Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Ingredient Spotlight: Sulfates

Sulfates can be found in shampoos, conditioners, dish detergents, toothpaste,  bath soaps, car engine de-greasers, you name it!. Chances are, if you are using some form of cleansing agent, you may be using a product containing sulfates.When found in shampoos, there are pros and cons but the choice is yours.

Pros of Sulfates:

  •  Effective Cleanser: excellent at removing oil, dirt, sweat, and impurities from the hair and scalp. 
  • Cost Effective: products containing sulfates are cheaper to manufacture and ubiquitous so it's likely you can find a cheaper product that still cleans well.
  • Readily available: as sulfates are a common ingredient, you can find a product at large retails stores and are convenient to find if you are in a pinch. 
  • Unfortunately, they are sometimes too effective and can be damaging to the hair and scalp. If you have natural hair, you will want to avoid this feeling at all costs

  Cons of Sulfates: 

  • Can be drying and harsh on hair and scalp: Sulfates have been shown to remove protein from the hair (Wilhelm et al., 1991; de Cássia Comis Wagne and Joekes, 2005 ), cause skin irritation after long-term exposure (Branco et al, 2005), and lead to dryness in hair and skin( have been shown to remove the natural oils from your hair and scalp). This can lead to a feeling of dry, brittle hair and  a flaky scalp.   

Recognizing Sulfates:Regardless of whether or not you choose to use sulfates in your routine, the first step is to recognize them on the ingredient list.

  • Rule of Thumb: If it lathers, it likely has sulfates. 
  • Learn the chemical names: Sulfates have many names! (Companies are sneaky like that).  Sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl ether sulfate, sodium dodecyl sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate... Do you see a trend? 

  • de Cássia Comis Wagner, R., & Joekes, I. (2005). Hair protein removal by sodium dodecyl sulfate. Colloids & Surfaces B: Biointerfaces, 41(1), 7-14. doi:10.1016/j.colsurfb.2004.10.023
  • Branco, N., Lee, I., Hongbo, Z., & Maibach, H. (2005). Long-term repetitive sodium lauryl sulfate-induced irritation of the skin:an in vivo study. Contact Dermatitis, 53(5), 278-284. 
  • Wilhelm, K., Surber, C., & Maibach, H. (1991). Effect of sodium lauryl sulfate-induced skin irritation on in vitro percutaneous absorption of four drugs . Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 96(6), 963-967.


  1. What Shampoo(s), COnditioner(s), and or Leave-In Conditioners do you use on your hair?

  2. Hey naturalcurl! Right now I just use Giovanni's Smooth as Silk shampoo and conditioner, my leave-in mix, and coconut oil.