sulfate-free shampoos

Sulfate-free shampoos: Is It Really Good for You?

Sulfate-free shampoos, what are they and what does it really do for our hair? 

Nowadays, there are so many different shampoo brands and hair care products to choose from. Anti-dandruff shampoos? Tons of that. Anti-fungal shampoos? Many drugstores carry that. Beard shampoos? You don’t need to go to a salon to pick up one! But, here’s one of the controversial products in the game: Sulfate-free shampoos. 

In this article, you’ll get to know more about sulfate-free shampoos and you get to decide if it’s time to get one for yourself!

But first, what are sulfates?

Sulfates are a type of surfactant (emulsifier, and/or foaming agent) that brings in both oil and water. In comparison to other cleansing ingredients mixed in shampoo, sulfates are known to have the deepest cleansing effects. They belong to a group of cleansers called anionic surfactants, which clean away substances. Because of this, sulfates are not only used in shampoo but are also found in household cleaners, detergents.

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What are the kinds of sulfates in shampoos?

Sulfates can be easily read on the ingredients list of many shampoo brands. While their names can sound intimidating, it’s still important to be familiar with some sulfates! That is, if you want to know what you’re putting on your hair.

The two most-commonly known sulfates in shampoos are: 

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Also usually referred to as SLS, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is used in low concentrations and is one of the most common sulfates found in hygiene products. SLS works to trap oil and debris in the hair so it can be cleaned thoroughly. SLS can be found in large concentrations in items like industrial cleaners like floor cleaning solutions and car wash products. This chemical is also a good foaming agent and helps products achieve a foamy lather as seen in toothpastes and shampoos. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also includes SLS on its list of multipurpose additives that are safe to add to food items.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Despite sounding similar; Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) are different. SLES is a relatively milder cleansing agent due to a higher amount of fatty alcohols which has a different chemical structure. It can be found in hair products, oral care, and other skincare products. Because the fatty alcohols found in this sulfate act as good emollients and thickeners, SLES also has effective foaming properties. This, therefore, causes the classic sudsy and bubbly lather we’re used to seeing on hair care products. 

When should I start using sulfate-free shampoos?

sulfate-free shampoos

Sulfates are very commonly found in shampoos. Still, the use of sulfates in shampoo has been highly debated in recent decades. Some people believe that sulfates can possibly be damaging to your health, especially since shampoo is something you use daily. Sulfates were once perceived to be carcinogens, but further scientific evidence does not support these claims.

However, this doesn’t mean that sulfate-containing shampoo is the right shampoo for everyone. That’s why there’s a clear market for sulfate-free shampoos. Learn more about these possible risks and what you can do about these issues! You should be using sulfate-free shampoos if:

  1. You have colored and/or salon-treated hair!

    These days, still buying sulfate-containing products when you’ve been at the salon is considered a rookie mistake. Using sulfate-containing shampoo on color-treated hair can be too strong and will likely strip the color off too quickly. Other chemicals from salon services such as hair spa, hair relaxing or rebonding may also be removed by sulfates.

  2. Your hair is dry and/or frizzy.

    Sulfate-free shampoos maintain the natural oils on the scalp and hair, which ultimately leaves your hair with more moisture. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) using shampoos that are formulated with strong sulfates can be drying to some hair types. This is especially true for ethnic hair and non-straight hair. If even after long usage of regular shampoos your hair is dry and frizzy, maybe give sulfate-free shampoos a shot!

  3. You have a sensitive scalp or skin.

    If your skin and scalp are on the sensitive side, the AAD says that using shampoos that contain sulfates may irritate your skin. Using a gentler sulfate-free shampoo can help in these times. However, if there’s excessive itching, flaking, or alarming red blemishes on your scalp and around your head, consult a dermatologist!

  4. Your hair is damaged!

    Your hair is fragile or damaged by continuous coloring, salon treatments, sun exposure, hair loss, and a myriad of other reasons. If that’s the case, the sulfate-free shampoo will be your best bet! Sulfate-free shampoos are gentle enough to not make the situation worse, so whatever moisture your hair still has left on its remains. At least, this gives your hair some much-needed rest and leeway from all the chemicals you’ve been dealing with.

  5. You want to switch to more eco-friendly shampoos.

    Sulfates have always been very controversial, but perhaps their environmental concerns are the ones that take the cake. SLS can be made from petroleum oil, coconut, or palm oil. Meanwhile, SLES comes from either palm or coconut oil only, which has led to several debates. These sulfates are cost-effective for many manufacturers because of the versatility of their sources, especially when prices of various oils fluctuate in the world market. Reports have shown that the deforestation of many lands inhabited by endangered species has been caused by palm oil production. Consequently, concerns for ethics and the environment have come up.

What’s not to love about sulfate-free shampoos then?

sulfate-free shampoos

You might be thinking to yourself, ‘Sulfate-free shampoos have so many pros!’. However, we also want to be the ones to tell you that this product isn’t entirely perfect. Sometimes, it may also be not the right fit for you or your needs. You don’t necessarily need sulfate-free shampoos if:

  1. Your scalp is oily.

    If you have an oily scalp, sulfates might still be your friend in thoroughly cleansing your head. Sulfate-free shampoos won’t be able to absorb the oils on your scalp, nor ease the greasy feeling.

  2. You’re having dandruff and other debris on your scalp.

    For those looking for a deep clean that erases even the smallest traces of dandruff, sulfates are what you need. Sometimes, even dandruff combs and shampoo brushes aren’t enough to give your hair justice. Sulfate-free shampoos will also be too mild to fully give your scalp the cleansing it needs. 

  3. You just love your suds and bubbles!

    Some people just love their foamy bubble baths and creamy, fizzy shampoos. Others don’t feel clean and comfortable at all if there are no bubbles to be seen as they rub their hair with the product. If that’s the case, then sulfate-free shampoos won’t be the best for you, since it has zero to no lather at all.

  4. Your hair is just thicker and longer.

    Sulfate-free shampoos can also require more than one wash if you have long or thick hair. As a result, you end up using larger amounts of shampoo to get the job done. That can be quite a hassle if you’re also on a tight budget.

  5. You’re running on a tight schedule!

    Because it’s harder to tell whether you’re cleaning your hair thoroughly or not, using sulfate-free shampoos can make you last longer in the bathroom. This is especially inconvenient if you are in a rush and there is still some grease left in your hair unremoved.


Sulfate-free shampoos do you some good, while sulfates in shampoo can still help you in certain situations. Neither will cause your hair problems, so it’s really just a matter of looking out which one between sulfate-free and sulfate-containing shampoos suits you.

While there are significant differences between the two, these don’t necessarily make one kind ultimately superior over the other. So check out all the info that we’ve selected and listed down for you, and make a balanced decision about what’s best for your hair!

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