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Why are Sulfates Bad for Hair?


 Is your hair feeling dry and brittle? Is your scalp itchy and irritated? It might be time to double check your shampoo ingredients to see if they contain sulfate.   

Aside from the periodic table, sulfates can be found in many cosmetic products, including soaps and shampoos. Often one of the key ingredients in these products, this FDA approved chemical can be found on labels of many shampoo bottle.

But, is sulfate bad for hair; and if so, what does it do?

What Does Sulfate Do to Your Hair?

Why do you need sulfate free shampoo

Sulfate, known as surfactants, is added to these everyday products as part of the cleansing process. Sulfates bring dirt to the surface so that it can be easily washed away. However, dirt is not the only thing sulfates are good at removing.   

Sulfates also help capture oils and water meaning they provide a thorough cleanse to the applied area. More notably, they’re the main ingredient that causes soaps, shampoos, and toothpaste to lather and create a bubbling foam. Something that makes bubbles can’t be bad, right?

Is Sulfate Bad for Your Hair?

 Sulfate free shampoo for dry hair

Like everything, using sulfate in excess can cause issues over a long period of time. The overuse of sulfates can cause dryness in your hair and scalp since sulfates grab all types of oils and water out — even natural, good oils that keep your hair moisturized. Sulfates can be even more detrimental to colored hair, as they can strip away dyes. It can also be harmful to keratin-treated hair, as sulfates can carry away the treatment.

Since sulfates can also be known to strip away hair proteins in the cleansing process, this causes damage to your hair cuticle and even an imbalance of your hair’s pH level. It is particularly harmful to color-treated hair, as having a balanced pH level in your hair can make or break the vibrancy of the dye and the health of the hair.   

In the long run, this can cause hair breakage, hair thinning, and even indirectly cause hair loss.

These same reasons cause scalp problems, like irritation and itchiness. If your skin is on the more sensitive side, the excess usage of sulfates may additionally trigger redness — and in some cases, can lead to developing contact dermatitis, an allergic rash.

Solutions to Sulfate Damaged Hair

Salonphactor - sulfate free hair care product

If you’re concerned about the sulfate in your shampoos, trying changing to a lower level sulfate or sulfate-free shampoo. The most popular sulfate used in products is sodium lauryl sulfate (often written as SLS on ingredient lists) which is also the harshest and strongest formula. Look for shampoos that have milder sulfates such as ammonium laureth sulfate or sodium alkyl sulfate which are gentler on your scalp and hair.

Sulfate-free shampoos are a great option to significantly reduce sulfate in your routine. Not only will you prevent the long-term side effects of sulfate, but you will also nourish damaged hair and maintain hydration. Although you won’t get that bubbly lather, you will still get the same cleanse in a healthier and safer manner.

In addition to changing your shampoo, consider adding a moisturizing conditioner. Moisturizing conditioners help restore damaged hair and protect colored hair from dryness caused by sulfates.