Sulphate-free is a term we hear quite often, but what does it really mean? Should we be avoiding sulphates in our haircare in the hopes of achieving Blake Lively levels of shine or does it just sound a lot more sinister than it really is? Quite simply, sulphates in our shampoo are chemical detergents (Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, SLS) that clean and clarify our locks from root to end, in the same way they’d work in washing up liquid, dish soap and more.
To sort out some of the confusion on this subject, we consulted our most reliable experts who weigh in on the debate below.
Mark Doherty, owner of Sit Still Salon with over 20 years experience explains that at the moment, sulphates are getting a lot of flack when it comes to our hair, in the same way ammonia does, because they are nasty sounding ‘chemicals’. In an age where more and more people try to adopt an ‘all natural’ lifestyle, the word ‘chemical’ has earned itself rather negative connotations. However this fear of the term ‘chemical’ is largely irrational, given that everything we consider to be ‘natural’ involves ‘chemical’ processes. Water is a chemical, lest we forget. “I don’t think they are as bad as people make out. In my opinion everyone’s hair has to be purified properly at least once a week. To properly do this you need a clarifying shampoo that will take any build-up on the hair away and allow the hair to breathe. Sulphates are absolutely not harmful to the hair because all they do is help clean the outer surface of it. In fact, heat does a lot more damage than sulphates.”
So while you might prefer to go SLS-free for the most part, purely because you don’t fancy the idea of washing your hair with the same ingredients that wash your dishes, a once or twice-weekly wash with your everyday supermarket shampoo is no harm at all and probably necessary for a thorough clean; it’s a personal choice. What’s more, if it’s damage that you’re mostly concerned about, either ease off the heated hair tools or invest in a decent protective spray.
What we found interesting in our research on this subject is that while they contain a very high concentration of SLS (up to 90%), shampoo bars are highly recommended for those experiencing a sensitive scalp, which again rubbishes the theory that all sulphates are your hair’s worst enemy. A single shampoo bar is the equivalent to three 200ml bottles of liquid shampoo and the risk of irritation is very low because only the foam is applied to the hair and scalp. Mark Constantine, co-founder of Lush explains how they work.:“This is quite a dramatic difference. When you use a liquid shampoo you apply the neat material to your scalp, but you don’t get that with a shampoo bar — you only get the foam that comes off the material, which means that even people with the most sensitive scalps can use it.”
The only time sulphate-free shampoo is a must, is when you’re wearing extensions as the detergent will serve only to weaken the extensions. Again, this is not a threat to your hair, but the sulphates will soften and weaken the keratin bonds, meaning you’ll get less bang for your buck over time. And as you’re probably already aware, a full head of top notch extensions are the opposite of cheap.
So, will you stick with your standard SLS shampoo or would you prefer to opt for a low sulphate or sulphate-free alternative? For those (including this writer) who view their hair without extensions as they do their face without eyebrows, in the gallery above you’ll find some of our favourite extensions-friendly, low-sulphate and sulphate free shampoos.
Happy hair day.