How does my cleanser cleanse without sulfates?

If the cleanser does not contain sulfates, then how does it cleanse? I get this question asked many a times regarding foaming cleansers and today, I’ll attempt to answer by breaking down the ingredient list of cleansers that are sold as sulfate-free. “No sulfates” here refers to no surfactants like Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate (SLES), or even Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS), which are used in many cosmetic products for their cleansing and emulsifying properties. They behave similarly to soap but are considered as skin irritants and hence, are always avoided in natural or organic cleansers.

Use of glucose-based or coconut oil derived surfactants
However, this does not mean such cleansers do not contain surfactants; the surfactants used in such cleansers are gentler, such as using glucose-based and/or coconut oil derived. Common ones are Coco Betaine, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Coco Glucoside, Decyl Glucoside, and Sucrose Laurate, just to name a few. A common impression given by natural or organic cleansers is that they do not foam well. This is not true as I’ve used many cleansers in this category and they lather and foam up well enough. Although they do not contain the harsh sulfates, they may contain two or three of the gentler surfactants. To give you a better idea, I’ve listed four sulfate-free cleansers below with their ingredients; the surfactants are underlined and listed in bold for your reference.

REN Rosa Centifolia Cleansing Gel
Ingredients: Rosa Damascena Flower Water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Glycerin, Coco Glucoside, Xanthan Gum, Polysorbate 20, Panthenol, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Lauroyl Oat Aminoacids, Rosa Centifolia Flower Juice, Rosa Damascena Flower Oil, Pelargonium Graveolens Flower Oil, Cymbopogon Martini Oil, Eugenia Caryophyllus (Clove) Flower Oil, Myroxylon Pereirae (Balsam Peru) Oil, Geraniol, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, Lactic Acid, Ethylhexylglycerin.

Bod White Tea Cleansing Gel
Ingredients: White tea extract, sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, decyl glucoside, oat protein extract, yucca extract, ylang ylang, geranium, tangerine essential oils, potassium sorbate, xanthan gum, citric acid, sodium hydroxy-methyl-glycinate.

Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Daily Face Wash
Ingredients: Water, Coco-Betaine, Decyl Glucoside, Chamomile Recutita, (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, Eucalyptus Citriodora Oil, Limonene.

MADARA Ecoface Deep Purfying Foam
Ingredients: Aqua, Rosa Damascena (Rose) Distillate*, Sodium Cocoamphoacetate, Alcohol, Glycerin*, Surcose Cocoate, Achillea Millefolium (Yarrow) Extract*, Hypericum Perforatum (St. John’s Wort) Extract*, Calendula Officinalis (Calendula) Extract*, Chamomilla Recutita (Camomile) Extract* *Ingredients issued from Organic Agriculture.

Can contain up to three different surfactants
Based on analyzing those sulfate-free facial cleansers I’ve used, the maximum number of surfactants can go up to three. Obviously, one that contains more surfactants can cause our skin to be more drying even though they are gentler, especially if the surfactants are high up on the ingredient list. So are you using a sulfate-free foaming cleanser? Can you pick out the surfactant that is used in the formulation?


  1. Mel says:

    I’ve used the ren cleanser before. On the first use, it didn’t feel clean enough but after a few more tries, I’ve come to realize that it cleans gently and is not harsh on the skin! Only drawback is the price and the tenancy to use too much as it does not really foam.

  2. sesame says:

    I love the cleanser very much but like you pointed out, it’s very expensive…and I realized after using the bottle that the quantity is little! ?

  3. Chris says:

    Thank you or clearing this up. A lot of people I know seem to think natural cleansers don’t work properly or well due to the lack SLS. I always tell them “If they don’t work, then why does my skin look so great?” ?
    Chris last post is: Tutorial: Plummy Makeup for Tanned Skin

  4. Chris says:

    *for clearing this up.
    Chris last post is: Tutorial: Plummy Makeup for Tanned Skin

  5. sesame says:

    Haha…that’s a good answer!

  6. Amanda says:

    I use Sukin at the moment. It’s a foaming cleanser without SLS. I think it foams quite well. And according to the instruction, it can also be used for cleaning make-up. Good thing is, the price is quite affordable ?
    Amanda last post is: Annemarie Boerlind Eye Wrinkle Cream: Moisturizing But Not Anti-Wrinkle

  7. sesame says:

    I used probably 6 – 7 bottles of Sukin many moons ago. It’s very affordable.

  8. Lydia says:

    Thanks for this helpful lesson because I actually did belong to the people claiming that organic cleansers don’t foam! Oh boy I was so wrong the whole time. I guess it’s about time to change brands…. I’ve been using cleansing milk textures but I deeply miss the rich lather feeling on my skin.
    Lydia last post is: Crazy week and Vogue Fashion’s Night Out

  9. sesame says:

    It depends on the product…some of them will not lather as much as the usual ones but otherwise, they do foam enough and cleanse well without stripping our natural lipids.

  10. Jhon dipoo says:

    madara ecoface deep purfing foam i already use it is very effective for my skin.Its’s a deep cleaner.Thanks for your very information review.

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