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Peruse the ingredients label on a conventional bottle of shampoo, and you might come across an ingredient that sounds suspiciously like a wine additive. In the beauty biz, sulfates, not sulfites, help to boost a shampoo's cleaning power. With the push towards more natural beauty products, sulfates now sit on the hot seat as an additive that smart shoppers can do without.
Sulfates help create more foam which, in turn, helps clean hair while washing. The two most common forms, sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate, appear in all types of shampoos, as well as shower gels and other personal care products. Here's a real bone-chiller: sodium laureth sulfate has another name, "sulfuric acid monododecyl ester sodium salt." Well! If a bit of sulfuric acid doesn't cook that oil and grease out of your hair, then what will?
What Sufates Do
Shampoos contain a small amount of sulfates, but it's enough to strip artificial color from hair and dry out strands. The Natural Health Information Centre writes that side effects include "eye irritation, scalp irritation, tangled hair, swelling of the hands, face and arms and split and fuzzy hair." As a society, the common logic is that squeaky-clean hair is the goal. But, if your hair is clean enough to squeak, it's probably stripped of useful natural oils that keep hair soft and shiny. Sulfates can simply be too much of a clean thing.
Consumers have heard about the detrimental effects of sulfates and now want products that don't contain these additives. In response, the beauty industry is creating products that proudly proclaim a lack of sulfates. Some companies that make sulfate-free products include Phyto, Shea Moisture and L'Oreal Paris. Conversely, cheaper products are prone to contain even more sulfates to compensate for lower quality ingredients.
If sulfate-free products are simply too expensive to use on a daily basis, try switching a non-sulfate product up with one that contains sulfates. Using the sulfate-free shampoo stretches out product life while keeping your hair clean. If you have colored hair, it's best to avoid sulfates when the color is fresh. At that time, it's more prone to fading, so try to use a sulfate-free formula at least for the first week or two.