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Are Sulfates in Shampoo Bad for Your Hair?

You’ve probably spotted shampoos labeled “sulfate-free” at the store or been told to avoid sodium lauryl sulfate shampoos. But why are sulfates bad for your hair? How carefully should you choose your shampoo ingredients? Keep reading to find out how sulfates in shampoo affect your hair’s health.

What are sulfates in shampoo used for?

The sulfates in shampoo are anionic surfactants, which means they provide deep cleaning when used as a shampoo ingredient. They pull excess sebum and oil from your hair and scalp, leaving behind a fresh, clean feeling.

When applied in high doses or without other specific chemicals, however, sulfates strip your hair and scalp of natural oils. This leads to a dry, itchy scalp and frizzy hair. Often added to counteract the effects of sulfates in shampoo, mild conditioners attempt to restore your hair’s proper balance. 

Are sulfates in shampoo dangerous?

Consumers are more health-conscious than ever before ‒ and with good reason. As you learn more about your body and the environment, you may realize that what once seemed harmless is actually harmful. 

Lead paint is no longer on the market, and mercury thermometers have been phased out because of major health concerns. But exactly why are sulfates bad for your hair? The answer is rather complicated. 

Sodium lauryl sulfate shampoos containing anionic cleansers are a staple in the beauty aisle. They have the best cleaning and frothing ability, and suit all of the most common hair types. 

However, these shampoo ingredients may be too harsh for your hair, leaving it feeling stripped and frizzy. Color-treated locks that have been permanently dyed appear especially susceptible to becoming dry and brittle.

It seems that sodium lauryl sulfate shampoos offer the perfect example of having too much of a good thing.

Can sulfate shampoos cause hair loss?

Do you suspect that your scalp or hair is too sensitive for sulfate shampoos? Continued use on sensitive skin and hair can lead to extreme dryness, discomfort, or even hair loss for certain hair types. Below, learn whether sodium lauryl sulfate shampoos might be too harsh for you. 

Who should avoid sulfate shampoos?

Bad ingredients in shampoo tend to affect everyone differently since we all have a unique hair makeup. However, most hair types fall into one of three categories, depending on the volume of natural oils your hair and scalp contain:

  • Dry
  • Oily
  • Combination

The second classification is determined by the shape of your hair follicle. A round, circular follicle causes hair to grow straight, while a pinched and ovular follicle causes hair to grow curly. Your hair will grow in one of the following ways:

  • Straight
  • Wavy
  • Curly
  • Combination

The final characteristic is based on the texture of your strands. Try taking a single strand and pinching it between your thumb and forefinger. Run your fingers along the strand slowly to see if it feels smooth or bumpy, and what the texture is.

  • Fine
  • Medium
  • Thick

Everyone has some combination of the above characteristics. Perhaps you have dry, straight hair with a fine texture. Or maybe you have oily, curly locks with a medium texture. For expert guidance, talk to your hairstylist, who can easily tell the difference. They’ll also be able to warn you of any bad ingredients in shampoo not suited for your particular hair type. 

Sodium lauryl sulfate shampoos containing anionic cleansers are a staple in the beauty aisle. They have the best cleaning and frothing ability, and suit all of the most common hair types.

Sulfate shampoos tend to be pretty strong, and you should avoid buying these products if you have a naturally dry scalp or hair. It would only lead to damage and inflammation. Repeated use of sulfate shampoos inevitably produces dry, itchy skin on your scalp and frizzy, unmanageable hair. 

Since curly hair requires a lot of oil to coat the entire shaft and stay smooth, shiny, and bouncy, sulfate shampoos are a definite no-no. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with untidy, frizzy, and brittle strands. 

Irritation caused by sulfates in shampoo sometimes trigger your body to overcompensate by creating extra sebum to replace what’s been lost. Excess sebum gets trapped in your follicles, resulting in inflammation, itchiness, or even hair loss.

Combination hair actually fares well with sulfate shampoos as it has a better chance of recovering from the harsh cleansing. Those with combination hair might not have any adverse reactions to sulfates in shampoo at all.

Benefits of sulfate-free shampoos

Aside from being suitable for every hair type, the benefits of switching to sulfate-free shampoos are numerous. They include:

  • Reduced inflammation of the scalp
  • Reduced hair loss due to inflammation
  • Reduced itchiness and dryness of the scalp
  • Retention of natural oils for smoother hair

Because these shampoos contain milder cleansers, they’re safe to use even if you don’t know your exact hair type. 

Sulfate-free shampoo doesn’t create as much lather as traditional shampoos, so it might feel different in the shower. Rather than adding extra shampoo, just give your hair some time to get accustomed to the new product. It’s still adjusting to new levels of oils and cleansers, so consider allowing a two or three-week test period before making a final decision.

Many products list the hair type they’re best suited for. But if you’re uncertain, experiment with various styles of sulfate-free shampoo to determine the ideal mix of shampoo ingredients for you. 

The takeaway

Is sulfate bad for your hair? The answer is both yes and no. Sulfates in shampoo are deep-cleaning agents that get the job done. Although sulfate shampoos may not be as dangerous as some believe, it certainly can cause problems for some hair types. 

If you feel your hair’s too sensitive for sodium lauryl sulfate shampoos, find an alternative that retains your natural oils while still cleansing your hair. Be patient, and check labels carefully for shampoo ingredients as they vary greatly by brand and line. Ultimately, the safest option for every hair type is a sulfate-free product. 



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