In the world of skin, hair, and body care, you likely already know that there are a ton of ingredients to be aware of! Some safer than others, of course, and some that are effective for some people, while not being so effective for others.
Today we’d like to look into a group of ingredients commonly used in skin and body care products called sulfates. These compounds are typically used as cleaning agents, emulsifiers and foaming agents. They are either found in natural form or are synthesized (usually drug store products) and the most common forms are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES).
Let’s take a deeper look at sulfates so that you can make an informed decision as to whether you would like to use or avoid them when you buy your next body care products!
Are sulfates natural?
Knowing where an ingredient comes from is important, so let’s talk about where they do come from! They are either derived naturally from earth’s crust (as aerosols from biomass combustion) or produced in a lab from non-renewable petroleum sources. The two most common types of sulfates – SLS and SLES are obtained from plant sources such as coconut oil or palm kernel oil.
What beauty products typically contain sulfates?
You might be surprised to know that sulfates are present not only in beauty products but all sorts of household cleaners too! When it comes to the products you use on your skin and hair though, just think about that foamy, lathering, super clean feeling certain products give you... that’s all thanks to SLS and SLES! Yepp, it’s almost impossible to avoid sulfates since they can be found in all of the following beauty products!
So why consider avoiding sulfates altogether?
Let’s be fair, when it comes to sulfates, it’s typically the industrial-made sulfates available in consumer/drugstore products that have been found sensitising by some people, including our founder, Wil, who himself experienced irritation every time he would use products with sulfates in them! Wil actually used this as a catalyst for joining the natural skin and body care industry to help others suffering from the effects of sulfates!
Although sulfates are usually tried and tested for any skin type and found to be safe, there have been instances where irritation of all kinds have occurred in certain people.
Most common types of Sulfate - sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) in soaps, shampoos and other cleansing products have been reported to cause irritation to eyes, skin, and scalp
If present in high amounts in a cleansing product, sulfates might cause tingling, itching and redness as well
People who have very sensitive skin can find sulfate products clogging pores and causing acne. These chemicals also strip your hair and scalp of natural oils since they work so aggressively
Sulfates are sometimes too aggressive at washing away natural oils, that can leave skin and hair a little parched and over dry
What to look out for on the ingredients list
When checking the ingredient labels of products you’re interested in using, it’s our opinion that it’s best to avoid the following which could be harsh for your skin or scalp. These sulfates and other ingredients can be very strong and aggressive! It also depends on your hair and skin types, and whether sulfate formulated products are suitable for you!
Ammonium dodecyl sulfate
Sodium lauryl sulfate
Sodium dioctyl sulfosuccinate
Triethanolamine lauryl sulfate and Triethanolamine laureth sulfate
Disodium olamine sulfosuccinate
Cocamidopropyl betaine (CAPB)
Long-chain amino esters – biobased materials
Ammonioesters - cationic detergents offering softness to the damaged hair
Cetyltrimethylammonium chloride – anti-static agent that smooths detangled strands of hair to control frizz and rambunctious curls
Polyoxyethylene fatty alcohols – good for removing sebum from the scalp and hair
Polyoxyethylene sorbitol esters – emulsifying agents
Alkanolamides – added in shampoo to increase viscosity
Sodium lauraminopropionate – anti-static hair conditioning agent
6 bonus tips for healthy sulfate-free hair and scalp
Of course avoiding sulfates altogether is the best choice if you have sensitive skin and hair, but here are a few more of our best tips for keeping your hair at it’s healthiest!
1. Know your hair type and wash it accordingly. If you have oily hair, then daily hair wash is needed. However, in case of dry hair, shampooing on a daily basis strips natural oils from your scalp leaving your hair drier and dull.
2. Always use a shampoo that is tailored to your hair type
3. Use a conditioner after shampooing your hair. Shampooing removes dirt and oil from your hair, but it also strips natural oils from the scalp which are required to keep your scalp and hair healthy. Always use a conditioner after shampooing your hair as it helps in replenishing some of the moisture that shampooing strips away.
4. Use heated tools sparingly. Avoid using hair dryers, hair curlers, or hair straighteners on a daily basis as these can damage your hair strands.
5. Wash your hair with natural sulfate-free products like our Scalp Rescue line that takes care of your hair from the inside out
6. If you have dry or damaged hair, sulfate formulated products may cause redness, itching, tingling and irritation. Exploring mild shampoos or other options like shampoos with no sulfates, or shampoos containing gentler cleansers may be helpful.