You may have noticed that most shampoo products are labeled with a “sulfate” ingredient. But what exactly is sulfate? It’s often added to shampoos, soaps and other personal care products for cleansing purposes. In fact, it’s not just in your shampoo – it can also be found in paint stripper, rubber cement and dishwashing detergent. Sulfates have been used since the 1930s as an industrial cleaning agent. That is to say, sulfate may not be the best ingredient for your hair.
What Exactly is Sulfate?
In technical terms, sulfate is a salt of sulfuric acid. In shampoo products, it is often used as a detergent and cleansing agent because it is effective at breaking down oils and dirt on the surface of your skin or hair. Sulfates work by attaching to the oil or dirt molecules and then dragging them away with the water.
Why Is Sulfate in Shampoo?
Sulfates are the ingredients in shampoo that create lather, which we often relate to a shampoo’s “cleaning power.” However, you don’t actually need your shampoo to lather for it to be effective. Though it may take some getting used to, there are plenty of sulfate and lather-free shampoos that are just as effective.
Why You Should Avoid Sulfate in Shampoo
Sulfate is a great cleanser. However, because it strips away natural oils, it is very harsh on the hair and skin. It can leave hair dry and cause irritation of the scalp. In shampoo, sulfate also strips your hair color – so if you have dyed or bleached your hair, it may be best to seek out a lather-free option for this reason as well.
Who Should Avoid Sulfates?
While anyone looking to maintain a healthy head of hair may benefit from avoiding sulfates, certain demographics may benefit even more. These include people with:
- Sensitive skin
- Eczema or psoriasis
- Dry or frizzy hair
- Dyed or chemically altered hair
How to Avoid Sulfates in Shampoo
Luckily, there are plenty of great shampoo options out there without sulfates. You can find these products anywhere that you typically go to purchase shampoo, and they are often the same or comparable price as sulfate-containing shampoo, so there is no financial downside to making the switch.
Sulfate-free shampoos are often labeled on the front of the bottle, so it’s easy to spot them. If you’re not sure whether or not a shampoo contains sulfates, take a look at the ingredient list on the back. If you see “sodium lauryl sulfate” or any other variants of this ingredient listed, then the product contains sulfate.
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