What Are Sulfates: Your Burning Questions Answered

Julia Sachs

Tags sulfates, Tips


Beauty and fashion magazines have warned you for years: avoid sulfates at all costs. But what are sulfates, exactly, and why are they so bad for you? Or are they bad for you at all? We get a lot of questions about what sulfates are and why people are told to avoid them so we thought we would answer those questions in a blog post. Here is the truth about sulfates, plus some of our favorite products related to that advice.

What Are Sulfates

Sulfates are a chemical classified as a detergent or surfectant and they are found in beauty products like shampoo, soaps, and body washes because they have the ability to create the luxurious lather effect that people love in soaps. Beyond their ability to create a lather effect, sulfates help remove dirt and oil from your body and hair, making them great additives to soaps.

The most common sulfates you will find in beauty products are listed on ingredient labels as sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. While the ingredients have been around for decades, they have more recently been touted as bad by natural products that use “sulfate-free” on their label to encourage lovers of natural products to buy. The truth, though, is that sulfates have been proven not to pose any significant health risk. You are unlikely to suffer any negative consequences to your health after using skin care products that have sulfates in them, but certain ingestible products (like toothpaste) have been found to show negative side effects in the mouth.

When To Avoid Sulfates

That being said, there is a reason to avoid the ingredients if you suffer from dry skin or have color treated hair. Though sulfates do a good job of creating a luxurious, soapy lather and cleaning your skin, they also work a bit too well at stripping it of its natural oils. This can dry your skin out further if you already have dry skin. In the same way, the chemical compounds that remove the dirt and oil from your skin also act to strip your hair of any color treatments it has been put through.

If you color your hair—particularly with vibrant hues like pinks or blues—it can expedite how quickly the color fades from your hair. The best thing you can do with color treated hair is to wash it as little as possible—three times per week at max. When you do wash your hair, avoid using shampoo with sulfates in it to maintain your color. Most color treatment shampoos will be sulfate-free already, but it is a good idea to double check before you buy.

Popular Products

Matrix Sulfate-Free Shampoo
is one of our most popular sulfate-free shampoos for color treated hair because it was made with color treatment in mind.
The texture is milky so the product still feels luxurious without containing sulfates. Another one of our popular sulfate-free products is from Sun Bum, a company that also makes great mineral sunscreens that are reef safe. Sun Bum products focus on natural ingredients that are environment safe, so if it is important for you to use products that can go safely back into the earth then we suggest this shampoo. 

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