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Why are Sulfates Bad for Hair?

Why are Sulfates Bad for Hair?

Almost 95 percent of personal hygiene products, including shampoos have sulfates in them. This is a harsh chemical which can damage hair and also lead to several other hair problems...
Marlene Alphonse
Sulfates are the primary ingredients in almost all the personal care products ranging from toothpastes to shampoos. Almost all the shampoos that are available in the market contain sulfates, especially sodium laureth sulfate, also known as sodium lauryl ether sulfate or simply sodium lauryl sulfate. If you look at the ingredients on the shampoo bottle, you will notice that the primary shampoo ingredient is sodium lauryl sulfate. There is also a recent research that claims the use of sulfates is not only detrimental to the hair and overall health of an individual, but also harms the environment.


Sulfates, also known as wetting agents are the substances which decrease the surface tension of water so that it is easily spread out. These surfactants increase the wetness of the water and form a rich lather when applied to the hair. The sulfates that are present in shampoos are ammonium laurel sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate. These ingredients are concentrated in shampoos for the easy removal of grime and dirt. The presence of these sulfates in the shampoo is the main reason why you feel cleaner and fresh after you wash your hair. These sulfates are very cheap and produce a rich lather and have no substitute for them..

Is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Bad for Hair?

The chemical compounds in the sulfates dehydrate the sebaceous glands and strip the scalp off the essential oils and natural moisture. These compounds also tend to damage the hair follicles, leading to hair loss. Sodium lauryl sulfate is extremely harmful to the exposed hair follicles as they may get clogged. They can also cause damage to color treated hair by making the color fade away with every wash. As a result, you have to color your hair again and again, which may also cause more damage to the hair and scalp. Though sodium laureth sulfate is milder in nature and does not produce much harm to the hair, it is combined with sodium lauryl sulfate in shampoos. Sodium lauryl sulfate is cheaper, stronger and more effective when it comes to cleaning the hair and scalp so is quite popular among manufacturers of shampoos and personal care products.

Alternatives for Sulfate Based Shampoos

There are many organic and sulfate free shampoos available in the market that have the same function as sulfate based shampoos. Sulfate free shampoos are often recommended by hair stylists and are considered the best shampoo for color treated hair. Organic and sulfate free shampoos use various natural ingredients like aloe, honey etc. and mild surfactant ingredients that clean the scalp without causing much damage to the hair follicles. Though you may not get the satisfaction of a clean scalp, using sulfate free shampoos is anyway better than the irreversible damage caused to the scalp by sulfate based shampoos.

Another alternative for washing hair is the 'no poo' method. No poo literally means that no shampoo is used for washing hair. This method involves washing hair with boar brush and using baking soda and apple cider vinegar. Baking soda cleans the grime and dirt from the scalp and apple cider vinegar acts as a conditioner for the hair. However, you may initially experience a transitional period while the body adjusts itself to this phase. But the end results are quite satisfying that will give you healthy, glossy hair.

Since the chemical composition of the sulfates can alter cell structure of the scalp and make your hair brittle, look dull and damaged, you can switch to sulfate free shampoos or other less harmful products. Use a good conditioner if you have no other options.