Sulfates (also known as sulphates or surfactants) have become kind of a big deal in hair in recent years. There’s been many a rumour surrounding these ingredients, possibly the story has grown and changed via a case of chinese whispers. I feel that it’s important to provide you with the truth so that you can make your own decisions.
Sulfates are an ingredient commonly used in personal care products to help create the foam/bubbles you experience. They work by capturing the dirt/oil in order to lift it away from the scalp/hair and be rinsed off with the bubbles. They are in products ranging from toothpaste to dishwashing detergent, and yes, in shampoo.
There are many different types of sulfates which are typically listed on the ingredient list with SULFATE in the name. However, it is possible to have an ingredient with sulfate in the name that is not actually a sulfate in the way we talk about sulfates for the hair industry. Weird right? This is because of the chemical composition of ingredients and how they are manufactured, so be careful not to get confused!
Many surfactants are derived from natural sources (usually coconut), so in fact, we could argue that these ingredients are “natural” which would mean they are safe wouldn’t it? Well, that’s another topic altogether and for further information about natural ingredients you should refer to THE ME&MY CONSULT blog – how natural are your products?
So, back onto sulfates. The original story regarding sulfate was surrounding a specific sulfate abbreviated to SLS – Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. However, through a lack of knowledge and actual testing to back up the story other sulfates have been tainted with the same brush. When in fact, even SLS serves a purpose and does so safely. ME&MY products do not contain SLS due to its high cleansing nature which can often result in increased colour fade and scalp irritation/dryness – not ideal for the majority of our clients! It’s important to note that any ingredient is only 1 small part of a formula so even using SLS may not be too bad provided it’s at the right percentage and the product contains other ingredients that would work to counteract the stronger nature of SLS. Another common sulfate which is often confused with SLS is SLES, and you can see why! Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate is similar to SLS but has been through a slightly different chemical process that provides us with a surfactant that is gentler on the skin and hair.
At the time of writing this blog ME&MY only has two products that contain mild, gentle sulfates so that they protect your hair and scalp from dryness, colour fade and irritation.
So, why is everyone focused on sulfate free if in fact it’s actually safe? This is where the chinese whispers comes in and why I’ve left this until last because I’m not someone that likes to repeat misinformation. There are those out there who would have you believe that sulfates are carcinogenic (cancer causing). THERE IS NO MEDICAL TESTING that shows this to be true. Sulfates have been used for over 80 years and have been tested to prove that as an ingredient in rinse-off products they are completely safe for use. In leave-in products they may cause mild skin irritation – although surfactants aren’t likely to be used in leave-in products as they would serve no purpose in relation to the intended result of the product.
Feel free to contact me at any time should you have further questions about this blog.