Increasingly, you can find products with sulfate-free signs on them. Shampoos, mainly, have SLS-free on them. What are sulfates, and what are SLS’?
Sulfates, or sulphates, are foaming agents. These are the chemicals that make your soapy products foamy. As the name suggests, they are made of sulfur-containing mineral salts.
Sulfates are found in shampoos, body washes, face washes, toothpaste, laundry detergents, dish washing liquids, and shaving creams, amongst others. For a further list of products containing sulfates, go here.
Being surfactants, sulfates attract both oil and water. This makes them really good cleaning agents. They are able to bind with both the oily dirt, which for example will be on our scalps or skin, and water. This means sulfates can lift dirt, dissolve it in the washing solution, and get rinsed off with water.
The problem with sulfates is that it can sometimes be too effective. This is one reason why we may sometimes feel our skins dry after we’ve had a shower or washed our faces. It makes hair frizzy. This happens because sulfates can wash off the natural oils on our skin and scalp. These are necessary as protection for our skin.
Also, with shampoos, sulfates lift the hair’s cuticle – the hair’s outer layer. The raised cuticle exposes the hair’s inner shaft causing moisture to penetrate into it. This causes frizz. If the surrounding environment is dry, it causes dryness. The weakened hair strand becomes dull and prone to damage. It can also lead to hair breakage and split ends.
Sulfates in shampoo also cause flyaways. To avoid all this, one will have to use a silicone-based condition. This is itself another problem which will be covered in a separate post.
Use of sulfate-based products can cause skin irritation. Sulfates do not cause cancer. However, they are irritants to the skin and eyes.
Reading the ingredient list on your products will help you identify sulfates. These include:
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate
- Sodium Lauroyl Isoethionate
- Sodium Lauroyl Taurate
- Sodium Cocoyl Isoethionate
- Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isoethionate
- Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate
- Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate
From a safety standpoint, you may not have an issue with sulfates, and that is fine. However, sulfates do have an effect on our bodies and that is something to consider. Personally, I made a switch to a sulfate-free shampoo and I noticed a major difference in my hair. I used to spend a lot of money on anti-frizz products. My mirrors have been witness to many a wrestling match between me and my unruly hair. I am also trying to grow out my hair and I have had to trim off quite a bit of it that was damaged (to be fair, I also used to chemically colour and straighten my hair, and used heat tools extensively. So, the damage was also due to these other things I was doing to my hair).
This blog only seeks to educate. You read, learn and make choices for yourself. The most important thing is that you are making an informed choice. As always, happy learning!