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Sulfate-Free Shampoos: Why they're Good for Hair & How to Switch

Sulfates are chemicals that combine the oil and water aspect of your shampoo. It's an emulsifier, a foaming agent, and pretty much the 'detergent' that cleans your hair. Trust us when we say detergents. That's how harsh these chemicals are when applied to your hair.


5 min read
Sulfate-Free Shampoos: Why they're Good for Hair & How to Switch
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Shilpa Sankpal, MBBS & DDVL, Reviewed on 25th January 2021

You’ve definitely come across either of these:

Switch to a mild shampoo

SLS is a harmful chemical

I use Sulfate-free shampoos

The hype around sulfate-free shampoos is everywhere and justifiably so.

The wellness industry has identified this trend and has shifted to producing and selling mild shampoos.

This hype has increased the demand for shampoo ingredients with less chemicals – what we call mild shampoos.

But it all comes down to reading the ingredient list.

You need to watch out for SLS chemicals and Sulfate free shampoos.

What are sulfates? Why do Shampoos have Sulfates in them?

Sulfates are the chemicals in your shampoo. The presence of these chemicals in your shampoos yield it the property to clean the oil, gunk, dirt, and dead skin cells out of your hair and scalp.

There are two types of sulfates used in shampoos and other hair care products.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS).

There are lots of shampoo labels that read SLS free but that means that it is only free of the SLS chemical, not of ammonium lauryl sulfate.

Though the ammonium sulfate is known to be less intense and less harmful than SLS, it is still a sulfate that is bad for your hair.  Most Shampoos have sulfates in them due to its following properties-

Sulfates are surfactants.

Sulfates are chemicals that combine the oil and water aspect of your shampoo. It is an emulsifier, a foaming agent, and pretty much the ‘detergent’ that cleans out your hair.

Trust us when we say detergents. That’s how harsh these chemicals are when applied to your hair.

Sulfates are clarifying agents

Whether the SLS or ALS chemical, sulfates are chemicals that clean up any sort of buildup in your scalp.

Apart from dandruff, an itchy/flaky scalp usually means dirt buildup or chemical buildup.

Sulfate is the strongest clarifying agent but for that very reason the harshest and most drying ones too.

Why are sulfates bad for your hair?

Why are sulfates bad for your hair?

Though sulfates are cleaning agents, they are bad for your hair.

Owing to its ability to strip your hair and scalp of natural oils, sulfates are bad for your hair. Sulfates also lift your hair’s cuticles making your hair frizzy.

Sulfates definitely clean your hair and scalp of all the dirt and gunk, but it also leaves your hair dry and brittle after a wash.

SLS chemicals cause an imbalance of oils in your scalp making your hair look dull and lifeless.

Be it sodium lauryl sulfate or ammonium lauryl sulfate, sulfates are harmful chemicals in a shampoo that you need to beware of.

5 signs your hair is giving you to shift to a sulfate-free shampoo

5 signs your hair is giving you to shift to a sulfate-free shampoo

1. If your hair is coarse and dry, you need a sulfate-free shampoo

Dry and coarse hair is a result of overwashing your hair or using harsh chemicals like sulfate on your hair.

Both of these result in an imbalance in your scalp’s natural oils.

Your scalp’s natural oil can remain intact with a mild shampoo.

This means that with a mild shampoo, your hair will no longer look dull, lifeless or dehydrated.

If your hair is naturally oily and you have to wash your hair more than 2-3 times a week, you can opt to co-wash your hair.

Instead of using a shampoo, you use a conditioner to cleanse your hair.

2. If your hair is frizz-prone, you need to opt for a sulfate-free shampoo.

If your shampoo ingredient contains sulfates either SLS or ammonium lauryl sulfate, it steals your hair of its sheen and moisture.

This is why your hair is frizzy.

3. If you have colored your hair, you need to use a mild sulfate-free shampoo

If you have a keen eye, you must have realized that all hair care products for colored hair are sulfate-free.

Sulfate-free shampoos are mild on your hair as they have less chemicals.

Shampoos with less chemicals don’t dry out your already colored and potentially dry hair.

Sulfate-free shampoos and conditioner are much milder than a regular sulfate shampoo and are less likely to fade your hair color.

4. If your hair is damaged, it goes without saying that you need to opt for a MUCH milder shampoo.

Damaged hair can be a result of hair treatments, too many products or excessive heat styling.

It goes without saying that you need to read your shampoo ingredient list to ensure that your shampoo is sulfate-free.

Keeping your hair away from harmful chemicals is essential especially when your hair is damaged and brittle.

Especially, in this case, you need to opt for hair strengthening shampoos that have ingredients like biotin and aloe vera that nourish your hair so as to restore your hair health.

5. If you have curly wavy hair, you need to switch to a less chemical shampoo

Wavy or curly hair requires more moisture than poker-straight hair.

Using a shampoo loaded with chemicals, especially sodium lauryl sulfate, will strip your hair of moisture and nourishment.

This will leave your curls appearing frizzy. You will not be able to meet your hair texture’s nourishment demands.

How to identify sulfates?

How to identify sulfates?

If you want to opt for a mild shampoo that does not strip your hair and scalp of its essential oils, you need to opt for a sulfate-free shampoo.

While buying a shampoo, keep checking the shampoo ingredient list.

Ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium Laureth sulfate, and ammonium lauryl sulfate are the harmful chemicals in your shampoo that you need to be aware of.

Shampoo labels may read SLS free but that does not mean that this is a sulfate-free shampoo.

You still need to read the shampoo ingredients carefully and look out for ammonium lauryl sulfate or ALS. This chemical is still harmful and can strip your hair of essential nutrients.

Sulfate-free shampoo: Switch to a mild shampoo

When we say to use a mild shampoo, we mean to use a sulfate-free shampoo.

Mild shampoos avoid harmful chemicals like sulfate and parabens that are bad for your hair.

A milder shampoo is essentially a shampoo with less chemicals. A mild means less irritation and inflammation on your scalp.

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