Sulphate free shampoo: But why?


Read on as I delve into why SL sulphate (SLS or SLES) can be bad for you and your hair care and learn more about why it might be a good idea from now on to use shampoo without sulfates (SL sulphate). In addition, you also get my best product recommendations.

Mette Frederiksen

Beauty editor

Mette is a Danish journalist from the Danish School of Media and Journalism in Copenhagen. She has a background in beauty and has worked in a health shop where her primary focus was on hair care products including purchasing and selling these. Read more about the author.

It wasn't until I took a closer look at the ingredient list on the back of my shampoo, body wash, face wash, or toothpaste that I found out how frequently harmful sulphates are included as an ingredient in several products that I use daily. Fortunately, that was a couple of years ago and I am a lot wiser now. Now I always and consistently use SL sulphate free shampoo, and there are many good reasons why.

Sulphates differ a lot, also in how harmful they are. You should stay away from especially SL sulphates when you want to buy a shampoo without sulfate. I'll get to that a little further down below.

Read on and I guarantee you that in the future you will be well prepared, know everything about SL sulphate free shampoos, and in the future avoid buying those bad hair care products that contain the harmful sulphates.

What is sulphate?

Broadly speaking, sulphate is a cleanser that removes both oil and grime. Sulphates are often added to hair and skin cleansing products because they have the ability to attract water and oil. Thus, the sulphates causes grease and oil-based grime from your scalp and hair to loosen when foamed up with water. In addition, sulphates are also responsible for the foaming of soap that many associate with freshness and cleanliness.

There are several types of sulphates, and some are even very mild, natural, and good for both hair and skin. Sodium Coco Sulphate, for instance, is a mild surfactant that does not have the same desiccating effect on the hair and scalp as the harmful SL sulphates, but instead helps cleanse the hair without removing the healthy, natural scalp oils. That is why it can be thoroughly confusing trying to understand exactly what substances to avoid in a shampoo.

However, if you wish to avoid harmful substances, a rule of thumb is to always avoid products with SL sulphates and always go for SL sulphate free shampoos. These SL sulphates are especially tough on hair and scalp, and tend to adhere to the hair as a desiccating barrier, which is incredibly difficult to wash out again. SL sulphates remove all the good, natural oils produced by the scalp and that is why they often cause irritated and dry scalp, which benefits neither hair growth, nor hair health. A healthy scalp is essential to healthy and strong hair. If you, like me, have a very delicate scalp and delicate skin, or if you are dealing with some kind of hair loss, it is recommended to try to completely avoid these harmful SL sulphates in the products you use for both skin and hair. Always go for a shampoo without sulfates, especially if the names of the sulphates have the first-letters S & L in them.

On the shampoo the harmful SL sulphates are often listed as Sodium Lauryl or Sodium Laureth Sulphates. In the article below, I will get more into the details about exactly which sulphates you should avoid, and which ones it is safe for your SL sulphate free shampoo to contain. Read more and learn more.

Why all this talk about SL sulphate free shampoo?

Sulphates are essentially safe and effective to use in a product. That is why it might be a bit hard to see the relevance of all these articles and all this talk about shampoo without sulfate. But the thing is, shampoos containing SL sulphates may be a little too strong for 'just' cleansing your hair. Although SL sulphates wash away grime and oil from hair and skin, they can also cause moisture loss. That is why a shampoo without sulfates (SLS free shampoo) is considered a gentler and less desiccating alternative.

Practically all studies show that in the long run, hair becomes stronger and healthier if you avoid SL sulphates in hair care products and use SL sulfate free shampoos

Helene Sørensen

Hair stylist and beautician

Is an SL sulfate free shampoo for you and your hair?

To help you determine whether your hair might benefit from an SL sulphate free shampoo, I've listed some questions that helped me make the choice:

DO YOU HAVE CURLS AND DOES YOUR HAIR TEND TO GET FRIZZY?

If the answer is yes, then you should definitely consider an SL sulphate free shampoo. If you have curly hair, then you probably know that your hair needs a lot of extra moisture as it is already more difficult for the natural oils in the scalp to reach the ends of the hair and bring natural nutrition to the curly cuticles. Choosing an SL sulfate free shampoo will help your curly hair and scalp retain the natural oils. If you choose a shampoo with SL sulphates, then the hair tends to get frizzier and more dry due to an imbalance in the natural oils in the hair.

Whether you use a shampoo with sulphates or a shampoo without sulfates, it might be a good idea to finish off with a good conditioner to provide optimal nourishment and moisture for the hair. For those of us who struggle with frizzy hair but don’t have curls, it is recommended to use a good hair oil that tames, reduces and softens frizzy hair, read more in my other article about how to find the best hair oil treatment for your hair.

IS YOUR HAIR DYED?

If the answer is yes, then you definitely ought to consider an SL sulphate free shampoo. To keep your hair as beautiful as when you walked out of the hair salon, you need hair products that will protect your new hair colour. There are several reasons why an SL sulphate free shampoo is best suited for this purpose. One of the reasons is that after having been dyed, the hair is more sensitive and drier than it would otherwise be. A shampoo without sulfate will not desiccate the hair in the same way. Another good reason why you should choose an SL sulphate free shampoo and a good conditioner if you have dyed your hair is that the products help retain the colour and are less likely to discolour or wash out the colour.

IS YOUR HAIR DRY AND DULL?

If your hair feels dry, coarse, or dull and not smooth and soft, when you run your fingers through your hair locks, you probably have frizzy and dry hair. This hair type also benefits from an SLS free shampoo, because an SL sulphate free shampoo doesn’t remove the hair’s natural oils and moisture that contribute to a healthy, smooth, and soft hair.

IS YOUR HAIR DAMAGED AND DOES IT BREAK EASILY?

If the answer is yes, then by all means do not use a shampoo that contains SL sulphates. If your hair is delicate, brittle, or typically Scandinavian, an SL sulfate free shampoo is ideal to prevent the situation from getting any worse than it already is. On the contrary, it can efficiently prevent these symptoms. A shampoo without sulfates, can also retain the moisture in the hair, and this might be very beneficial for you if you have damaged, split or broken hair, because dryness very often causes exactly split ends and broken hair. To thoroughly strengthen and repair the hair you should consider on a weekly basis using a hair mask, which can promote protein production in the hair. You can learn much more about how to find a great hair mask for your hair in this article about 5 good-for-you oils used in a good hair mask for damaged hair.

DO YOU SUFFER FROM A DRY AND ITCHY SCALP?

If the answer is yes, by all means use an SL sulphate free shampoo. The downside to SL sulphates is that they also wash out the natural oil from the scalp and the hair. If your scalp is sensitive, SL sulphates can cause irritation such as redness, dryness, and itching. So if your scalp is causing you problems, it might be worth considering having a look at your shampoo and what it contains.

How do you choose the best sulphate free shampoo?

It can be thoroughly confusing trying to figure out which shampoo ingredients are potentially dangerous and which it is safe to apply to hair and scalp. Often it is difficult to decipher the Latin terms on the declaration of contents, and even if the ingredients are completely natural, they sometimes sound as the opposite. This is why I will explain exactly which sulphates you should avoid, and which ingredients that are safe to use in a sulfate free shampoo, so you no longer need to be concerned about the health of your scalp and hair:

AVOID THESE SULPHATES WHEN LOOKING FOR A GOOD, GENTLE, SLS FREE SHAMPOO:

How do you find the best sulphate free shampoo for your hair? It isn’t as difficult as you would think: Always avoid shampoos that contain sulphate soap substances, such as Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES). Not only do these remove all the natural scalp oils but can also cause the scalp to be itchy, red, and irritated, and they have a severely desiccating effect on both hair and scalp. These SL sulphates can also be found in the declaration of contents under names such as Sodium Lauryl Sulphate or Sodium Laureth Sulphate, so be particularly attentive to words such as these.

If you want your shampoo to be gentle to both hair and scalp, you should avoid the sulphates and ingredients below:

  • Sodium Laureth/Myreth/Lauryl Sulfat
  • Natrium Laureth/Lauryl Sulfat
  • Ammonium Laureth/Lauryl Sulfat
  • ATEA Lauryl Sulfat
  • TEA-dodecylbenzenesulfonat
  • Sodium Alkylbenzene Sulfonat
  • Ammonium or Sodium Xylenesulfonat

SAFELY CHOSE A SHAMPOO CONTAINING THESE MILD SULPHATES:

Good, SL sulphate free shampoos have natural but effective ingredients, for instance obtained from coconut oil, which will provide you with safe and gentle cleanliness. Below I list some ingredients, which can be found in natural SLS free shampoos. These are safe to use, and you ought to make sure your hair care product contains these if you want a product free of harmful SL sulphates:

  • Coco glucosid
  • Lauryl glucosid
  • Decyl glucosid
  • Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside
  • Sodium Coco Sulfate
  • Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate
  • Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate
  • Sodium Cocoamphoacetate
  • Dinatrium laureth sulfosuccinat
  • Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate
  • Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate
  • Sodium Methyl Oleoyl Taurate
  • Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate
  • Ammonium Cocoyl Isethionat
  • Sodium Lauryl Glucose Carboxylate
  • Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate
  • Cocamidopropyl Betaine

Once you have chosen a shampoo without harmful sulphates and if you want to take good care of your hair after a shower, you should consider a bamboo towel for your hair.

MY PRODUCT RECOMMENDATION: HAIRLUST SL SULFATE FREE SHAMPOO

The best sulphate free shampoo I have tried so far must be the pink shampoo from HairLust. HairLust Hair Growth & Repair Shampoo is an organic certified shampoo suitable for all types of hair. It is efficient in rebuilding dry, damaged or fragile hair, and it contains active microproteins from rice and plants, which strengthens the hair from within, rebuilding the protein at the cores of hair follicles and cuticles and promotes hair growth. The innovative combination of nutritious plant extracts from organic aloe vera, organic blueberry extract, and organic mango extract prevents the hair from desiccating and is very nurturing for a delicate and irritated scalp. Psst… They also have an SL-sulfate free shampoo suitable for men. It contains mint oil that refreshes and stimulates the scalp and blood circulation to the hair follicles.

The SL-sulphate free shampoos from HairLust do not contain parabens, phthalates or other ingredients which might have endocrine disruptive effects. Hair Growth & Repair Shampoo is a mild shampoo without SL-sulfates and neither damages, nor irritates the scalp. Instead of the harmful SL sulphates, the shampoo contains the soap substance Sodium Coco Sulphate, which is extracted from coconut oil. For this SLS free shampoo, HairLust have decided to use a mild soap substance that contains sulphate to ensure the best possible quality and effect of the shampoo. Simultaneously, it contains certain very efficient, moisturising and nurturing, natural ingredients that protect the scalp and protect the skin against the mild soap substance. Sodium Coco Sulphate is biodegradable and approved by, for instance, The Nordic Swan/The Nordic Ecolabel, which means that it is neither endocrine disruptive, nor allergenic.

This is an SL sulphate free shampoo, which is easy to use and contains natural, active ingredients and efficient nutrients for dry and dull hair, and it helps keep hair flexible, healthy, and long.

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