Sulfate Free Shampoo

What is it? Should We All Use Sulfate Free Shampoo? Why are Sulfates Bad?

Travis Hornung/Flickr

You've likely heard or read about the beauty industry moving to "sulfate free" shampoos. If you haven't check out your shampoo bottle. If it's sulfate free, it's likely touted on the front of the bottle and (if you purchased your shampoo from a salon) your stylist likely told you that that your purchase is sulfate free as a positive selling point. Perhaps you've wondered what the big deal is about sulfate free shampoo and cleansing agents.

I know I did, and after a bit of research, I'm glad that I use sulfate free shampoo.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is a relatively inexpensive, yet rather powerful, grease cutting detergent that also aids in the foaming nature of soap. It's been used in all kinds of soap products from your shampoo and facial cleansers to heavy degreasing agents used on mechanic's shop floors. So, in relatively simple terms, SLS is used to make soap "soapy" (which we like because we are accustomed to associating bubbles with clean) and it cuts and removes oil effectively.

This is a good thing in shampoo, right? I want my soap to be foamy and I don't want oily hair. The problem is that, even in diluted quantities, SLS can be irritating to the skin and scalp. Have you ever got shampoo in your eyes? Burned right? SLS is likely the culprit of the burning. In addition, and the primary reason that I'm not a fan of SLS, is that SLS has been known to be damaging to the hair follicle.

Damaged hair follicles can lead to weakened hair structure and diminished hair growth. Eek!

Additionally, there seems to be conflicting data that claim sodium lauryl sulfate can also cause cancer, immune system damage, and damage to the skin. Debate on this subject has even been the subject of an urban legend investigation from an email that circulated claiming shampoo causes cancer.

To date, SLS has not been banned from shampoos and cosmetic agents by the FDA as unhealthy or a cancer causing shampoo ingredient.

What does sulfate free shampoo mean to you as a consumer? Not a lot, really. Many shampoo manufacturers have removed the traditional sulfates and are now using alternative ingredients to get the job done. While I think it's great that some of these sulfates have been removed, if your shampoo is still making suds, that means that a chemical reaction is occurring. I'm not highly educated on what the alternative chemicals are, but I often wonder if the grass really is greener on the other side of this sulfate debate. I guess we're all just putting our faith in the fact that are new "sulfate free" shampoos are actually safer.

Check out this article on properly shampooing your hair (sulfates or not) and some great advice on getting the most mileage out of your shampoo experience.