Should my shower stay sulfate-free?

Somnuz Sez: Hi. Just wanted to know your thoughts regarding sulfate-free products. If products do not contain surfactants, can they still clean. Or, if they contain lesser know surfactants, could they be even more harmful than SLS and SLES? Am trying some sulfate-free products and would love to know what you think of them. Ren shower washes and also the Mir skincare range.


The Right Brain’s Response:

To answer your question, first let’s take a look at 4 quick reasons why sulfates (like sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, and their cousins the laureth sulfates) are so popular.

Why sulfates are popular

1) They’re very cheap and they’re readily available. Basic sulfates can cost as little as 25 cents per pound. More expensive surfactants can be $1.00 or more per pound.

2) They’re good cleaners. Sulfates are good at dissolving dirt and oil, especially the kind found on your hair and body. So they work really well in shampoos and body washes.

3) They foam well. Sulfates are extremely good at generating a lot of foam really fast. Even though you can have a good cleansing product that doesn’t foam, consumers tend to like high foaming products better.

4) They’re easy to thicken. Lauryl sulfates (not so much the laureth ones) can be thickened just by adding salt. Therefore, the companies that manufacture shampoos and body washes like to formulate with sulfates because their products can be made quickly and easily.

So, what about sulfate free products? Well, by comparison they generally are more expensive, they may not foam as well (depending on the formula. Consider a baby shampoo for example), and they require more complex formulas because they can’t be thickened with salt.

The sad side of sulfates

So why would your want to use sulfate free products? Well, a potential downside of using sulfates is that they can dry out your hair and skin. Sulfate free formulas can be milder because they don’t strip the natural oils out of your skin as much. Also, sulfates can really make your eyes sting. Sulfate free products can be formulated to be non-stinging and “tear-free.”

The Beauty Brains bottom line:

Yes, sulfate free formulas will still clean and no they’re not more dangerous. In fact, if anything, they’re a bit milder to your skin and eyes. So feel free to experiment. The Ren and Mir products are perfectly fine but they’re very overpriced. If you just want to experiment with sulfate free but don’t want to spend a lot of money, try a baby shampoo.

The Foam Gnome

By the way, in case you’re wondering about the picture in today’s post, we’d like to introduce you to the newest member of The Beauty Brains team, the Foam Gnome. Foam Gnome will be answering all your questions about anything that foams, from shampoos and body washes to shave creams, to the mouths of rabid dogs.

Ok, that’s stupid. Scratch that. In reality, we just thought this was a bizarre picture that involved foam. That’s why we posted it. There are no new Beauty Brains team members. We have no intention of recruiting a diminutive Detergent Dwarf to help us with our posts.

Wait a minute, Detergent Dwarf, that’s pretty catchy! We can see it now, Foam Gnome and Detergent Dwarf – battling dirt and grime. Grime Fighters! Get it? Crime – Grime? Whew! I’m on fire today!

Ok, I’m done now. The Left Brain is here with my medication.