What’s the deal with sulfate-free shampoo? Or should that be sulphate-free shampoo?
Sulfates (or sulphates) refers to ingredients normally found in shampoos, soaps and most foaming products. On the label, you’re looking for Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate. They’re also called SLS or ALS for short.
To get science-y for just a moment, sulfates are primary surfactants. These molecules work to attract both oil and water so they are great at removing dirt.
To some people, however, sulfates are too effective and can dry their skin causing irritation. For example, some people's hair is naturally dry and so they find most shampoos containing sulfates make their scalp feel tight. and occasionally they still use shampoos containing sulfates as they need to remove hair products completely from their hair.
If you experience any irritation from shampoos, it’s usually SLS that’s the problem. It’s also worth avoiding SLS if you colour your hair. SLS is so good at cleaning, it takes the colour with it, causing your hair colour to fade faster. If you have particularly sensitive skin, sulfates may increase your sensitivity, causing irritation. "Though sulfate-based shampoos do effectively clean the hair, they can also strip the hair of essential oils as well as irritate the skin," cosmetic chemist and BeautyStat founder of Ron Robinson told Glamour. If you dye your hair, sulfate-free shampoos can also help maintain your color, which can be stripped by the detergent in a shampoo that contains sulfates. Sulfate-free shampoos don't foam and lather like a traditional shampoo, an aesthetic difference that accounts for the widespread use of sulfates in cleaning products. Rest assured, however, that despite the reduced lather, your sulfate-free shampoo is still doing its job.
There are lots of sulfate-free shampoo options on the market now at every price point (Sulfate Free Shampoo) They can take some getting used to as they’re not quite the same as a regular shampoo. You won’t get that real squeaky clean feeling but that’s not a bad thing. You can still get silky, clean hair if you make sure you know how to use sulfate free shampoo properly.
How To Use Sulfate-Free Shampoo Properly?
- Thoroughly wet your hair before applying sulfate-free shampoo. This also goes for regular shampoo but it’s so necessary for sulfate-free shampoo. If your hair isn’t completely soaked, it’s hard to apply the product and distribute it through your hair.
- Use less product than you think. Most people expect shampoo to lather and when sulfate-free shampoo doesn’t they apply more product. Although it won’t foam up, it’s still working to clean your hair.
- Apply more water, instead of more product. If you’re struggling to get any lather to wash your hair with sulfate-free shampoo, apply more water instead of more product. The water will help activate the shampoo and spread it through your hair.
- Shampoo twice. Without the foaming action, it’s harder to remove the dirt and oil from your hair. The second shampoo really lifts it out and cleans your hair. Plus you’ll find the second shampoo lathers up more easily.
- Rinse your hair thoroughly. Make sure to really rinse your hair. Any residue from the sulfate-free shampoo will make your hair feel heavy.
- Follow up with your favourite conditioner. Sulfates are not needed as an ingredient in conditioner. Almost 100% of conditioners will be free of sulfates already. Comb your conditioner through from mid-lengths to ends (no need to condition your scalp, especially if you have fine or oily hair) and then rinse well.
I hope this helps with the next time you use sulfate-free shampoo. Remember it’s not going to lather up like regular shampoo. Instead, add more water and you can build up a small lather to clean your hair.