Why is there sulfates in shampoo? Harm or benefit?
In terms of chemistry, sulfates are salts of sulfuric acid. When they interact with water, they form a thick foam that effectively washes away sebum, sweat, dust and other impurities. Sulfates also give the shampoo a convenient thick consistency.
The first sulfate shampoo was released by Procter & Gamble in 1930. Since then, these chemical compounds are added to a variety of hair and body care products: shampoo, shower gels, liquid soaps and others.
The most common types of sulfates found in detergents are the following:
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). This compound, classified as a surfactant, is most commonly used in shampoos and other detergents. It is low cost and capable of producing a large amount of thick foam. Danish scientists have proven that concentrations above 2% in cosmetics can cause skin irritation and redness, itching, dryness and hair breakage.
Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). The second most common sulfate that is added to cosmetics. Unlike SLS, sodium laureth sulfate has a milder effect on the scalp and hair, but it is not harmless. This substance can also provoke irritation, itching and other problems.
Ammonium lauryl (ALS) and laureth (ALES) sulfates. These sulfates dissolve quickly in water and foam well, but are less commonly used in the cosmetic industry than SLS and SLES.
According to recent studies, ammonium sulfate molecules easily penetrate the skin barrier. However, once in the body, they have a carcinogenic effect.
Shampoo manufacturers often do not write the full names of sulfates, and encrypt them behind the acronyms listed above. So carefully read the composition of detergents before you buy the product.
How harmful are sulfates?
Speaking about the varieties of sulfates, we have already touched upon some aspects of their impact on the body. But let us dwell on them in more detail.
The first thing that draws attention is the irritant effect of sulfates on the skin and mucous membranes. The consequences are not the most pleasant: redness, itching, dryness, flaking, dandruff.
In addition, sulfates have a negative effect on the structure of the hair. This is manifested by hair loss, breakage, loss of luster.
But this is not all. Penetrating into the body through the skin, sulfates enter the bloodstream. That’s because sulfates can be carcinogenic. In other words, they increase the risk of cancer.
Scientists are inclined to believe that for a pronounced carcinogenic effect, a high concentration of these chemical compounds in the blood is needed, which is hardly provided by washing hair with sulfate shampoo. However, why increase the risk?
There is an argument that the dangers of sulfates are exaggerated, since the scalp is in contact with the shampoo for only a few seconds, and not enough time to cause irritation. But sulfates leave an invisible film on the skin and hair. That’s the film that’s responsible for all of these unpleasant side effects.
What are the benefits of sulfates?
Sulfuric acid compounds do not have a positive effect on the body. However, they do have some advantages.
First, the low cost. Shampoos and other detergents with sulfates are much cheaper than their sulfate-free counterparts.
Secondly, the ability to form a thick foam. Even a few drops of sulfate shampoo is enough to cover the hair in a cloud of airy foam that easily washes away all the dirt. Sulfate-free shampoos foam much less, which increases the consumption of cosmetics.
Thirdly, shampoos with sulfates are more effective in cleaning hair from silicones of different hair care and styling products.
These are the features that make sulfate-free shampoos popular among manufacturers and consumers.
Features of sulfate-free shampoos
Today the cosmetic market offers a wide range of sulfate-free shampoos. They can replace our usual products with sulfates, but you need to know the peculiarities of their application.
Less economical consumption. Sulfate-free shampoos are more liquid than products containing sulfuric acid. This property greatly increases the consumption of the product. In addition, cosmetics without sulfates are more expensive than conventional shampoo.
A small amount of foam. Shampoos, which do not include sulfates, almost no foam. And so many people have the impression that they do not wash the hair. But this is not the case. In fact, sulfate-free shampoos do their job well. By the way, to increase the foaminess, you just need to thoroughly wet the hair and dilute the shampoo in a small amount of water.
Change in the condition of the hair. When you switch from conventional shampoos to sulfate-free shampoos, the condition of the hair first deteriorates. The usual shine and volume disappear, hair becomes more dull and lifeless. But do not be afraid of these changes. Within 2-4 weeks, the scalp and hair will rebuild, to get used to the new cleanser. My hair will quickly return to its normal state. And after 2-3 weeks you will notice that the hair has become more lively, shiny and strong, and the previous volume has returned.
Increased color fastness. Shampoos with sulfates open the scales of hair, so the dye is washed out quickly. Sulfate-free products do not have this effect, so it is recommended to use them for dyed and toned, hair.
Preservation of keratin. Shampoos with sulfates should not be used by those who have had keratin hair straightening. They wash out the substances that straighten the hair, so the effect of the procedure comes to naught in 2-3 months. Sulfate-free detergents allow you to keep your hair straight for much longer.
Hair smoothing. While shampoos with sulfates lift scales of hair, agents without them do not have such an effect. Therefore, after using sulfate-free cosmetics hair does not frizz and looks smoother.
We should not forget that sulfate-free shampoos are characterized by a mild detergent action. Therefore, they are not always suitable for oily hair. The solution is simple: you need to alternate cosmetics with and without sulfates. Thanks to this trick, you will reduce the harmful effects of sulfuric acid salts, but at the same time keep your hair clean and neat.
It is also necessary to alternate sulfate and sulfate-free shampoos for those who occasionally use hair products with silicones. In this case, it is enough to use products with sulfates only once a week.
There is one more trick. To wash silicones from hair and scalp will help peeling. For example, you can take fine salt and rub it into the hair roots and scalp once a week. The fine abrasive particles will mechanically remove the silicone film. The rest of the time you can wash your hair with any sulfate-free shampoo.
What else should I look for when choosing a shampoo?
Sulfates are not the only harmful substances. Parabens are no less dangerous to health, for example.
These chemicals are added to cosmetics in order to extend its shelf life. In turn, they can accumulate in the cells of the body and cause various adverse health effects: allergies, scalp irritation, dandruff, hair loss and breakage.
In addition, high concentrations of parabens have a carcinogenic effect. Buying shampoos that do not contain these substances, you protect yourself from unnecessary risk.
Also, pay attention to the content of dyes and fragrances. These substances have no effect on the detergent properties of shampoo, but they often cause an allergic reaction and scalp irritation.
Carefully read the contents of cosmetics before buying and try to choose products labeled with a certificate of environmental safety. And then you’ll be sure that your hair and scalp are getting proper care.