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Are Sulfates Bad for Hair

Ashwini Kulkarni Sule
It is extremely essential to know if sulfates are bad for your hair or not, as they are present in about 95% of commercially available shampoos. So chances are, you have probably been using a sulfate shampoo without being aware of its side effects!
Most of the commercially available shampoos in the market contain sulfates as one of the primary ingredients. However, recently, a research has shown that sulfates can be detrimental not only to your hair and overall health, but also to the environment. This, has not deterred the shampoo companies from avoiding the use of sulfates in shampoos.

Why are Sulfates Bad for Hair

Sulfates are basically surfactants, the substances that decrease the surface tension of the water so that it spreads out easily.
The rich lather that you get while applying shampoos is mainly due to sulfates. The sulfates that are used in shampoos are strong, hence also act as excellent cleansing agents.
They allow the water to adhere to dirt and grime so that they can be removed from hair and scalp. The clean feeling that you experience after washing hair is because of the work of sulfates.
Ammonium Laureth Sulfate (ALS), Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and Myreth Sulfate are the most commonly used sulfates in the shampoos. Amongst these, SLS is the strongest while Myreth Sulfate is the mildest surfactant.
Irrespective of the known fact that sulfates are bad for hair, shampoo companies still continue using them in their formulations. The reason is that, sulfates are very cheap to make and produce a lather that cannot be matched by any other substitute shampoo ingredient.

So why exactly is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate bad for hair?

The answer lies in the chemical constitution of this compound. This compound tends to make hair dry very quickly. It strips your hair off its moisture and other essential oils. It also damages your hair follicles and results in hair loss.
It is extremely dangerous to hair follicles that are exposed. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is also harmful to color treated hair as it tends to fade the color with every wash. As a result, you might have to color your hair very frequently, which in turn leads to more damage to your hair.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate is a mild surfactant and hence, is not as harsh as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. However, it is rarely used on its own as it does not produce a very good lather and is also incapable of removing dirt as effectively as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. This is the reason why most manufacturers go for Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, which is stronger, cheaper and more effective. There are rumors about Sodium Lauryl Sulfate being carcinogenic, however there is no truth in that.

Sulfate Free Shampoos

Sulfate free shampoo is the best shampoo for color treated hair, hence, it is commonly recommended by most stylist. However, you can also opt for these shampoos if you wish to avoid all the side effects of using sulfate shampoos.
Sulfate free shampoos use various natural ingredients such as honey, aloe to clean your hair. Some salon shampoos use mild surfactant ingredients which minimize the damage to the hair follicle.
In any case, it would make sense to check the ingredients of a salon shampoo before buying it.
Baby shampoos are mostly formulated without sulfates or milder sulfates. This is the secret of their 'no more tears' formula. However, you cannot use baby shampoos as they have very mild cleaning agents which do little to take the dirt out of your hair.
In short, if you decide to go for a sulfate free shampoo you will never experience the clean feeling that sulfate shampoos offer. Nevertheless, it is better than inflicting irreversible damage to your hair.
Now that you know why are sulfates bad for your hair, you can sure switch to less harmful products. If you must use sulfate shampoos, make sure you use a very good conditioner to restore the moisture and oil back in your hair. Also, use them only when you have to remove heavy build-up of grime.