Take a look at the ingredient list of your shampoo, body wash, soap, facial cleanser or even toothpaste, and chances are, you’ll find sulfate—in the form of sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate—high on the list.
What is sulfate exactly? In a nutshell, sulfates are great cleansers that cut through oil and dirt. They’re commonly found in hair and skin cleansing products because they have the ability to attract water and oil. Due to this quality, they can efficiently lift dirt and oil from the body and rinse down the drain when mixed with water. Oh, and they’re also responsible for that lovely foam you associate with feeling so fresh, so clean.
Since sulfates are safe, efficient and effective, you may find the sulfate-free movement in haircare products confusing. Well, the issue seems to boil down to one thing: shampoos containing sulfate can be a bit too good at doing their job. While theses shampoos wash away dirt and grime, they may also wash away important stuff our scalp creates and needs, leading to a loss of moisture. Thus, sulfate-free products are considered milder, less drying and less frothy alternatives to their sulfate-containing counterparts
So is sulfate or sulfate-free right for your hair type? To help you determine if your hair could benefit from sulfate-free shampoo, ask yourself these five questions:
1. Is your hair curly and frizz-prone?
If you answered yes, sulfate-free is likely the way to go.
If you introduce sulfate shampoo into the curly-picture, you may be making the situation worse, since sulfate lifts the hair cuticle, making it more likely to frizz. In this scenario, a shampoo without sulfate is best since it won’t strip hair of as much moisture as a regular shampoo would.
If you have hair that feels dry and rough, as opposed to smooth and soft, when you run your fingers down the length of the hair, then you probably have coarse hair. This type of hair can also benefit from shampoo without sulfate since a no sulfate shampoo won’t rid your hair of all its moisture. The natural oils on your head can travel down your hair to provide hydration.
Another alternative to using a shampooing without sulfate is co-washing, a technique where you use a conditioner with a shampoo to cleanse your hair.
On the other end of the spectrum, if your hair is fragile or damaged, a sulfate free shampoo will be gentle enough to not make the situation worse, so whatever moisture you have left on your hair, you get to keep. To strengthen hair after you shampoo, consider Redken Extreme Strength Builder Plus Fortifying Mask, which works to repair hair by bringing protein to hair’s core.
5. Can you get away with not washing your hair every day?
You may be able to skip daily shampoos because your hair doesn’t make a lot of natural oil; thus, you can get by with a milder shampoo. You may want to use Genius Wash Cleansing Conditioner alongside your sulfate-free shampoo as it will give you the extra conditioning you may need to make up for the loss of oil.
If you answered “no” to many of these questions and a regular sulfate-containing shampoo is best for, pick your shampoo and conditioner based on your biggest hair concern.
For instance, if you can’t wrap your head around the idea of skipping shampoo day because your roots get greasy way too fast, you may have a problem with oil. While those of us with oily hair can use a no sulfate shampoo, you might find that a product with sulfate does a better job at thoroughly cleansing and de-greasing your hair.