Myth or Fact: Sulfate Shampoo breaks hair? - Part 1 of 2

I have recently had a flood of comments about SLS. I am going to spend this week tackling myth or fact namely

1. Does SLS break hair?
2. Is SLS carcinogenic (i.e causes cancer)
3. Is SLS an irritant.

However this series has to start with explaining what SLS is and therefore he we  have some vintage Natural Haven. (This was originally posted in October 2009, so if you are having a case of deja vu, c'est vrai)

1. Have you noticed that oil and water do not mix?

Oil will always float to the top of water. Even if you really mix the two, droplets will form but allow it to settle for a few hours and the oil and water will naturally separate. See the diagram below.

2. However have you noticed that when you wash oily dishes with soap, the oil is lifted off?

The reason this happens is due to surfactants ( don't stop reading now, I'll explain!!). A surfactant is a special type of chemical. It has two parts
  • Water loving part - usually refered to as a polar head - you know polar like the ice caps made up of water.
  • Oil loving part - usually referred to as a tail ( or a lipid tail - lipid means oil). See the diagram below!
3. So what is so special about surfactants like SLS?

Surfactants like sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) can interact with both oils and water. This is really special because it means a chemist can therefore combine oil and water WITHOUT the oil separating from the water. This means the oil can be dissolved in water.

This happens because the surfactant helps create micelles. The diagram below shows you how the SLS arranges itself in a water and oil mixture. It also shows how micelles can be formed.

4. So what is a micelle?

In the simplest system, there are three parts needed make a micelle - oil, water and a surfactant - see the diagram below.

They are special because they allow oil to dissolve in water and this is really useful for shampoo

Next up - Part 2 of 2 - Is there evidence to support the theory that SLS Shampoo breaks hair?


  1. Wow! I didn't think you were going to get to answer my question so fast! Thank you this is gonna be great!

  2. I'm looking forward to this series. Thanks for doing this research, JC! I keep on hearing that SLS is bad, bad, bad. Time to see if it's true or not. :o)

  3. Bravo, on that simple explanation!!!!

  4. Thanks Anon, Loo and intelligentbeauty :)

  5. haha i got to # 2 & had a cell bio flashback & was like "she should put a micelle diagram here" & lo and behold i scrolled down and saw it :) (showing my true science major nerdiness lol)

  6. Adorei ter conhecido seu site!Parabéns!Tem muitas dicas bem valiosas.


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