo
  8. Hemps Couture Moisturizing Shampoo
  9. Aveda Scalp Beneifts Balancing Shampoo
  10. Tigi Bed Head Superstar Sulfate-Free Shampoo

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    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 3 years ago from New Jersey

      You provide a lot of good information here. I think more and more people are becoming educated about what is, and is not, good for their body inside and out.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the useful information. I've never thought much about the effects of sulfates on hair. I like the sound of sulfate-free shampoo.

    • melissairene profile image
      Author

      Melissa Jongman 3 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

      Thanks, Stephanie! I really hope so, there's so many harmful substances in our everyday products!

    • melissairene profile image
      Author

      Melissa Jongman 3 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

      Not a problem! There's so many sulfate-free shampoo products out there and it's worth the switch!

    • profile image

      Cosette 2 years ago

      What is your source for this information?

    • profile image

      Cindy 2 years ago

      I have been using sulfate free shampoo for about 2 months now and my hair is much dryer than before and more of it is breaking off than before. Is it possible that since everyone's chemical makeup is different that sulfate free may not be best for ALL hair types?

    • profile image

      Mystica 12 months ago

      I will definitely switch to a sulphate free shampoo today. Any suggestions on conditioner as well?

    • profile image

      Paula Nichols 8 months ago

      After using sulfate free shampoos, what is a recommended conditioner to prevent dryness and brittle hair. ????

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