What you need to know about sulphate-free shampoo
You might have heard the buzz lately surrounding sulphate-free shampoo. If you haven’t, let’s catch you up – there’s been an awful lot of talk recently that shampoo without sulphate is the way to go when it comes to your hair. But is sulphate-free shampoo really preferable? And what even are sulphates anyway?
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As with most things in the beauty industry, it all comes down to personal preferences. We spoke to Annabelle Personeni, A’kin’s Botanical Chemist, to get the lowdown on sulphates and find out whether we should make the switch.
What are sulphates?
“Sulphates are a category of cleansers that can be used in almost every foaming product on the market. So think shampoo, body wash, hand wash, facial cleanser and shaving gel as well as dish and laundry washing detergents. Sulphates were invented in the late 1930s as an improvement on soap, as they were closer to skin pH and more stable than soap. Sulphates are found in so many products as they allow manufacturers to offer a very strong cleansing power at a low cost. You might find them listed on product labels as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS) and ammonium laureth sulfate (ALES), and sodium cocoyl sulfate. But be aware that many so-called ‘sulphate-free’ formulations use an ingredient called sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate, which can be even more of an irritant than SLS.”
How might sulphates affect us?
“Sulphates are very good at solubilising oils and proteins, including good skin oils which means they can strip good oils out of our our skin, hair and scalp – which can create a dry, itchy scalp and dandruff. Due to sulphates denaturing proteins, they can corrode the hair follicle, which may encourage hair loss. They may also cause damage to the eyes and are known as a strong irritant – in fact, SLS is so prevalent it is used as a ‘test standard’ in irritancy test procedures. Exposure to SLS may also encourage hypersensitivity to many other irritants and might also facilitate the penetration of other irritants and allergens in a formulation.”
What are the benefits of sulphate-free shampoo?
“New, milder cleansers are now available, which may be more compatible with the skin and scalp and be able to clean effectively without causing irritations. However, not all sulphate-free cleansers are necessarily good. Some sulphate alternatives, such as cocamidopropyl betaine, may be harsh or cause allergies in some people.”
Does sulphate-free shampoo work as well as regular shampoo?
“In a word – yes! But depending on the formulation, the quantity of lather may be less. Sulphate cleansers are well known for their instant foaming ability, however lather is only a signal to the consumer that the shampoo is working. Lather is not actually required for cleansing – think of a washing powder, which does not foam yet still cleanses well). Sulphate alternative cleansers work just as well to remove dirt or excess oils, but without the irritation."
The verdict? Well, it's up to you. If you're experiencing scalp irritation, you might want to give a sulphate-free shampoo a try. But if your current Holy Grail shampoo does contain sulphates and you aren't finding yourself negatively impacted by it, then you may prefer to stick with it. Either way, it's all about personal preference and what works for you.
Want to go sulphate-free? Here are some of the best sulphate-free shampoos on the market, as recommended by our members…