What are the Problems With Sulfate Free Shampoo ?

Sulphate-free shampoo is glorified in the hair and beauty world. It is seen as the ideal and commonly referred to as the most sensible choice, when washing your hair.

There are plenty of positive reasons for using a shampoo that’s free from sulphates, but what about the negatives? 

The answer? There are downsides to going sulphate-free. Before you dive in and try out new hair products, it is essential to weigh up the pros and cons so that you can make a decision.

In this guide, we answer all your most pressing questions about sulphate-free shampoo. 

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What are the Problems with Sulphate-Free Shampoo?

You’ll probably remember when sulphate-free shampoo was first released. It started with backlash against sulphate shampoo for potentially harmful ingredients, and then sulphate-free shampoos became wildly popular. But what’s the problem with sulphate free? 

Well, one of the main issues is the fact that sulphate-free shampoo can actually make hair greasier - even minutes after washing it.

This is because they have been designed to be mild and gentle, which makes them weaker when cleaning hair and the scalp.

They aren’t strong enough to remove all the grime that builds up, and they also take a lot more work to lather properly so you can really work it into your hair. 

But what makes sulphates so capable of removing build-up? Sulphates are surfactants and are composed of hydrophobic and lipophilic properties.

The hydrophobic aspects attach themselves to the water while the lipophilic parts stick to all the grease and grime particles - cleansing hair. 

You may also notice that sulphate-free shampoos contain a lot of conditioning ingredients.

A lot of the time, this can make you feel as though you are doing a lot of conditioning and very little washing - leading to more significant build-up on your scalp and in your hair. 

They can also be a lot harsher on your hair than their sulphate alternatives, which isn’t great news for those who have naturally delicate hair. This is something we look at in more detail a little later. 

The leading cause of greasiness is the fact that many manufacturers pack their sulphate-free shampoo with surfactants. These increase the strength, but also the harshness, which negates the whole purpose of going sulphate-free.

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Sulphate-Free Shampoo vs Sulphate Shampoo

Ok, so what’s the big difference between them anyway? What makes sulphate-free so good and why is sulphate shampoo demonised? Let’s take a little look at each of these choices in more detail. 

The Ingredients. The primary ingredients in sulphate and sulphate-free shampoo are different, lending to the degree of harshness on the hair experienced in each. This is something we look at in further detail in the next section. 

Effects of Sulphates. This is a contested topic as some studies suggest that sulphates are carcinogenic. However, this has not been confirmed and remains a theory and rumour as opposed to fact. 

However, sulphates can indeed cause skin irritation as well as damage to the hair and follicles over time. It can cause breakages and split ends which then leads to brittleness. 

Effectiveness. Both forms of shampoo are excellent at cleaning hair, but sulphates are often too useful and strip the grime away to such a degree that the hair is left lacking moisture afterwards.

One the other hand, sulphate-free can often lack in the oil removal department. 

Effect on Hair. Sulphates have been known to amplify frizziness as well as cause a dishevelled look if you like to straighten or curl your hair frequently. This can be frustrating and inconvenient. 

Furthermore, there have been some suggestions that sulphate-free shampoo can cause hair loss when used excessively and over time. 

This does, however, appear to be quite a rare side-effect and is not commonplace for those who use sulphate-free brands. 

Colour Protect. If you have dyed your hair and want to protect the colour, sulphates are not the way to go because of how harsh they are.

Instead, a sulphate-free blend tends to be gentler and helps it retain moisture for a healthier glow. 

Are Sulphate-Free Shampoos Bad for Your Hair?

Sulphate-free shampoos aren’t necessarily harmful for your hair, but they aren’t always a right choice either. As we previously mentioned, many brands are gentler but some are harsher than they should be. 

Here’s the thing you need to understand. Sulphate-free shampoos tend to use a cleansing ingredient known as olefin sulfonate.

What this does is replace the sulphates found in regular shampoos. It does a great job, but also goes a little deeper. 

The sulphate most commonly used in shampoos is called sodium laureth sulphates (derived from sodium lauryl), and olefin sulfonate does a better job of cleansing hair. Sounds like a good thing, right? Well, things aren’t that cut and dry in this case. 

If we look at the chemical composition of sodium laureth sulphates, focus on the “eth” at the end of laureth.

This signifies that it has been chemically altered. In this case, it was to make it milder and gentler than the original sodium lauryl sulphate. 

How does this tie in? Well, olefin sulfonate is actually just as harsh as sodium lauryl. It’s so eager to strip your hair of all the grime that it even burrows into the hair shafts and leaves holes behind. 

As a result, you will find most sulphate-free shampoos come with emollients that cloak the harshness of the chemicals used. This is fine for most hair, but if yours is naturally fragile, it can cause brittleness and dehydrated hair. 

Similarly, hair that is quite oily won’t benefit from sulphate-free because of its inability to strip the hair of oil and grime as efficiently as a sulphate shampoo.

Therefore, those with oily hair will find that the grease never truly leaves them which can become quite frustrating. 

Honestly, sulphate-free isn’t all bad. It is a good and gentle way to wash your hair, but you need to keep an eye on the ingredients used.

Go mild if you have delicate hair, and check to make sure that it’s free from sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, olefin sulfonate, and salt. 

Sulphate-Free Shampoos are Suited to Which Hair Type? 

Generally speaking, sulphate-free shampoo is not designed for a specific hair type. All it is, is a gentler alternative to traditional forms of shampoo.

However, you can find a sulphate-free shampoo that has been designed for specific needs. 

For example, you will likely be able to find one that is suited to curly hair and another made for dry or damaged hair.

Some shampoos that are made for colour protection are also free from sulphates. Also, those with very oily hair do tend to fare better when using sulphate shampoos. 

To get the most out of sulphate-free shampoos, you shouldn’t use a lot of product in your hair as this leaves residue behind that sulphate-free shampoos often have a hard time getting out.

If ever in doubt, have a word with your hairdresser as they will be able to recommend a solution. 

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FAQs

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Is it Okay to Use Sulphate-Free Shampoo Every Day?

Yes, you can use sulphate-free shampoo every day and it won’t damage your hair.

However, you should be able to go a couple of days without needing to wash your hair after using it. This is because of its moisture-retention capabilities. 

Is Baby Shampoo Sulphate-Free?

Yes, baby shampoo does tend to be sulphate-free. This is because they are designed to be gentle on the scalp and such new hair follicles.

Additionally, baby shampoo is usually hypoallergenic because of how sensitive baby skin can be. 

Even shampoo designed for older children is usually free from sulphates.

This is for much the same reason, being gentle on the scalp and hair as well as protecting sensitive skin from allergic reactions. 

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Why Does Sulphate-Free Shampoo Not Lather?

The reason sulphate-free shampoo doesn’t really lather is because of the lack of sulphates.

These prevent you from getting the massive foam a sulphate shampoo provides you with. However, lathering is not impossible when you go sulphate-free. 

You have to work a little harder, but if you scrub your scalp and use a little more water you should find that there us a least a little lather when you are washing your hair. 

Final Thoughts 

Sulphate-free is an excellent choice for some hair types, but not for others. While it isn’t some sinister hair product taking down good hair everywhere, it’s also not the angelic saviour it has been portrayed to be. 

Sulphate or sulphate-free, the most important thing is that you pick a shampoo that is going to work for your hair type.

Sometimes, it can be challenging to know which is the best choice, and when in doubt speaking to your stylist or hairdresser is a great way to get sound advice. 

Francesca
 

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