Growing up, one thing I remember about my mum is that she always had an extensive collection of haircare products – a haircare junkie, self-proclaimed. Brands like Aveda, Bumble & Bumble and Pureology had a special place amongst her most-loved products. I used to call these products the “smell-good stuff” mostly because when I was younger, that’s all I really thought that they did – they made your hair smell good. What I didn’t realize, was just how much these products could actually do for your hair or how, by simply switching a few ingredients in the products, you could have an extremely different outcome.
As of late, there has been a movement to switch to sulfate-free haircare products. This isn’t by any means a recent movement – it’s been ongoing for at least a few years. However, it’s really picked up traction in recent years. It’s nice to see just how much effort people are starting to put into knowing what exactly is going into their personal care products. Although this sulfate-free movement is picking up momentum, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all products containing sulfates are bad. In fact, sulfates are in many of the products that you and I use on a daily basis – including but not limited to toothpaste, body wash, hand soap, shampoo, conditioner and even bubble bath. Hands up for those that still enjoy a bath now and again? After looking into the ingredients list of my current haircare routine products, I became curious as to whether using a sulfate-free product would make of a difference. But, being me, I wanted to do my research first.
FIRSTLY, WHAT ARE SULFATES?
With all this chat about sulfates and sulfate-free products, what I haven’t yet touched on is what exactly a sulfate is. Sulfates are the foaming agents in your personal care products that you would associate with the rich lather and super-clean feeling. In haircare, they aid in cleansing the hair and the scalp by attracting both oil and water particles. This means that hair product junkies (myself included) are in luck, because sulfates in shampoos allow for the deep clean that removes all of the product buildup, as well as any excess oils or grime from the day. Sulfates are great cleansers – this is why you’ll see them in most of your personal care products. However, just because they’re terrific cleansers, does not mean that they’re the best option for everyone. Hence we have the sulfate-free haircare and personal care movement.
WHY USE SULFATE-FREE HAIRCARE?
There are several reasons that people are turning more toward sulfate-free haircare. Some of the primary reasons being that sulfates can be too good at their job as well as detracting from the life of colour-treated hair. However, for those of us that don’t have colour-treated hair, what reasons would there be to switch?
1. Sulfates can strip away the natural oils from your hair and scalp
Sounds scary, right? It’s not as bad as it sounds though, I promise. Whilst sulfates work fantastically for some (I’m looking at you, hair product junkies and thick-haired gals), for those with more fine hair or hair prone to frizzing, sulfates may not be your best choice. Natural oils are necessary to keep hair strong and nourished, and if you’re using a product with sulfates, it can take away too much of these oils making your hair more prone to excessive dryness and unhealthy-looking hair. Doesn’t sound so fabulous, right? This is where it leads to the idea that sulfates can be a bit too good at their job.
2. Sulfates can strip away the colour from colour-treated hair
If you’ve ever dyed your hair before, whether temporary or permanent, I’m sure you’ve heard your stylist tell you just how many washes you’ve got until your colour will start to fade or look like it needs a freshen up. As mentioned previously, sulfates are really good at their job – meaning they can strip away grime, hair products, natural oils and you guessed it, hair dye. This is why if you ever have used a colour-conserving product before, it will most likely be sulfate-free. This sulfate-free haircare formula ensures that your colour will have the longest life possible, which is not only a confidence boost but friendly to your wallet as well.
3. Sulfates can cause irritation along your scalp and hairline
Just like skincare products can irritate your skin and cause reactions, your haircare products can too. Sulfates have the potential to be too harsh for sensitive skin, which can then cause systems of redness along your hairline, irritation, itching or flaking of the scalp (more commonly known as dandruff). So here’s the thing – sulfate-free haircare is like the ‘gentle’ or ‘sensitive-skin’ formulas of the skincare world. If your current haircare routine is causing excessive dryness, perhaps in the winter, it may not be a bad idea to switch it up to a sulfate-free formula. It may help with the dryness and may become a new staple in your haircare routine.
4. Sulfates can dry out hair and cause irritation, but on top of this, can also make hair more prone to frizziness
Ah, the dreaded frizz. Something I am all too familiar with and not keen on. I’ve coined my hair to be the ‘natural poodle’ if I even attempt to dry my hair with a hairdryer or dare to brush it once it’s dry. The reason that hair frizzes is the lack of natural oils and moisture. Leading back to sulfates being too good at their job, this natural moisture can be stripped away – leaving hair more prone to the frizz that many of us are used to. Sulfate-free haircare products actually boost the moisture in your hair throughout the day, as it doesn’t strip all natural oils away from the scalp when you wash your hair. If your hair is prone to frizz, sulfate-free products may be just what your hair is needing.
5. The dreaded words: split ends and breakage
Scary, I know. These are two things that women and men alike have been trying to prevent for years. I remember back in high-school, there was a girl so worried about split ends that she’d carry a small pair of scissors with her and any spare time she had would go to trimming the ends of her hair to prevent them. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been that extreme in looking after my hair, but because mine is quite long, the ends are prone to splitting. Whilst regular hair appointments can help solve this issue, investing in haircare products that help in deterring ends from splitting is always a good idea too. Sulfate-free haircare may be the way to go. It’s gentler on the hair and doesn’t strip away as much natural oil, giving your hair the nourishment it needs and making it stronger. Stronger hair = fewer split ends and breakage. So, whilst no one really likes the way split-ends look or feel, this is definitely the kicker – both split ends and breakage can lead to a loss of hair volume and shine, two things that many of us strive for.
NOT ALL SULFATES ARE BAD
With all the reasons as to why sulfate-free haircare may be a better option – I hope I haven’t scared you into cleaning out your showers and tossing out everything that contains a sulfate. That wasn’t my intention at all. Despite sulfates having the potential to be damaging, they aren’t all bad. They are fantastic cleansing agents, which is why they’re in so many products that you use daily. Research done on sulfate-free haircare even recommends that you should use a product with sulfates in it at least once per month to give your hair a thorough cleaning.
Why? This recommendation is in place because sulfate-free products can actually limit new hair growth, as they can plug up hair follicles if you use a large number of hair products alongside your sulfate-free haircare routine. Sulfates are what gives your haircare products that luxurious lather that we are all so accustomed to. I know I’ve always found it quite satisfying to have a powdered wig’s worth of white foam on top of my head after washing my hair. Just me?
Recently, my interest has been piqued in sulfate-free haircare. I’m currently in the works of trying out some new products from a bespoke haircare company called Formulate. I’m hosting a giveaway that you can enter here, if you’d like, for your own custom haircare set. There will be a review of their products up shortly to let you all know how I’m getting on with them. Would you ever consider using sulfate-free haircare? Do you use it already? How are you faring – I’d love to know more about your experiences in the comments!
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