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Are Sulfate-Free Shampoos Really Necessary?

Saturday, June 15, 2013 7:13 PM  |  by HD-Susan

Around this site and in the Community forum you may hear people talking about sulfate-free shampoo and questioning its necessity with hair systems. Is it really that important to go sulfate-free?

Well, I'll give you the facts and you can decide.

The purpose of sulfates

Image of glass of water in the desertIn a nutshell, sulfates like Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) are detergents that are typically used as cleaning agents in shampoos. They are especially important in products that require significant grease-cutting capabilities, like dish soaps and industrial cleaners. And, just to give you that crispy clean feeling, sulfates also create bubbles and lather. However, lather is not a necessary part of the cleaning process, we're just conditioned to think it is.

Why they're not always so good

The problem is those grease-cutting agents not only remove oil, dirt and grime from your hair just like they do for your dishes, but they also strip away good oils and moisture from your hair. That's why a conditioner is required to replace some moisture back into your locks.

Even for some naturally growing hair, sulfates strip too much of the oils away, causing the hair to dry out. Because the hair in processed hair systems is already not being naturally conditioned by scalp oils, and because the outer cuticle layers have been stripped away, sulfates can dry the hair out even more. This can shorten the life of the hair and contribute to breakage and shedding, as well as trouble managing your hairstyle.

For those reasons alone, it's probably a pretty good idea to try and find a sulfate-free shampoo that you like. It could be the thing that helps extend the life of your hair a little or allow it to be a little more manageable.

What to look for

So when you're checking product labels, you really want to focus on avoiding Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) for the most part. However, there are other sulfates that actually can condition the hair. So, if you see some other sulfates further down in the ingredients list, and they're not SLS or SLES, they're probably OK.

In the meantime, if you're looking for a recommendation, there are a lot of sulfate-free products in our Store. Some client favorites include products from Nearly Natural and RemySoft.

And, if you need to buy an over-the-counter shampoo in a pinch, you'll likely find several options in a beauty supply store versus a grocery store or local pharmacy. Lots of high quality brands carry sulfate-free products.

The verdict

So, to answer the question as to whether or not sulfate-free products are necessary, well I guess the answer is no. If you're just looking for a way to clean your hair then I guess it doesn't matter. However, if you're experiencing very dry hair, breakage or shedding, it's probably worth going the extra mile to help your hair stay moisturized, or at least stop intentionally drying it out. If avoiding sulfates helps, it's something you might want to consider.

What do you think? Do you have a preference of sulfate-free vs. standard shampoo? Let us know your experiences in the comments below.

About HD-Susan

Integration units, clip-ons, bonded systems—even hair transplants—I‘ve been there and done that! After mastering bonded hair replacement, I started a consultation business and created a training system that educates women on how to transition into wearing bonded hair faster, with greater success, and less emotional fatigue. I posted in the HD forum for over 4 years as a client, and eventually joined the staff at Hair Direct as a content developer in 2012. My role focuses primarily on creating educational and instructional materials that can help you learn faster and make more strategic decisions so you can have a great experience wearing hair. It’s not just about looking good in your hair, it’s about feeling good under it too.


Tonyc284 said:

I find that the Costco brand Kirkland Signature Moisture Shampoo works pretty good. It's sulfate free and says safe for color treated hair. Anybody else use that? Or comments?

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