Sulfate Free Shampoo

What It Is and Whether or Not We Should Use it

Woman shampooing her hair
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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 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.

What SLS Is

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.

Why We Don't Want It

This is a good thing in shampoo, right? You want your soap to be foamy and you 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, 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 cancer causing shampoo ingredient.

Sulfate-Free Shampoo

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 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. We aren't highly educated on what the alternative chemicals are, but we often wonder if the grass really is greener on the other side of this sulfate debate. We're all just putting our faith in the fact that new "sulfate-free" shampoos are actually safer.