Sulfate-Free Shampoo: What You Need to Know

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Breaking down the ins and out of sulfate-free shampoo.

We know it seemed like for a while there that sulfate-free shampoo was just a fad. Suddenly, it was found virtually everywhere from salons to your local drugstore–making it accessible to everyone. But, you may be wondering: what is sulfate-free shampoo? How does it work? Is it right for my hair type? To answer some of these burning questions, we enlisted the advice from Unilever’s Leon-van Gorkom. Read on to learn more about sulfate free shampoos.

Sulfate-Free Shampoo: How it Works

sulfate-free shampoo: how it works
Is sulfate-free shampoo right for you?

1. What are sulfates?

According to Unilever’s Leon-van Gorkom, “Sulfates are anionic surfactants that have sulfate head group. They are frequently used in shampoos and body washes as they provide ample lather. SLS is short for sodium lauryl sulfate, SLES is sodium laureth sulfate which contains ethoxy groups in the fatty acid chain to make 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. For some people it can cause skin irritation and itching. Those with dyed hair also use low-sulfate or sulfate-free shampoos to help retain their color. The Nexxus New York Salon Care Assure Rebalancing Shampoo and the Nexxus New York Salon Care Color Assure Rebalancing Conditioner works well to clean and nourish your hair while also protecting your color from fading.

3. What about low-sulfate?

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. The Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion Smoothing Shampoo and Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion Smoothing Conditioner are low-sulfate options that’ll give you sleek and frizz-free hair.

4. Keratin hair treatments and sulfates

If you are thinking about getting a keratin treatment, you might want to consider trying a sulfate-free shampoo. Since the keratin treatment washes out, the more gently you wash your hair, the longer it’ll last. Using an SLS free shampoo will be less stripping and will hold onto your keratin treatment for much longer. However, according to van-Gorkom, “other straightening treatments, like the Japanese Rebonding Treatment, don’t necessarily need to use a sulfate-free shampoo.”

He noted, “there are many definitions of keratin treatments, some are purely cosmetic (deep conditioning) while others are relying on chemicals.” Adding, “some manufacturers of chemical straightening keratin treatments recommend their own sulfate-free shampoos as to avoid washing out the benefit prematurely.  Just because the shampoo is sulfate free does not mean it is milder.  Also, we have not seen any data that color retention with sulfate-free shampoos is better than sulfate-containing shampoos as color loss is predominantly driven by water (swelling the hair and hair dye particles leaching out).”

Want more information on sulfate-free shampoo? Check out why you should go sulfate-free with red hair dye.

06 February 2017