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Is Sulfate Bad for Your Hair? (Effects of Sulfates in Shampoo)

Melissa is a hairstylist and an aspiring writer. Her hobbies include reading, writing, shopping, and anything related to hair and beauty.

Learn all about the effects of sulfates on your hair.

Learn all about the effects of sulfates on your hair.

What Are Sulfates?

Most people 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.

What About Ingredients, Then?

One of the most common ingredients used in most shampoos are sulfates. Sulfates are detergents used to make the shampoo lather. They're 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 household cleaning products on your hair? I don't think so! So why put sulfates in your hair?

Sulfate-free shampoo is can provide many great benefits for your hair.

Sulfate-free shampoo is can provide many great benefits for 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.

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!

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.

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

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Linda on April 30, 2020:

I've been using L'Oreal Everstrong shampoo and conditioner for a few months now and am so pleased that my scalp feels so much less itchy. Until I spoke to my hairdresser I was unaware that most shampoos on the market have sulpha as the second ingredient !

Priscilla on April 16, 2020:

Herbalife shampoo and conditioner are also sulphate.and.paraben free

hey guy am alem on January 06, 2018:

I got lot of important information thank you

Linda on October 15, 2017:

I switched to the L'Oreal sulfate free a month ago ... and soft beachy waves are showing up in my previously board-straight long hair. I love these soft waves. But where did they come from?? All my life my long hair has been really, really straight and never held curls well. Is it possible that somehow the sulfate-free shampoo is revealing a curl pattern that was hidden in my hair all these years???

Janice on May 31, 2017:

I had an allergic reaction to hair dye and my hair is falling out, it was recommended that i use sulphate free shampoo, i have been using aloe and jojoba shampoo now for about a month but my hair is still falling has anyone got any suggestions as to how i can stop it i am worried it won't grow back.

Michaella on March 27, 2017:

Thank you for your article !

I have been using sulfate, paraben and silicone free shampoo and conditioner for a while now. I then rinse with Apple cider vinegar and moisturise with pure Argan oil.

My hair is thick, wavy and voluminous. It was heat damaged so it became a dull, dried out maine. The more non-organic products I used, the more I needed and the more it dried out my hair. So I stopped all together, chopped my hair and started all organic.

The result is great and cheap !

I also learnt that our hair textures are all unique, like us. So we have to try different amounts of these organic products on our own hair and see what works best.

Last tip: I switch to virgin coconut oil as a hair mask in winter when my hair needs more nourishment.

Finally, most days because my natural hair oils are restored and kept now. I only need a little Argan oil to tame it daily.

Good luck ladies :)

Paula Nichols on July 09, 2016:

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

Mystica on March 26, 2016:

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

Cindy on February 16, 2015:

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?

Cosette on November 11, 2014:

What is your source for this information?

Melissa Jongman (author) from Toronto, Ontario on November 21, 2013:

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

Melissa Jongman (author) from Toronto, Ontario on November 21, 2013:

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

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 19, 2013:

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.

Stephanie Bradberry from New Jersey on September 10, 2013:

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.