What You Need to Know About Sulfates and Hair
There are always things to consider when worrying about hair loss or thinning hair. Is my balding just caused by genetics? Should I stop wearing hats all the time? Is my medication causing my hair to fall out? Am I under too much stress?
All of these questions are extremely common when a person first starts to notice their hair starting to thin. And more often than not, it’s genetics that is the cause of your hair loss, but that’s not to say that other elements aren’t also playing a part.
Medications that you may be taking can also be causing your hair to thin, but the hair loss will usually subside once you stop taking the medication.
And despite what you may have heard, wearing a hat does not cause your hair to start falling out faster. It just catches the hair that naturally falls out, so it seems like you’re losing more hair when wearing a hat.
But what about hair care products and shampoos? Can they be causing hair issues?
What is a sulfate?
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth sulfate (SLES) are lathering agents and give your shampoo that nice foamy feel as you massage it into your scalp. Guess what, they are both derived from coconut oil, not from some evil chemical laboratory! There is no data to suggest that sulfates are harmful, toxic, or cause cancer.
Let’s break it down:
Sodium is an ion that has positive charge (remember high school chemistry class?) so it is attracted to negatively charged ions.
Lauryl refers to the type of oil from the coconut which has 12 carbons in it (Hang with me here for today’s chemistry lesson) Olive oil, to compare as 16 carbons in its chain.
Sulfate is the water loving potion of the molecule that creates bubbles and soft lather. None of that sounds harmful, right? Because it’s not, it’s basic organic chemistry at work in the household items that we all use for cleaner hair.
Are Shampoos With Sulfates Safe For My Hair?
When it comes to shampoos, there are a seemingly infinite number of choices available. There are shampoos to help with hair loss, shampoos to help with sensitive/dry scalp, shampoos to help your hair look shiny, and shampoos to strengthen your curls, but could certain shampoos be causing issues with your hair instead of helping them?
The latest information floating around is that you should avoid shampoos with sulfates in them due to their chemical nature and possible adverse effects they can have on your hair or your health. The “natural” crowd will tell you that using a shampoo with sulfates is going to damage your hair and not keep it as healthy as it can be, but that’s not entirely true.
Sulfates found in shampoos are used to help the shampoo clean the hair by stripping away oils and dirt. They are completely safe for use and will not speed up hair loss or cause any health issues, or cancers, when used correctly.
The sulfates attract both oil and water while providing a proper lather to help clean your hair. This is what helps clean the dirt, oil, and other residue out of your hair. Leaving it feeling light and clean.
So you may be asking yourself, if sulfates are used to help clean the hair, then why is there a concern over having them in shampoo?
Well, just like anything you use to clean your body, too much of them can be a bad thing.
Can Sulfates In Shampoo Damage My Hair?
While sulfates do a great job at cleaning your hair, sometimes they do too good of a job. And this is where the negativity comes from.
Sulfates are meant to help strip the oils and dirt out of your hair in order to better clean it, but our hair needs natural oil in order to protect it and keep it healthy. By stripping out too much of the natural oils it can leave hair brittle and dry.
Finding the right balance of moisture in the hair is critical in keeping the hair strong, healthy and shiny. Which is especially important depending on the climate in which you live.
If your shampoo is leaving your hair too dry, it can lead to split ends and brittle hair which can cause temporary hair loss and thinning. This is why it’s important that you always use shampoo as directed.
For people who color their hair, sulfates can strip the dye out faster. This is probably where some of the concern started. Hair dressers may tell their clients that sulfates are bad for their hair, but what they really mean, is that it is harsh on the hair color which translates to more frequent trips to the salon for touch up coloring.
Should I Use a Non-Sulfate or Sulfate-Free Shampoo?
In most cases, no, you don’t need to spend the money on expensive sulfate-free shampoos for your hair.
As long as you’re using the shampoo as directed, then there is little chance that you will see any major adverse effects.
If you have sensitive skin or a dry scalp, you may consider trying a non-sulfate shampoo to help with irritation, flakiness or redness, but in most cases, sulfates are completely safe for normal use when cleaning your hair. Instead, look for a medicated shampoo with zinc pyrithione or selenium sulfide to soothe a flaky scalp
We always recommend talking with a board certified dermatologist before making any major changes to your skin regiment as they will be able to help you find an optimal treatment for you skin type.
If you’re concerned about various shampoos or you’re noticing hair loss that wasn’t there before, please contact us to setup a consultation.
At the Limmer Hair Care Center in San Antonio, Texas, we’re here to help with any hair related questions you may have. We can provide insight as to what may be the cause of your sudden hair loss, as well as the best methods to treat the issue.
In the case of non-sulfate vs. sulfate shampoos though, as long as you’re rinsing out the shampoo as directed when washing your hair, you shouldn’t have any issues with it drying out your hair.