Natural Hair Care

Sulfates & Natural Hair: The Low Down (Are they harmful?)

7th April 2015
why sulfates are bad

Sulfates & Natural Hair: The Low Down

A hot topic in the natural hair community is the usage of sulfates in hair products and whether they’re harmful or not. My on going battle with dry hair is one that has boggled my mind, trying different methods only to see the issue     temporarily alleviated. I didn’t realise that one of my favorite hair products that I’d been using daily since I’d gone natural contained sulfates. I can’t explain why but looking at the ingredients never crossed my mind. Seeing that I’ve been using this on my hair for nearly two years I’d say that I’m the perfect source to attest to the issues of using sulfate enlisted products. 

What are sulfates?

Sulfates are a synthetic ingredient that are created from the reaction between lauryl alcohol and sulfuric acid. It can be produced using ingredients such as coconut oil and petroleum and many other substances.

Why Are They In Hair Products?

They’re an excellent foaming agent that is cheap to use in the production of hair products and have the capability to remove massive amounts of dirt and oils that build up in the hair.

What Sulfates Do To The Hair

Sulfates can make the hair dry and brittle due to the fact that they’re engineered to clean so well. They completely strip the hair of essential oils that are produced naturally for moisture and therefore leave your hair dried out causing split ends.

Continuous Use of Sulfates 

Experts say that the continuous usage of sulfates has the potential to cause long term damage that will materialise in the appearance and over all health of the hair. In some cases these products can cause irritation of the scalp and eyes (which is why some shampoos burn when they come in contact with the eye). They also can cause severe reactions such as swelling of the hands and face.

3 Main Sulfate Products In Shampoos

Sodium lauryl sulfats (SLS), Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), and Ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS):


Sodium lauryl sulfats (SLS)- SLS is usually synthesized from coconut or palm oil then it is reacted with other chemicals to make the final product. It is also found in other essential products such as toothpaste, cleaning products, detergents, shaving creams and bubble bath. SLS can produce allergic reactions that make the skin more sensitive according to the National Institutes of Health Hazardous Substances Database. SLS is also a common eye irritant found in shampoos.


Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)-  SLES is a detergent and surfactant found in a lot of hygienic based products. SLES is a chemically similar to SLS and can dry out the skin and is another eye irritant found in shampoos.


Ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS)- ALS is a very high foaming agent that is mostly found in  body wash and shampoo products. It is also an eye irritant and according to the National Institutes of Health Hazardous Substances Database ALS can also become a respiratory irritant.

They’re Harmful but What’s The BIG Deal?

Putting chemicals like these in your scalp and skin is worse than eating them. Enzymes in your saliva aid in breaking down components in several things that we ingest and then flush out of our bodies. The scalp and skin don’t have that protection which raises the risk of these harmful chemicals becoming absorbed into our blood stream which will lay in wait within our bodies and cause health problems later in life. Products that have sulfates in them can also contain impurities due to the synthesising process that occurs from the production of sulfates. Ethylene dioxide is a precursor that is used during the formulation process that forms these impurities and is a possible carcinogen and organ system toxicant.

My Experience

When using hair products that contained sulfates which I’d done mistakingly for two years, I noticed that while they curl your hair up or even seem to make it softer they dry your hair out over a course of a few days. While your sealants are working hard to keep moisture in the chemicals in sulfates are taking it out. You can use any method you wish but continuously using products with sulfates will in fact keep your hair from retaining maximum moisture. The products never caused my hair to become so severely dry that it broke off but it did make my mission to have moisturised hair ten times harder! Within weeks of stopping the use of the product my hair retained moisture easier and my ends weren’t as dry and brittle. I thought all of this time that it was my hair that I was fighting with when really it was this product holding me back from moisturised hair. It’s not worth it and there are tons of other products out there with better ingredients that actually make a positive difference.

When Searching For A Shampoo

Shampoos without sulfate usually don’t foam because the foaming agent in most shampoos is a sulfate. Shampoos that use other surfactants (a substance which reduces the surface tension of a liquid) tend to be pricier because they use a different formulation. Sulfate based shampoos are thickened with cheap ingredients like sodium chloride which is terrible for your hair but this thickener doesn’t work in sulfate free shampoos formulations. Look for organic shampoos with 100% vegetarian ingredients with no preservatives, synthetic colors or fragrances.

Transitioning Away From Sulfates

If you’re transitioning away from these products your hair needs to be cleansed from any product build up containing sulfates and then highly moisturised. I recommend a good cleanser to remove build up then a weekly co-wash for four consecutive weeks implementing a deep conditioner two out of the four weeks. Google “sulfate free shampoos and conditioners” and take your pick.

Sulfates are a messy and nasty business that can pollute our bodies and dry out the hair in my research I found that these products are in several things that we use everyday! Check and recheck product labels again and again your body will thank you for it later. Who knows, maybe some health issues that you may be experiencing are due to the prolonged usage of  sulfates. Now that I’ve stop using them the moisture in my hair is so much more prevalent!  Sometimes it’s hard to break away from these products because they tend to be cheaper in price but the long term effects simply aren’t worth it. If you do use sulfate prevalent products  use those that contain no more than 1% in concentration. Take it from me, removing these products from your hair regimen is the key to the end of your dry hair battle.


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