Why Sulfates SUCK…

By August 12, 2008 26 Comments

Why Sulfates SUCK…

Here’s a beauty secret from the hair professionals:

There’s been a bitter war raging between sulfate-friendly shampoos and non sulfate-friendly shampoos for quite sometime now. (note: most shampoos you use do contain sulfates). Many companies are trying to remove sulfates entirely from their products!

I, for one, wanted to know what the big hooplah was all about!

So, I’ve recruited the guidance of hair guru, Jen Atkin, of the Chris McMillan Salon to give us the real story on sulfates….

“Sodium laureth sulfate (pictured above) is absorbed into the body from skin application. Once it has been absorbed, one of the main effects of SLS is to mimic the activity of the hormone Oestrogen. This has many health implications and may be responsible for a variety of health problems from PMS and Menopausal symptoms to dropping male fertility and increasing female cancers such as breast cancer, where oestrogen levels are known to be involved.”

Okay, let’s pause for a moment. So, basically sulfates can cause cancer and hinder male sperm count…. NOT OKAY (for me or my man)!

Why use Sulfate free shampoo?

“Sulfates are essentially foaming agents that are also found in industrial cleaning products and detergents. They can be extremely drying. It’s really great for people who suffer from psoriasis (which I don’t).

Sulfate free shampoo is free from sulfates, harsh chemicals, fragrances and colorings. It is cleansing and suitable for sensitive skin and scalp. An environmentally friendly option, for those concerned about our waterways.”

Better for our hair, body AND the environment??? That seems like a no-brainer…

Jen gives us some of her favorite sulfate-free products out there:


And one of my very favorite new hair lines (sulfate-free, of course):

David Babaii For WildAid
(Kate Hudson is the spokes-chick)

I’ll have a full review on the products later in the week, so make sure to check back!
In the meantime, do you use a sulfate-free shampoo (immediately go into your shower and CHECK TO SEE IF YOUR SHAMPOO CONTAINS SULFATES – it would be in the ingredients section)?
If so, let us know which one!

  • Anonymous

    Most commercially available shampoos contain sulfates. The amount in shampoo is so small the effects are negligible.

    Plenty of sulfate-free shampoos contain harsh chemicals, the kind that pollute waterways; sulfates aren’t alone in that. The only way to get “safe” shampoo is if you washed your hair with herbs instead of a soap or detergent product.

    A small percentage (less than 1% of the population) of people are allergic to sulfates, so for them sulfate-free is a better option. Girls with curls often report better results without sulfates. For the majority of us, however, sulfates are not harmful and perhaps beneficial.

    I’m sick of all this alarmist propaganda. Yes, sulfates are bad for some people, but sulfate-free is just as bad for others. No two people’s hair is alike, so kindly stop brainwashing people into believing something that doesn’t even have very much statistical data backing it.

  • Anonymous

    The line is called David Babaii for WildAid :)

  • Beauty Banter

    Anonymous –
    how kind of you to have a tantrum on my message board! Cute!!!
    You have your opinion, I have science. These are facts. Just look at any major source of information including wikipedia.

    And, by the way, what ingredients are harsh in all organic, sulfate-free shampoo? Check your facts before making such a bold statement.

    Your hair (and your body) can live with the damage of sulfates – fine by me. I’m just letting MY readers know of the issues concerning this specific “war.” And besides, sulfates DO and always have stripped the hair. Regardless of if you believe that your body can handle the chemical, your hair color can’!

    Beauty Banter

    • Jan Modin

      I am curious to know if a hand soap has something called sulfonate in it is it considered “sulfate” free?

  • Lisa B

    I agree with you Beauty banter. Why even use something that has a chance of being a health risk? it’s dangerous and not worth it.

    besides, my colorists told me that sulfates will make my color fade and I dont want that either.

    –Lisa B.

  • Decorative Diva

    I use Tigi S-Factor Color Savvy Sulfate Free Shampoo and Conditioner.

  • Purnella

    Hi Beauty Banter! Thanks for letting us know about the dangers of sulfate shampoos. I looked up all the shampoos that I’ve used in the past, and they do, in fact, contain sodium laureth sulfate. :( Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that http://www.cosmeticdatabase.com/index.php is super helpful in helping you fish out A LOT of harmful cosmetics. By the way, Wikipedia is not necessarily always right–it’s always subject to change by ANY user around the world, so it’s hard to say if the data is really compatible with true science.

    Thanks for the info, BB!

  • Purnella

    Oops, sorry about the last post–I forgot to give you this link, too. It has some information about sodium laureth sulfate that I think you’ll find useful. http://www.cosmeticdatabase.com/index.php

    Thank you!

  • elissa

    I like terax brand shampoos, which don’t contain sulfates.

  • Beauty Banter

    I love terax too! So happy to know that they don’t contain sulfates… thanks for the info!

    Beauty Banter

  • Jessica Allison

    Cosmetics Database is a great source, but you have to read the actual studies- sometimes they will rate something as dangerous when the supporting study is using much higher concentrations, or unlikely applications.

    Though Anon may have said so in a bit of an inflammatory way, she’s correct in pointing out that sulfates have been proven safe for everyone excepting those that are allergic to them, in so far as skin application is concerned. Studies have shown that the low levels of sulfates used in most products, combined with the short exposure time (you put it on, then rinse it off) limits the danger.

    There is some proof that sulfates can deposit on hair and do damage, but this is in no way a conclusion. The CIR panel (the common authority in reviewing all ingredients not reviewed by the FDA) has found both sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate safe for use in cosmetics. They both carry a low to moderate risk, according to CIR. Just to point it out, several widely available organic lines (such as Giovanni, Kiss My Face and Avalon Organics) have sulfate free shampoos that carry just as high of a risk, due to the fact that they use ingredients like cocamidopropyl betadine, which has allergy, immunotoxicity, and contamination concerns.

    What does this all mean? If you want to err on the safe side, and find a sulfate-free formula that you like just as much as your old shampoo, then sure, switch. If, on the other hand, you’re suffering for the loss of your old sudsy, you’re probably not going to die young from using it.

  • drjevans

    I know it's your blog, but I would like to believe that the information that you wish to provide is accurate:

    Sodium Laurel Sulfates (SLS)
    SLS is one of the safest and effective and consistent ingredients that is used in hair care products. SLS Free shampoos is simply a marketing gimmick based on taking advantage of myths that scare people. In fact the rumors were so widespread that the Personal care Consumer safety council pasted a response on their website in 2000(See below).

    SLS Free shampoos have been available for over 20 years, however, this marketing story only took hold when a company called Pureology did a great job of marketing this (actually they said it protected hair color) – now there are many, many companies that have jumped on the bandwagon and created SLS Free me-too products and now it’s even available in supermarkets cheaply.

    Your best bet is to research companies that focus on thinning hair and hair loss with a track record. If you look carefully at all the internet blogs and information, you see the same misinformation again and again. See if you can find any information on benefits and effects of the ingredients used instead of SLS. You will not find any, because there are not – they are marketing a negative.

    "Despite the fact that there was and still is no hard evidence to back up the link between SLS and cancer and any negative impact on the hair and scalp, many unscrupulous companies took advantage of the suspicions and allegations raised by such websites to market as many "SLS-free" products as they could, often selling them to major organic/natural stores like Whole Foods and Wild Oats, thus helping to further legitimize this myth."

    CTFA Response Statement: Internet-Spread Rumors About Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) Are False and Unsubstantiated
    July 12, 2000

    It has come to our attention that an e-mail is currently circulating on the Internet which falsely states that Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), ingredients used primarily in some cosmetic “rinse off” products, are unsafe. The story relayed via e-mail is an unsubstantiated story. It is typical of Internet rumors notorious for inaccurate and false information.

    There is no evidence of harm from the use of either SLS or SLES as used in cosmetic products. Both ingredients were reviewed in 1983 by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel and found to be safe. Complete reports on both ingredients are available from CIR.

  • drjevans

    post continued:

    The Canadian Health Protection Branch (part of the Canadian government) has branded SLS e-mail stories as a hoax. On its web site (www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ehp/ehd/psb/cosmetics/sls.htm), Health Canada goes on to say “Health Canada considers SLS safe for use in cosmetics. Therefore, you can continue to use cosmetics containing SLS without worry.”

    (CIR was established in 1976 by CTFA. CIR is a unique endeavor to assess the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics in an unbiased, expert manner. Its findings have established a public recorded of the safety of cosmetic ingredients. The heart of the CIR program is the Independent Expert panel consisting of world-renowned physicians and scientists. Expert Panel members must be free of any conflicts of inters, and must meet the same conflict of interest requirements as outside experts to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

    In addition to the seven Expert Panel voting members, FDA and the Consumer Federation of American, and CTFA provide liaison members to the panel. Although funded by CTFA, CIR and the review process are distinctly separate and independent from CTFA and the cosmetic industry. CIR is located at 1101 17th Street NW, Suite 310, Washington, DC 20036, http://www.cir-safety.org.

    This is what non sls shampoos use:

    Many shampoos that claim to be sulfate free use Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate (AOS) as the main cleanser. AOS has been classified as having traces of Benzene, a carcinogen or reproductive toxin and also is created using petrochemicals. It also is not readily biodegradable. Ordinary products that use Sodium C 14-16 Olefin Sulfonate (Alpha Olefin Sulfonate) over cleanse to dry your hair and scalp and require heavy ingredients in the shampoo or conditioner to normalize or over condition and cover up damage done.

    C12-14 olefin sulfonate (coconut derived) — Also known as alpha olefin sulfonate, this is a synthetic chemical surfactant/detergent and it is often represented as "derived from coconuts," but in fact, according to the report
    HOUSEHOLD CLEANERS by the University of Tennessee's Center for Clean
    Products and Clean Technologies, olefin sulfonates may contain contain traces of benzene, which is a carcinogen or reproductive toxin, and may also release it into the environment during the manufacturing process (as it is created using petrochemicals).
    According to the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation's* LIST OF
    SURFACTANTS (June 21, 2001), olefin sulfonate is a category 4 surfactant and is NOT approved for use in eco-labelled products. Olefin sulfonate contains 50% or more petroleum derivatives and is not considered to be a readily biodegradeable or nontoxic to aquatic organisms.
    The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation is an internationally recognized source of the cosmetic chemical industry for environmental standards.
    alpha-olefin resulting from polymerization is used as an alkylate in a Friedel-Crafts reaction that ends in an alkyl-benzene. By sulfonation and neutralization, an alkyl-benzene sulfonate of the detergent type is produced at a low cost, much lower than a soap from natural oil and fat origin.

    • Mandy

      Okay. Sorry but this is all way over my head. I simply want to know if a shampoo containing sodium c14-16 olefin sulfonate is good or bad for you & your hair?!

  • Anonymous

    all i know is that my hair, which has always been fragile, is now dropping faster than ever before. after learning all i could about the lauryl alcohol/ sulfate/ ethoxylated chemicals (very confusing by the way), i decided it couldnt hurt to rid myself of the old chemicals & try something new- after all, SOMETHING is making my hair come out! (and its not thyroid or poor nutrition either)
    so i got rid of everything that had SLS, SLES, SMS, etc, lauryl anything…. and switched to a supposedly much gentler formula which contains mostly herbs & "C12-14 Olefin Sulfonate" as the surfactant- well that sounds good, i thought- after all it says it is "derived from coconut"….
    so guess wot. now my hair is dryer & falling even faster than before.

    i think i will see if i can round up some good old fashioned REAL soap that is just made from tallow & lye, like the pioneers used. you never see bad hair in those old tintypes.
    and if that dont work…. there's always grunge… or shaving. "bald is beautiful" ladies. har har.

  • Anonymous

    Finally, an issue that I am passionate about. I have looked for information of this caliber for the last several hours. Your site is greatly appreciated.

  • heidi

    When I used sulfates I always had lots of hair shedding in the shower and brush. When I learned about sulfates and switched to sulfate free My shedding in the shower stopped COMPLETELY! I never have hair in drain now ( my hair is super long) I still periodically use sulfate shampoos but if I use it daily the hair loss starts again. also my hair is more soft and healthy by using sulfate free products. I am surprised that drugstore brands like Pantene are not producing sulfate free products.

  • chemist

    The blue compound depicted at the top is copper(II) sulfate pentahydrate, not sodium laureth sulfate.

  • Cleary

    I too am disgusted with all of these chemicals they are poisoning us these days! U have to read ingredients in everything but in will just make one remark and that is that SLS is a Nero Toxin it is so very toxic just as MSG so please everyone wash it outta ur lives ! Our skin is our biggest organ protect urself n ur loved ones !! Xoxo

  • Jordi

    How ignorant are you!
    The chemical compound shown in the picture is Copper Sulfate Pentahydrate.
    Sodium Laureth Sulfate is a SAFE chemical. It is an oily liquid that promotes cleansing in the hair, breaking down fats.

  • DP

    That isn’t sodium lauryl sulphate in your picture, it’s copper sulphate which has nothing whatsoever to do with cosmetics.

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  • My understanding is that SLS is a transdermal carrier because of the small size of the molecules, whereas SLeS does not pass the skin barrier, thus is considered to be ‘safer’…no?

  • Garbage from start to finish. Sulfates are safe, SLS and SLES are safe. This is dangerous misinformation and should cease. Causes cancer – you are totally incorrect. Ifin doubt visit the CPA website, my website for the truth. Cupric sulfate is a good fungicide in the garden by the way. SLS is a white powder. SLES is a syrupy liquid.

    Yes I am a chemist and yes after 44 years in the industry I think I can say I know what I am talking about.

    Anthony Dweck BSc CChem Csci FRSC FRSPH FLS

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