Why are sulfates bad for your hair (and the environment)?

Updated: Jul 2

So what is it all about ? Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (better known as SLS), is a cleansing agent found in many soap-based products. The role is pretty simple – the ingredient breaks down and removes dirt and grease from the hair and scalp, leaving it feeling squeaky clean.

Most brands of shampoo contain at least one of these common forms of sulfates,sodium lauryl sulfate,sodium laureth sulfateandammonium laureth sulfate, often abbreviated as SLS, SLES and ALS, respectively. These chemicals provide that foamy lather we associate with getting clean.

If you’re looking to practice better self-care this year while also living a more sustainable life, here’s everything you need to know about sulfates. Your hair is primarily made of protein, with a variety of nutrients also included in the mix. To be exact, protein constitutes for around 91% of each hair fiber. When these proteins are damaged, it can make your hair weaker in both appearance and strength, leading to split ends and breakage. The damage is even worst on curly hair. This is because curly hair is often naturally much "drier" than most other hair types. The hair cuticle of curly hair is in most cases "open" which explains its lack of moisture and loss of protein. Important : If you use a lot of gels, styling products that are not very "clean", you might want to use a clarifying shampoo time to time. This will help clean product build-up. Always deep condition after using a clarifying shampoo. A clarifying shampoo doesn't necessary need harsh sulfates. Some brands use "softer" sulfates made from sustainable ingredients such as coconut and olive oil. It can still dry your hair if used too often. ⠀ If you have an itchy or flaky scalp, one of the simplest things you can try is washing your hair with an SLS-free shampoo. An SLS-free shampoo does not contain the harsh and irritating ingredient sodium lauryl sulphate, which is a foaming agent (detergent) used by many of the big brands in hair care.⠀


Our hair isn’t the only thing sulfates can hurt. Once those sulfates wash down the drain, they flow through our sewage systems and eventually empty into the ocean or local rivers and marshes. This can be deadly to the ecosystem and lead to harsh damages.

Many shampoo producers derive sulfates from palm oil,according to the World Wildlife Fund. To harvest palm oil, most manufacturers clear forests that are often home to endangered species. This practice can also negatively impact local communities that are sometimes impoverished and struggling to survive.

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