Facts Checked By Freewill Beauty Experts - Written by Nancy Agrahari (Journalist) on  23rd Sep 2020

What Are Sulfate-free Shampoos And Why You Should Try It

What Are Sulfate-free Shampoos

Sulfate-free shampoos have become popular. The marketing world has introduced the idea of sulfate-free shampoos smartly and smoothly. Wherever you look for shampoos now, you will find the buzz for going sulfate-free. But with so many choices on hair and skin products, the extra buzz creates more confusion than information.

To unlock the mystery and choose the right thing, we asked our experts to know whether you really should buy sulfate-free shampoos and why they are topping the charts. 

What Are Sulfate-free Shampoos

Sulfate refers to sodium laureth sulphate(SLES) and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) added in body washes, shampoos, and other products. They have increasingly become popular in debates on the side effects of sulfates that lead to everything from scalp irritation, dryness to even cancer. Though these claims still need proof, the skincare world has already divided its choice on the use of sulfate or sulfate-free shampoos.  

Look around before you follow the sulfate-free shampoo trend 

There have been various times when the world around us jumped on the trend-rocket and blindly followed a trend that broke the internet. If you have been part of this ship and planned to shop the same sulfate-free shampoos, hold your horses! We have something important to share.

We believe in good health and leading a good life, and sometimes, waiting and not hopping on every trend-ship can be beneficial. Before choosing the sides, have a look at the pros and cons of buying sulfate-free shampoo. Then you can decide whether you want to be sulfate-free or not. 

What is a sulfate-free shampoo? 

If you love suds and foaminess in your shampoo, you will cry a river once sulfate is gone from your life. In simple words, sulfates are the ones that make your shampoo foamy and are foamy agents (sulfa tenants) that attract both water and oil. Sulfates make sure that all the dirt, oil, dead skin cells are removed from your skin or scalp and washed away with water.

Sulfates are the agents that clean your scalp of all the dirt, dust, oil, or dead skin cells for a cleaner scalp. The problem with sulfate shampoos or shampoos that contain any sulfate is that they are harsh on the scalp. They usually end up stripping the scalp from natural oils or moisture. In contrast, a sulfate-free shampoo will keep your hair clean but with no scalp irritation or dryness. These shampoos have increasingly become part of the hair care routine for those who have dyed their hair or have a sensitive scalp.  

The Disadvantage of Sulfates and Everything in Between

Sulfates are detergents or foaming agents that are beneficial in keeping our scalp clean. There can be different types of sulfates added in your shampoo. One of the best qualities of sulfates hence become their foaming or detergent properties.

Though shampoos and detergents both have sulfates, do not think that the same sulfate present in your washing powder is the same as the one in your shampoo. The beauty world uses sulfate, but the most common ones are- Sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, and ammonium laureth sulfate.

All these sulfates vary in their intensity level. You may find that these sulfates are available from your beauty products to shampoos. Whatever sulfate is known, changes in intensity but does not irritate your skin or hair. If you come across the “eth” versions (like sodium laureth), then know that they are milder on both your skin and hair. The sulfates that end with the “-yl” version are harsher to the skin and hair. If we talk about the ammonium or sodium version, then ammonium is milder than sodium sulfates.

The downside of sulfate is its power. You see, sulfates are used to clean your scalp from any dirt, oil, or accumulated dead skin cells. When you use sulfate shampoos or sulfate ones, they strip your scalp or skin from all the oil, including all the natural oils. This may cause your scalp to become dry and cause irritation like redness or itchiness.  

Who should switch to sulfate-free shampoos?

Often we believe that we can benefit from following a trend. Be it using oat milk in coffee or using sulfate-free shampoos. Sulfate-free shampoos can help some people who have very specific issues, which we'll discuss below. For others, using sulfate in shampoos is all about balance. For those with thick hair, looking for a deeper cleanse and choosing sulfate in shampoos may not be a wrong choice.  

1. Choose sulfate-free shampoos for dry, rough hair- 

If you run your fingers through your hair and all you feel is dull, dry, and frizzy hair, then look for a sulfate-free shampoo as you have dry and frizzy hair that needs love and moisturizing. Using a sulfate-free shampoo will help restore all the natural oils and keep your hair soft, smooth, and healthy. 

2. Sulfate-free shampoos are good for dyed hair 

For dyed or colored hair, sulfate-free shampoos are an absolute win-win. They are so good for your hair. Using a sulfate shampoo, if you have colored or dyed your hair will strip your it of color.

Using a sulfate-free shampoo will keep the hair color retained, and you will not wash off the color weeks after you dyed them. Another advantage of shampoos without sulfate is that they will protect your new hair color. When you get your hair colored or dyed, they are prone to breakage and are more sensitive to the atmosphere and are drier than usual. A sulfate-free shampoo will not dry hair the same way.  

3. Thin, dry, damaged hair should stick with sulfate-free shampoos

Thin, dry hair is vulnerable and is prone to breakage or hair fall. If you feel your hair is dry and have damaged hair that breaks easily, then a sulfate-free shampoo is your ideal shampoo. This shampoo will protect your hair and stop it from causing any more breakage.

Using a sulfate-free shampoo can be an advantage for you if you have dry hair with split ends. These shampoos will work towards retaining the lost moisture and prevent hair fall. Dryness often causes hair to split and break, making it more vulnerable. You can also look for good hair oil and massage your hair twice a week. A good hair mask will also bring back shine and healthy hair. 

4. Itchy and dry scalp should not use sulfate in shampoos 

It is a given that sulfates can cause scalp problems like redness, irritation, and dryness. If you already have a dry and itchy scalp, you may consider switching to a sulfate-free shampoo. This will ease the scalp irritation and restore the natural oils making the hair shiny and healthy. 

5. If you wash your hair every day or have used treatments, then go for sulfate-free shampoos 

The ones who have recently straightened or smoothened their hair or love to do that would opt for sulfate-free shampoos. Not only the chemical treatment but the ones who love to style their hair and use curlers or iron a lot more than a mild shampoo is your safest bet.

The ones who travel a lot and like to wash their hair every other day will benefit from sulfate-free shampoos as they are good to get rid of the pollution or sweat. You can also call them everyday regular shampoos because they will clean your hair from pollution or dirt.  

But, who should not use sulfate-free shampoos?

Like our skin, every hair is different and has different issues. If you have thick hair and need a deeper cleanser, then choosing shampoos with sulfate isn’t all that bad. In fact, with the news of sulfate-free shampoos came the disadvantage of them as well. One of the top problems that popped the list was that a sulfate-free shampoo would lead your hair to become greasy.

If you have been using a sulfate-free shampoo and felt that it leaves your hair all greasy and weird, you are not alone. Many companies use ultra, mild cleansing agents instead of sulfate. As much as they are good and not harsh on your hair they aren’t the strongest cleansers and are not as effective to clean the build-up dirt on tresses leaving the hair greasy.  

Oily scalp can benefit from sulfate shampoos

Oily scalp or hair needs thorough cleansing as the accumulated dead skin cells, oil or dirt may lead to itching in the scalp or worse, dandruff. Using shampoos with sulfate will help keep the hair and scalp clean and non-greasy.

If you keep cleaning your scalp with mild shampoos, the greasiness may lead to infection. So choosing a sulfate shampoo can be better. It is all about balance. If you feel your hair is cleaner and healthier with it, then choose what feels best for you.  

The Takeaway

Keep your hair clean and wash regularly. Washing your hair regularly will help you keep it shiny and healthy, and you can use stylers easily.

If you have damaged hair, use sulfate-free shampoos. The ones who need a thorough cleanse may benefit from a sulfate shampoo. In case you are using a sulfate-free shampoo, make sure it has a mild agent and is not harsh on your hair or scalp.