For a while there, it seemed like sulfate free shampoos were more like a fad than a mainstream hair care choice, just like cold wave lotion or organic products. Cut to today, and some of the best sulfate free shampoo products are virtually a must-have for anyone with color-treated hair. Now found nearly everywhere from salons to your local drugstore—making them as accessible as regular formulations—even products such as sulfate free shampoos for curly hair are no longer niche hair care items.
Before we deep-dive into this any further, first, the basics: What are sulfate free shampoos and how do they work? To answer some of these burning questions, including whether or not they are ideal for your particular hair type, we enlisted the help from Unilever’s R&D expert Leon-van Gorkom to help shed some light on this popular dyed hair must-have. Read on to learn the truth:
Sulfate Free Shampoos: How Do They Work?
1. What are sulfates?
According to Leon-van Gorkom, “Sulfates are anionic surfactants. They are frequently used in shampoos and body washes as they provide ample lather. [These are] SLS, short for sodium lauryl sulfate, and SLES, or sodium laureth sulfate, which contains ethoxy groups in the fatty acid chain and makes this surfactant milder than SLS. These surfactants are used with co-surfactants, normally betaine, to get an even milder surfactant system. Surfactants are cleansing agents that remove oil, dirt and styling residue from your hair.”
2. Why go sulfate-free?
People with very sensitive skin might have negative reactions to sulfates. It can cause skin irritation and itching for some people. Those with dyed hair also use low-sulfate or the best sulfate free shampoo for color treated hair to help retain their color. One of the best sulfate free shampoo and conditioner products out there is the Nexxus Color Assure Rebalancing Shampoo and Nexxus Color Assure Rebalancing Conditioner. This duo works well to clean and nourish your hair while also protecting your color from fading.
3. What’s the buzz on low-sulfate products?
If you have sensitive skin but don’t know about specific allergies to sulfates, try a low-sulfate option. Products with a low amount of sulfate will still give you a good lather and clean without stripping your hair and scalp. Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion Smoothing Shampoo and Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion Smoothing Conditioner are low-sulfate options that help give you sleek, frizz-free hair.
4. On keratin hair treatments and sulfates:
If you’re thinking about getting a keratin treatment, you might want to consider trying a sulfate-free shampoo. Since the keratin treatment washes out, the gentler you wash your hair, the longer the effects will last. Using an SLS-free shampoo can be less stripping and may help hold onto your keratin treatment for much longer. However, according to Leon-van Gorkom, “Other straightening treatments, like the Japanese rebonding treatment, don’t necessarily require the use of a sulfate free shampoo.”
He noted, “There are many definitions of keratin treatments: Some are purely cosmetic (deep conditioning), while others rely on chemicals.” He adds, “Some manufacturers of chemical straightening keratin treatments recommend their own sulfate free shampoos to avoid washing out the benefits prematurely. Also, just because the shampoo is sulfate-free does not mean it is milder. We also haven’t seen any data that color retention with sulfate-free shampoos is better than sulfate-containing shampoos, as color loss is predominantly driven by water, which is actually what swells the hair and allows hair dye particles to leach out.”
On Current Rotation: Sulfate-Free Shampoo and Color-Safe Conditioner
It’s been a cruel, cruel summer… for my hair, that is. Like bird migration, my hair goes through a specific seasonal pattern that involves color dye, and lots of it: darker in the winter and lighter for Spring/Summer, and 2018 was no exception. But this year, I had the brilliant idea to go where my Asian locks had always feared to tread: bright ash blonde. My (very well-intentioned) stylist told me we needed to baby-step it to get there again (I had gone dark chestnut for the winter), and advised that I stock up on some color-safe products, such as sulfate-free shampoo and a restorative conditioner. Read on to check out more of what’s in my hair today.
Cut to: July 2017, and I’m halfway there, color-wise… but my strands still had a long way to go. They were an ashy, slightly green-tinged bronde, a result of one too many beach weekends as well as being poolside in Vegas almost six hours a day. I immediately made a quick hair appointment after our Nevada trip and begged for a touch-up, and my stylist agreed. Now I’m two-thirds of the way to my ideal shade, but admittedly, it took a lot of work.
Anyone who’s ever seesawed with color as I have knows how crucial it is to have the proper wash and care backup plan for home. And this can change at different points in your life too, depending on your needs. This year has been the year of the sulfate-free shampoo and sulfate free conditioner for me (I’ve found Nexxus Color Assure Sulfate-Free Shampoo and Nexxus Color Assure Conditioner to be my new secret weapons). With newly bleached hair, you definitely need all the help you can get. You need those extra technologies that not only keep your color vibrant for as long as humanly possible, but to also make sure your hair stays healthy-looking and doesn’t break.
[I’ve also been loving Love Beauty and Planet Blooming Color Murumuru Butter & Rose Shampoo and Love Beauty and Planet Blooming Color Murumuru Butter & Rose Conditioner, for their ability to keep my colored locks vibrant (plus that divine scent!). Though not sulfate free, the system is paraben-, silicone- and dye-free, and has ethically sourced extracts and organic coconut oil for a more conscientious washing experience.]
I’m happy to say that I haven’t called for a touch-up just yet; my hair’s holding up fine and still holding on to their bright, baby blond highlights with conviction. Sulfate-free shampoo and moisturizing conditioner, my summer color saviors!