Are Sulfates really bad for your hair?

Are Sulfates really bad for your hair?

You’ve probably heard that certain additives to haircare products are bad for your hair. Ingredients like sulfates, parabens, and silicones get a pretty bad rap on the social media circuit. It’s gotten to the point where some folks refuse to purchase a product if any of these ingredients are listed. Sulfates in particular have been singled out as a hair care additive pariah.  

Apart from the message that they are “bad for you”, how much do we really know about sulfates? As with most things that polarize opinions, the information may surprise you. Our chemists, along with independent researchers—show that there’s more to the story than just “good or bad”.

All about sulfates 

Sulfates are a chemical compound that is commonly used as a cleaning agent. It is polyatomic meaning that it is made up of a combination of different atoms. In this case, that would be sulfur and oxygen (Fun Fact: the sulfate formula is SO2-4). They occur commonly in household cleaners and personal care products—even toothpaste. The most commonly used sulfates are lauryl sulfate (SLS), ammonia lauryl sulfate and ammonia ether sulfate. Sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES) is another common form found in shampoo. 


How sulfates affect your hair 

The reason sulfates are so widely used for cleaning is because they are really good at it. Derived from the salts of sulfur, sulfates are what cause that luxurious, rich lather that you get from soaps and shampoos. Have you ever heard that water softened with salt allows you to use less soap than hard water? The same chemistry is at work with sulfates.  

That thick lather works wonders for cleaning, which is what makes sulfates a go to additive for products designed to do just that, like shampoo. However, if you have dry or fragile hair, that cleaning power may be too much. Sulfates cleanse away dirt and oil—even the naturally occurring oil that your scalp produces to keep your hair healthy. While this is great for getting rid of problematic build-up, it can be overwhelming to fragile or compromised hair.   

Should I avoid sulfates? 

That depends on your hair. If it’s normal or oily, sulfates may actually work well for your hair and scalp. However, if your hair is dry, damaged, or fragile, you may want to opt for a gentler, sulfate-free shampoo. This is one reason why our milk_shake color maintainer shampoo is sulfate free. Hair that is well-moisturized tends to hold color vibrancy longer. 

Also, if you tend to wash your hair every day, you may want to mix things up a bit. Using sulfates too frequently—no matter what your hair type—can cause important oils and sebum to be stripped away. Once this occurs, not only does your hair become drier and more fragile, but your scalp will also react by upping tits oil and sebum production, causing a greasy-looking scalp 


Recommended hair-washing routine, by hair type 

Dry Hair: milk_shake moisture plus shampoo & conditioner (SLES Free) 

Dry/Fragile Hair: milk_shake integrity nourishing shampoo & conditioner (Sulfate free) 

Color Treated Hair: milk_shake color care color maintainer shampoo & conditioner (Sulfate free) 

Curly Hair: milk_shake curl passion shampoo & conditioner (SLES free) 

Oily scalp: milk_shake normalizing blend shampoo (SLS/SLES Free) 

Daily washing: milk_shake Daily Frequent shampoo & Conditioner (SLES Free) 


Source: Dias, M. F. R. G. (2019). Pros and cons of cleansing conditioners. Skin Appendage Disorders5(3), 131-134.