Sulfates have long been used in shampoos to ensure your strands are thoroughly cleansed. But more and more, we’re seeing companies remove the cleansing product from their shampoos. Sulfate-free shampoos are everywhere and come highly recommended by experts and stylists alike. We wanted to really understand why there’s such an emphasis on using sulfate-free sudsers so we reached out to a handful of experts. Below, they detailed every question you could possibly have about the haircare product!
So, What Exactly Are Sulfates and Why Are They Bad for Your Hair?
To begin, let’s get a little background on sulfates and what they are. Basically, they’re a cleansing agent that are most commonly found in shampoos and used to scrub away oil, dirt, and other impurities. It’s also what allows shampoo to become so foamy. Dr. Iris Rubin, dermatologist and founder of SEEN Hair Care, notes that there are many types of sulfates though the “two [most] commonly used ones are sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate.”
Thom Priano, celebrity men’s stylist and co-founder of R+Co, notes that some sulfates can be harsher than others. “Customers these days are concerned with using products that have sulfates in them as they can be stripping and drying to the hair and scalp. Also, harsher sulfates can cause color fading.”
With that being said, Bay Area-based dermatologist Dr. Kaveri Karhade does point out that there aren’t a ton of health issues caused by using sulfates. “Sulfates are not medically risky or harmful to one’s overall health, despite what the media portrays,” she assures. However, as with Thom, she does note that they can be drying and remove moisture from your strands.
Now, What Is a Sulfate-Free Shampoo?
Now that we understand what sulfates are, we can better understand sulfate-free shampoo. To put it quite plainly, it’s shampoo that doesn’t contain sulfates. A representative from IGK Hair Care explains it in further detail. “A sulfate-free shampoo is simply a shampoo that uses other cleansing agents instead of sulfates,” they note. “You may see some ingredients like Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate or Cocamidopropyl Betaine on your shampoo label, these are non-sulfate surfactants.”
Should Everyone Use a Sulfate-Free Shampoo?
All the experts agree—sulfate-free shampoos are beneficial for every hair type and texture. They’re especially beneficial for those with dry scalp and hair or those who have color-treated strands. Again, sulfates can potentially strip your color and make your hair even dryer. Dr. Rubin stresses those with curly hair and keratin-treated tresses should also avoid sulfates.
If you don’t want to avoid sulfates, you potentially don’t have to. It all comes down to how healthy your hair is. Thom shares that “If you don’t have sensitive skin and overall healthy hair that isn’t color-treated or isn’t prone to dryness, you could probably use a shampoo with sulfates without any negative impact.”
Dr. Karhade reminds us once again that sulfates “are not as dangerous or toxic as their reputations suggest. For the majority of people who use sulfate-containing shampoo, there are no established major health risks per the medical literature.” It really all comes down to your personal preference and how your hair reacts to the shampoo you use.
How Often Should You Use This Type of Shampoo?
Should you opt for a sulfate-free shampoo, you can use it the same way you would a regular one. There are no additional steps you need to follow. How often you use it depends on your hair type. If you wash your hair once or twice a week, use the shampoo that often. If you wash your hair more or less, work it into your routine as you would a normal shampoo.
Dr. Rubin reminds us that “some sulfate-free shampoos may not foam as much,” but they are “still working.”
Thom does share a helpful routine for those who need a little more guidance on how to use the product. “It is important to wet your hair thoroughly and then emulsify the shampoo in your hands,” he says. “Apply the shampoo to your scalp starting at the back of the head and working it forward and all around the scalp area. Rinse thoroughly before applying a conditioner. The rinsing process will allow the shampoo to run through the rest of the hair and cleanse your strands. A good rule of thumb is to shampoo your scalp and condition your hair.” Dr. Karhade echoes this point by noting, “focusing on cleansing the scalp rather than the hair itself is best.”
As always, be sure to follow with a nourishing conditioner. “It’s important to follow up with a conditioner or treatment for your hair type that will help replenish strands after you’ve removed all the dirt, oil, and buildup,” notes the IGK rep.
What Benefits Do Sulfate-Free Shampoos Offer?
Sulfate-free shampoos are much gentler on the scalp and strands. They ensure your color doesn’t fade and your scalp and strands don’t dry out. Overall, they’re much kinder to your hair and scalp. Each and every expert notes this is critical for proper hair and scalp care. Just as with people, you should treat your hair with kindness. The easiest way to do that? Switch to a sulfate-free shampoo.
“Sulfates are surfactants that tend to be harsher on the hair and skin and can dry out the hair and cause the color to fade,” mentions Dr. Rubin. “They can irritate the skin as well. Sulfate-free shampoos tend to be gentler to the skin and hair, which is great for everyone.”
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoos
Thom rightfully recommends R+Co shampoos, as they’re all sulfate and sodium chloride-free. Additionally, they “provide gentle cleansing without being stripping or drying.” There’s also a shampoo perfect for your unique hair type and texture. Our personal favorite is the Television Perfect Hair Shampoo because it gives everyone camera-ready hair.
For those who want a sulfate-free shampoo that still foams, Dr. Rubin recommends this one. She also notes it comes in a fragrance-free version if that’s something you’re looking for. “All SEEN products have color-safe formulations, deliver luxury hair benefits, and provide peace of mind because our products are formulated without sulfates, silicones, phthalates, parabens, dyes, gluten, or animal testing,” Dr. Rubin states.
(via SEEN Hair Care)
While all IGK shampoos are sulfate-free, their rep highly recommends the Legendary Dream Hair Shampoo. “[It] provides a wonderful, rich lather and cleansed feel without making the hair feel stripped or too dry. It’s a scalp-balancing, multi-benefit formula that works on many hair types,” they note.
(via IGK Hair Care)
Dr. Karhade highly recommends this sulfate-free shampoo for curly hair. She notes that it’s her “personal favorite” and that she uses it on her curls regularly. We love that it offers curls of all varieties some much-needed moisture to leave them feeling cleansed and hydrated after each use.
Not only should you avoid sulfates, but you should also steer clear of silicones. HERE is how to spot them in your haircare products!