Sulfate-free shampoo is a term that is becoming more popular.
There is a valid reason for not including certain ingredients in personal care products, but none more than sulfates.
During the 1960s, many of these sulfate surfactants were brought to the government’s attention due to the environmental and health problems associated with using them.
Many were taken off the market, and the emergence of new and innovative sulfate-free shampoo formulas came to the forefront.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
This is a chemical compound often known by its abbreviated name, SLS; this ingredient is often used for its corrosive properties and its ability to break down grease, it is commonly used as a detergent and is found in many household and industrial products, such as floor cleaners and de-greasers for engines.
Surprising then, it is also used in many cosmetic preparations, including shampoo products, body washes, and toothpaste. These chemicals can react with other chemicals in products and cause nitrosamines and dioxin, which are both known substances that may cause cancer.
Because it is very corrosive, SLS can strip the lipids from our scalp drying it out and breaking down the cellular membrane, allowing it to penetrate even further into our body, where it enters the bloodstream and can build up over time in the internal organs such as the heart, lungs, and kidneys.
Alarmingly, according to a material data sheet written by the FDA, long-term exposure to SLS can cause headaches, eye damage, allergies, and nausea, clinical studies have found that SLS can actually mutate cell structure and DNA, in some cases causing cancer!
Sodium Laureth Sulfate
Label regulations allow companies to say that it is derived from coconut; unfortunately, this allows manufacturers to include the term “natural” in their labelling.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate is a cheap and readily available ingredient, so many manufacturers love to use it in their product. It is allowed to be labelled as natural is completely misleading to the customer is a subject I discuss in greater detail here.
The manufacturing process that this ingredient has to go through involves a chemical reaction, where the end product – once a coconut-based structure – becomes part vegetable, part petroleum. This process involves using ethylene oxide, which has been known to cause both kidney and liver damage.
The negative reputation of sulfates is fairly well documented, but derivatives of the sulfuric-acid-based salts, like sodium lauryl sulfate, can still be found in many shampoos. The reason, despite what is known about how they harm our bodies, they are very effective at cleaning the hair and scalp, and they give your shampoo that lovely lather that’s synonymous with a thorough cleanse.
But sulfates’ ability to clean is just not worth their potential negative side effects. “The scoop on sulfates, is that they’re detergents in the surfactant family and whilst there is the argument that using only minuscule amounts in formulas doesn’t cause long-term damage; nevertheless, We prefer to err on the side of caution and avoid the use of these controversial ingredients in our formulas, after all, with so many other lovely sulfate-free shampoo ingredients around why wouldn’t you?
If you are keen to find some sulfate-free shampoos, this article lists a wide variety of brands committing to not including these ingredients in their formulas.