The Natural Haven : On Sulfates in Shampoo
Q. Do sulfate shampoos break hair?
A: Yes but then again so does water, combing, sunlight......pretty much everything except living in a dark room and never touching your hair. (Read more: See how much hair breaks when shaken in water or different sulfate shampoos)
Q: Are all sulfate shampoos harsh?
A: No, some sulfate shampoos can be very harsh, especially those that contain surfactants such as SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) and ALS (Ammonium lauryl sulfate). Shampoos labelled as clarifying are often quite harsh to skin. Some sulfate shampoos contain surfactants that are considered quite gentle for example SLES (sodium lauryl ether sulfate) which is a modified version of SLS.
Q: What is a surfactant?
A: You must have missed the masterclass from several years back - catch up here!
Q: Why are sulfate shampoos harsh?
A: It is not just sulfate shampoos that are harsh, non sulfate ones can equally be harsh. Shampoos feel harsh because they strip hair and skin (i.e scalp) of oil and this causes the skin to retain less water, feel dry and itchy. The better a shampoo is at cleaning oil, the harsher it will feel. (Read more: Why are shampoos harsh)
Q: Do sulfate shampoos have a high pH?
A: In general no, most commercial sulfate shampoos are in the pH range 5-7 (Read more: Comprehensive list of pH values of shampoo)
Q: Should I therefore be concerned if my shampoo feels like it is stripping my hair?
A: Yes you should be unless it is your intent to rid your hair of build up or excessive product in which case a good clarifiying product is necessary. Ordinary use shampoos contain other ingredients to help make them less irritating to skin and you should aim to use a shampoo that is gentle to your hair and skin.
Q: Do sulfates in shampoos cause cancer?
A: No, there is currently no evidence to show that they do. The most effective surfactant SLS is often wrongly associated with cancer but there is nothing in its production process that would result in a known carcinogen. However, its gentle version SLES is produced through a process known as ethoxylation which gives off a by product that is marked as a possible carcinogen - 1,4 dioxane. SLES is still considered safe as the dioxane produced readily evaporates into air. (Read more - myth sls causes cancer)
Q: Do you think sulfates should be avoided?
A: I think that people need to make their own decisions and learn to read ingredient labels. In my personal case, I know that from testing, my scalp and skin prefers SLES as a surfactant for normal washing and really dislikes a different sulfate surfactant - ALS. I have tried two sulfate free shampoos and I found them expensive and wasteful because I required a lot of the product to get my scalp clean. Other people like sulfate free shampoos, some people totally avoid shampoo, some people avoid SLES, ALES etc because of cancer concerns.........make your own decision to suit what your scalp and mind prefer.