Have you guys noticed the frequent use of the term “Sulfates” lately? Women in those pretentious parties insisting products they use are absolutely free of Sulfates…. Boutique brands claiming to be a healthier option because “Sulfate Free” is printed in bold type on their label….Hair stylist at the salon claiming that my hair is thinning because of Sulfates in the shampoo I am using and the one that they recommend will (miraculously) make the situation better!
So after a few such instances I had, had enough and I was compelled to research and understand if I am truly doomed because my shampoo has Sulfates! Here is a gist of what I have come to understand so far.
Q: What are Sulfates?
A: Sulfates are used in cosmetics, skincare & hair care products mainly as cleansing agents; they include Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS), and Sodium Laureth Sulfate(SLES). SLS and ALS are used primarily in shampoos, shower gels, hair color, makeup, deodorants, perfumes and shaving creams.
These are widely used surfactants. Surfactants essentially allow oil and water to mix. The surfactant chemistry can trap the oil based dirt from the hair, allowing it to be rinsed. But one should remember the foam is not responsible for removing dirt, but it allows the hands to spread the shampoo through the hair which aids the mechanical removal of dirt.
Q: So what is the problem?
A: Sulfates are said to be sensitizing, corrosive and can irritate the eyes and lungs, with carcinogenic potential on the side! Along with that, damage to the environment is complimentary!
Q: The lady at the pretentious party was right! Wasn’t she?
A: Not completely! There is no real research to prove all the shortcomings mentioned above. The points when considered in isolation maybe true but when the giant FMCG manufactures and related organizations decide to build fear, for whatever reason; the damage is done.
Q: So are you saying, all the Sulfate bashing was a hoax?
A: It very well could be! Some studies were conducted that reviewed these ingredients and were found to be safe under proper condition of use. (Perhaps the study was funded by the competitor organizations – Conspiracy Theory Alert!).
Moreover the alternates used to replace the sulfates; which are claimed to be naturally derived (Sodium Coco Sulphate – SCS – from Coconut) are in essence just chemicals that are not better and far from Coconut! Basically it is just another way to hide SLS in the formulations and get a reason to label the product “Contains Natural Ingredients” so that you and I can feel better about our purchase. Both Sodium Coco Sulfate and SLS are synthetic detergents and are not natural.
Q: This is confusing, what should one do?
A: Natural products that are friendly to your skin and to the environment, will not have ingredient lists mentioning lauryl sulfate, laureth sulfate, coco sulfate or other such synthetic detergents. So cultivate a habit of reading labels to make an informed choice. At the same time one should keep in mind that not all chemicals are bad and not all natural substances are good.
It might not be a bad time to return to Ayurvedic and natural products like Shikakai, Henna & Coconut Oil that our grand parents and great grandparents relied on! Tell me if you have any solution to this dilemma in the comments.