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So, What Do Sulfates Do in Hair Products Anyways?

Because there are thousands of hair-care products in the aisle(s) of your favorite beauty stores, deciding what is going to work best for your strands can feel like finding a needle in a haystack. Not to mention, your beloved products advertise with words that make you feel like you need a PHD in hair science to understand. And the biggest buzzword in hair care right now? Sulfates.

Surely you’ve noticed that more and more of the shampoos that we review and recommend claim to be sulfate-free. It’s a fairly new thing for shampoo, but it’s becoming hard to ignore. So what exactly are sulfates anyway? And why does it matter that my new favorite shampoo doesn’t have them?

In short, sulfate is the ingredient in shampoo that attracts and separates oil and dirt so that it can be rinsed away. You may recognize it as the ingredient that allows your shampoo to lather up into a foam.

And although it sounds good in theory, the reality is that sometimes, certain sulfate formulas do their job just a little too well, stripping away some of your hair’s natural oils. This can cause your hair to dry out and become frizzy, especially if you are prone to dryness or have naturally coarse, curly or particularly fine hair. However, sulfates are necessary to cleanse the hair, and chances are if your shampoo is sulfate free, there’s something else that could be potentially harmful in there taking it’s place.

Hair professionals have also been known to suggest sulfate-free shampoo to anyone who colors their hair, as they’ve noticed that certain sulfate formulas can actually strip away strands of color from your latest dye job. However, that does not mean that sulfates are necessarily bad. It all comes down to the product you are using, as some shampoos may be formulated more aggressively and some may be more gentle.

So there you have it! Sulfates, like anything, have pros and cons. For some, it may be best that they be avoided and for everyone else, it certainly can’t hurt to go sulfate-free, but that doesn’t mean you need to run for the hills if you see the word on your ingredient list. Chances are if you’re using a good quality shampoo, the sulfates in there won’t do harm to your strands.

Want to jump on the sulfate-free bandwagon? Here are some of our favorites…


Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Shampoo


Alterna Caviar Moisture Replenishing Shampoo


Christophe Robin Sea Salt Cleansing Shampoo

Want to be extra gentle with your tresses? Co-washing and pre-poo may be best for you!

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