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Sulfates in shampoos: What are they?

Ambarian asks…What exactly are Sodium Laureth Sulphate , Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, Ammonium Lareth Sulphate and Myreth Sulphate . What is their main purposes in a shampoo? Is it true if you buy a shampoo that contains ALS it is not as harsh on you hair . Is it true that these will strip hair of natural oil and moisture hence if you have dry / curly hair it is best not to use shampoo containing these?

The Left Brain responds…We’ve talked about Sulfates in your shampoo before and we encourage you to read this first.

In the industry, these compounds are known by acronyms such as SLS, SLES, ALS, etc. While we cosmetic chemists like to say really long words to describe chemicals, they can hamper conversations. These sulfates are all primary detergents that make shampoos, body washes and other cleansers clean and foam. Without these ingredients cleansing products wouldn’t work nearly as well as they do.

Practically speaking, ALS is just as harsh on your hair as SLS. ALS is the main detergent of brans like Pantene, Herbalessences, Dove and Suave. SLS is used in Paul Mitchell, VO5 and lots of other brands. Of the ones you listed Myreth sulphate would be least harsh (although it is still more harsh than the things you’d find in a baby shampoo).

These ingredients will not strip your hair of oil any worse than other surfactant bases. All shampoos strip your hair of natural oil. That’s how they clean. In this regard, avoiding these ingredients will not be helpful to you. Some people find these surfactants a bit more irritating than others so you might take this into consideration when buying a product with them in it.

If you have dry/curly hair than you can use any shampoo but make sure you use a conditioner afterwards. This will help replenish the oils that are lost.

If you are concerned about stripping natural oils, the only thing you can do is stop washing your hair. But remember the natural oils help capture dirt, dust and pollution that you walk through every day. For clean hair you really don’t want natural oils.

Beauty Brains bottom line

Sulfates are used in many personal care products and are some of the most effective ingredients you can use for cleaning. They often get bad press and the Natural crowd hates them, but they are perfectly fine ingredients. They’re what all of the Beauty Brains use.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Rachael February 22, 2014, 11:28 pm

    “What Science Says About Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

    In its final report on the safety of sodium lauryl sulfate, the Journal of the American College of Toxicology notes that this ingredient has a “degenerative effect on the cell membranes because of its protein denaturing properties.” What’s more, the journal adds, “high levels of skin penetration may occur at even low use concentration.”

    Interestingly, sodium lauryl sulfate “is used around the world in clinical studies as a skin irritant,” notes the journal. The publication expressed additional concerns:

    Carcinogenic nitrosamines can form in the manufacturing of sodium lauryl sulfate or by its inter-reaction with other nitrogen-bearing ingredients within a formulation utilizing this ingredient.
    Other studies have indicated that sodium lauryl sulfate enters and maintains residual levels in the heart, liver, lungs and brain from skin contact. This poses the question whether it could be a serious potential health threat from its use in shampoos, cleansers, and toothpastes.
    Still other research has indicated sodium lauryl sulfate may be damaging to the immune system, especially within the skin. Skin layers may separate and inflame due to its protein denaturing properties.
    Although sodium lauryl sulfate is not carcinogenic in experimental studies, it has been shown that it causes severe epidermal changes in the area it is applied, indicating a need for tumor-enhancing assays.
    Additional studies have found that sodium lauryl sulfate is heavily deposited on the skin surface and in the hair follicles. Damage to the hair follicle could result from such deposition.”

    • Randy Schueller February 23, 2014, 12:50 pm

      Thanks for the info Rachael. Here’s the link to the report that you referenced: http://ijt.sagepub.com/content/2/7/127

      While SLS is harsh when left in contact with skin its primary uses are in shampoo and body washes where it is quickly rinsed away. The conclusion of the study, which you neglected to mention, says this:

      “Both Sodium and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate appear to be safe in formulations designed for discontinuous, brief use followed by thorough rinsing from the surface of the skin. In products intended for prolonged contact with skin, concentrations should not exceed 1%.”

  • davetta October 1, 2014, 5:15 pm

    I got some shampoo with sulfate in it I havea reaction to sulfate in meds
    is that the same I only used it once

  • Anya July 30, 2017, 4:44 am

    Hi there,

    It seems that conclusions in the article you’ve put a link on are the opposite to the conclusions in this article

    • Rupee_Roundhouse February 19, 2020, 6:30 am

      What parts exactly are opposite?