When you shop for skincare or haircare products, you get to hear about the ingredients that are harmful and best avoided. And it is no doubt that this puts you in a state of dilemma, whether to buy that particular product or not. Well, some of them are myths, while some are real facts too. So today we are here to clear all your confusion related to one such ingredient i.e. sulfates.
You might have noticed an increase in products touting "sulfate-free" labels. Or maybe you've heard advice from friends that sulfate-free is the way to go. But what is up with sulfates? Are they that bad? How are they harmful?
Let us provide a clear picture of what sulfates are. So here we go!
What are sulfates?
Sulfate is a salt that is formed when sulphuric acid reacts with another chemical. It is a cleansing agent that removes dirt and oil, and are prominently found in many cleaning as well as personal care products. Sulfates are obtained from petroleum and plant sources such as coconut and palm oil.
The most common sulfate-based chemicals you may be concerned about, are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). SLS and SLES are used in products to create lather, which gives an impression of cleaning power. There's a lot of controversy behind this common ingredient.
How do Sulfates affect your Skin?
The medical position today is that sulfates probably do not cause cancer. What this doesn't mean is that they're safe to eat, inhale, or use on your skin.
The first and most obvious problem with sulfates is that they're just too good at what they do, which, you'll remember, is getting oil and oily substances off your skin.
Your skin isn't meant to be stripped raw and sterile like a kitchen counter. It works hard to secrete a special moisturizing protective barrier we call the hydrolipid layer. It's this layer which the sulfates in skincare products attack, carrying away the all-important lipids and oils. That's why your skin may feel irritated after a wash with sulfates; you may even notice redness or rawness. It isn't an allergic reaction; it's just skin that's had its hydrolipid layer ravaged and removed.
How do Sulfates affect your Hair?
Coming to hair products, the concern here is with the state these detergents may leave your locks in. Shampoos containing sulfates
are very efficient cleansers, as told earlier. The thing is, they are a little too efficient and can pull a lot of natural oil from hair and skin. They are too good at cleaning that they can strip your hair of its natural oils and make it feel rough, dry, and fragile. Not only this, but it may also cause dryness and irritation on your scalp.
Hair-care products with sulfates may also lead to acne around your hairline or acne on your back.
But one common misapprehension about sulfates is that it affects colour-treated hair. "It's a myth that sulfates will take away your hair colour," as claimed by a dermatologist. "They don't take away the colour any worse than any other shampoo detergent."
Are Sulfates Bad for You?
So now we know that sulfates can be very effective ingredients to be included in a product. Then why do they have a bad reputation? Turns out that sulfates can be too effective at washing away oil, which can leave hair or skin feeling a little parched. And if your skin or scalp is particularly sensitive, sulfates can cause irritations like redness or itchiness too as discussed earlier.
Also, it causes varying levels of skin and eye irritation, which (for the people who experience it) gets worse the longer the product is in contact with the skin. "Sulfates can cause dryness and roughness on the skin. While with some people, it may also lead to acne problem (depending upon the skin-type) when their skin is in frequent contact with sodium lauryl sulfate," explains a Dermatologist. Sulfates can still be tolerated on body skin but there is no chance that they will do well on the face skin, specifically with the people having extremely sensitive skin.
Yet another setback is that sulfates in toothpaste could also turn out to be bad. They can be blamed for some symptoms inside your mouth as well. Sodium lauryl sulfate is prone to cause or irritate existing allergies, canker sores, and bad breath. Some professionals also claim that sulfate can be harmful to the mucosa [gums and cheeks] of the mouth.
So now you know the reason behind the great controversy against sulfates. This is the reason for its bad reputation.
It is no doubt that Sulfates are effective and safe when used as directed in wash-off cosmetics like shampoo and soap. But they do tend to make your skin and hair rough and dry. It depends on their concentration and other hydrating ingredients in a particular product and causes harm according to that.
But if the concentration of sulfates in the product is maintained, they are safe to use. For instance, some products are formulated with the smallest percentage of sulfates possible while still providing a rich lather and a clean feeling on the skin and hair. In such products, naturally cleansing ingredients like salt, fresh fruit juices and essential oils are added which are considerably less harmful.
Similarly, to prevent dryness over hair and skin, ingredients like olive oil, kinds of butter and bananas can be included in sulfate products.
To conclude, if you're happily using products containing sulfates, there is no need to stop using them. But if you are really experiencing skin or scalp irritation, or have especially dry or damaged hair, you can stop using them and look for better options. Just one advise at the end, you should only make decisions considering your skin/hair type and after proper consultation with your dermatologist.