5 reasons why you may need a sulfate-free shampoo

When it comes to hair products, sulfates are often said to be best avoided. Why? They can be damaging for your hair and your hair follicles. However, unless you’re looking at a no foam shampoo, chances are, your shampoo is going to contain some sort of sulfate. But the most common and also most notorious ones to take note are really sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate. Shampoos containing these ingredients are best avoided if you can help it (unless they’re listed way down the ingredient label) for the following reasons:

1. Sulfates can cause you hair loss
It’s kind of ridiculous when you read the labels of some of these so-called hair loss shampoos. I mean we have studies to support that sodium lauryl sulfate causes damage to the hair follicle and can contribute to hair loss and yet, this is the ingredient that I often see listed in the top five on some of these shampoos.

2. Sulfates can give you scalp acne
The same study also indicates that 1% and 5% sodium lauryl sulfate produced significant number of comedones, which can develop into zits when they become inflammed and red.  Have you ever had acne on your scalp? Then you’ll know what I mean by “ouch”!

3. Sulfates can irritate your scalp and face
If your scalp and skin are sensitive, then you need to know that prolong usage of products with both sodium lauryl sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate can cause irritation as they are irritants in patch testing at concentrations of 2 percent and greater (source). So shampoos containing such ingredients are really a double whammy because they can irritate both your scalp and face.

4. Sulfates can strip the natural oil from your hair and scalp
Sulfates are great for cleaning up oil and greasy buildup. However, it can be too harsh when used on a long term basis on the hair and especially if the formula has insufficient conditioning agents. And when used on those with oily scalp, it can be a problem as the dryness may promote more secretion of oil.

5. Sulfates can strip your hair color
If your hair is colored, it is best to opt for a sulfate free shampoo. There appears to be no studies to support this and the issue is divided. However, sulfates are well known as harsh detergents and hence, while they clean very well, is also prone to stripping what’s on the hair. A few people I know personally have told me they maintain their hair color better using a sulfate-free shampoo.

Alternative to sulfates
Anyway, sulfate-free shampoos may still contain surfactants but they are usually milder, like decyl glucose, coco glucoside and lauryl glucoside. Sulfosuccinates is also considered a milder sulfate while cocamidopropyl betaine, a co-surfactant, is another ingredient often seen in natural formulations. I’m fine with that ingredient but understand that it does not work well for some of you.

Variants of sulfates
And while sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate are what I’ll generally avoid when choosing a shampoo, I’ve come to realized that there are also other variants of sulfates like ammonium laureth sulfate, sodium myristyl sulfate, sodium myreth sulfate, sodium coco-sulfate or the same ingredient called differently such as sodium dodecyl sulfate. Like recently, I almost bought a new shampoo in the natural category but stopped short when I spotted sodium coco-sulfate in the list. So much for an everyday natural shampoo!

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  1. says

    I’ve been very disappointed with pretty much every commercial shampoo I’ve tried. None of them are really natural and they all create a dependency cycle with oil production. Lately I’ve been using natural soaps, including castile and aleppo and then rinsing with a balsamic/apple cider vinegar blend (diluted of course).

    I just read another post about dry shampooing and it’s something I had tried in the past and am going to give another try. It’s basically a blend of oil-absorbing clay or arrowroot powder and I will mix with dark colored herbal powders like indigo, henna, and/or amla as my hair is dark.

    Thanks for the post!
    Michelle last post is: Abyangha: the Art and Practice of Massaging with Oils

    • Sesame says

      I agree. It’s not always easy to find a good shampoo with good ingredients. If the ingredients look agreeable, performance can be an issue. I use dry shampoo daily but I still need to wash my hair. However, I discover that using a shampoo that is more gentle seems to cause lesser oil secretion for my hair.

  2. says

    Interesting reading ..I’m definitely going to look at trying sulfate free shampoos.
    Ellie last post is: Mario Badescu Silver Powder – Review

  3. fwy says

    Thanks for this blogpost. I had bought Himalaya Shampoo yesterday at Watson’s & will use it today to see whether is better than those shampoos that contains SLS.

    • Sesame says

      I’ve always avoided that brand for some reason. I didn’t now they have an SLS-free shampoo. Hope it works well for you.

      • fwy says

        I am only into my 2nd day of using it. So far, I noticed lesser hair loss & the scent of the shampoo is also great.

        Btw, have you tried taking SkinBiotics endorsed by Fann Wongyet? I was told this products offers sun protection also but the price is on the high side.

        • Sesame says

          I’ve seen that brand around and was offered to try it but never took up the offer. It’s expensive…I agree!

  4. Arin says

    I just try my new shampoo that free Silicon but it still have ether sulfate. How about ether sulfate? thank you :)

    • Sesame says

      If I’m not mistaken, Ether Sulfate is Sodium Laureth Sulfate. It’s a bit more gentle than Sodium Lauryl Sulfate but also pretty harsh.

  5. says

    Using organics product nowadays is the best choice.
    Lisa last post is: Does Viviscal Extra Strength Work? My Comprehensive Reviews

    • Sesame says

      Well, I can’t say it’s so for shampoos. Some of the organic shampoos are not the best to use.

  6. says

    Good Reading and thanks for the post. I will pay more attention to what is in my shampoo. I’ll also check what I use for my baby.

    Do sulfates yellow hair? and what can I do to prevent yellowing?


    • Sesame says

      They don’t yellow the hair but the drying mus cause the hair too look unhealthy. Did you bleach your hair? I’m not sure why hair can turn yellow.

      • says

        Thanks for your reply. Yes I did experiment somewhat with coloring my hair. Actually it is not yellow but I’m going gray a little bit. Sometimes I have the impression that it is turning light yellow. It’s probably the artificial light at work. Anyway thanks.
        Amelia last post is: Want to look younger than you are?

    • Sesame says

      Sulfates that I’ve listed are very harsh but do note that some shampoos that tout being sulfate-free are not truly so.

  7. Julia says

    I have always used sulphate free shampoos, shower gels and toothpaste.
    This ingredient is derived from industrial floor and engine cleaner and is added as a cheap foaming agent. Don’t think it is what we should be putting on our bodies.

    • Sesame says

      Yeah, it sounds unhealthy but it’s way too common and cheap…probably why it’s being used in many formulations of personal care products.

  8. says

    I am allergic to all shampoos in supermarkets so obviously I need to always buy a way more expensive shampoo from the hairdressers or a brand I already know of :)

  9. says

    Me and my wife are about to have a little baby so i will be looking out for everything in shampoo now as well. Thanks for the advice lol.

  10. says

    Thanks for the eye opening post, I had never looked at shampoo that closely. I just took a look at my favorite and of course it had to contain sulfates. Will have to be much more vigilant in the future.

  11. says

    Great post! I had no idea about Sulfates and their effects. I am going to try a Sulfate free shampoo and see how it works for me.
    Elizabeth Grace last post is: Is Revitol Acnezine Worth the Price?

  12. says

    One more reason to avoid sulfates – 40% of shampoos with sulfates contain the contaminant 1,4 Dioxan which causes cancer.
    The problem is, that some sulfate alternatives, also contain the same impurities, or other that cause similar effects.
    Tuft last post is: L’Oreal sulfate free shampoo – popular and inexpensive

  13. Elisabete Rodrigues says

    Hello, I recently started to take a closer look to the cosmetics I’m wearing. I have endometriosis and one of the reasons that makes the desease spread is excessive estrogen. But then I learned that in almost every product that you use on a daily basis, there are xeno-estrogens, that once inside my body can also make endo tissues to grow. It’s difficult to find reviews for organic and no-chemichal ingredients on cosmtic and house cleaning produts that are actually sold in my country (I’m from Portugal) so I was very happy when i found this 100% natural shampoo from urtekram (fragance free), but it has sodium coco-sulfate. I researched about in ewg database and goodguide, and both say it’s a safe ingredient (zero concerns), so I’d like to understand why you wont buy a shampoo with that particular ingredient. Thanks! By the way, love the blog!

    • Sesame says

      Hi Elisabete, thanks for visiting this blog. I don’t use certain ingredients more for their negative effects on skin. Sulfates are drying and hence, not great to be used on the skin. EWG only looks at safety levels but does not look at ingredient’s effects on the skin.

  14. says

    I’m actively trying to turn my friends away from using shampoos that contain sulfates. It really is surprising, in my opinion, that the media hasn’t latched onto this and had a field day! All we need is for a few popular publications to spread the facts about these shampoos and many problems could be avoided, alas, that’s unlikely to happen because these magazines are paid to promote popular shampoos.
    JP last post is: 10 hair blogs everyone should read

    • Sesame Chew says

      You may be right. I’m not surprised that’s the reason there is no interest in that topic on magazines.


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