Posted by All-Nutrient Professional on May 17, 2017

Many haircare companies have jumped on the “sulfate-free” bandwagon, implying that their products are better and less damaging, but how much do you really know about it?


Being "sulfate-free" is a great marketing campaign, but it fails to provide enough information to explain the benefits. Consumers assume they are purchasing a much better product, but sadly, good marketing does not mean good manufacturing. So, what is the real “sulfate” story?


What Are Sulfates?

Sulfates (whether ammonium laureth or sodium lauryl) have been the cleansing agent in haircare products for many years. They are responsible for removing dirt, oils, and product build-up, however, it is not a gentle process. Sulfates strip the hair of necessary oils that keep the hair smooth, shiny, and further, the scalp becomes deprived of its natural lubricants.


How Can "Sulfate-Free" Be Bad?

If a product does not use sulfates, the question lies: What does it use instead? Product lines that label their products “sulfate-free” still have to substitute sulfates for another cleansing agent. What most consumers don’t know is that many companies choose chemicals that are often stronger and harsher than sulfates. Alternatives include Cocamide DEA or MEA, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, or Hydroxysultaine. They are not any less fading to color-treated hair, despite “sulfate-free” products promising less stripping of color from the hair. These substitutes, often produced from petroleum, are also indirectly linked to serious health risks. 

California listed Cocamide DEA or MEA as a carcinogen in June 2012 based on a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, while the Environmental Working Group gave the chemical a hazard score of seven out of ten, meaning high hazard. 


Safe Alternatives

Don’t despair just yet though! There are gentle, plant-derived and amino acid based surfactants available to replace sulfates. These alternatives are derived from various seed oils, such as palm or coconut, and possess numerous advantages over their chemically manufactured counterparts, including: low toxicity, biodegradability, and synthesis from renewable raw materials. You just need to know what to look for on the label! The following are some safe and natural alternatives -

  • Glucosides - Ecocert approved, they are obtained from renewable, plant-derived raw materials, such as vegetable oils and starch. Lauryl Glucoside, a surfactant made from coconut oil and sugar is one of the gentlest cleaners on the market. Be it is naturally derived, Lauryl Glucosides facilitate effective cleansing with a reduced potential for irritation, which makes it a favorite!
  • Taurates and Fatty Acid Isethionates - Derived from the coconut fatty acid, they have an excellent cleansing ability and hair conditioning effect, all while being considered exceptionally mild for the hair, skin, and eyes.
  • Glutamates - Amino Acid based surfactants, theses are often found in certified organic products. Hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic, Glutamates are also known for being one of the mildest active agents on the market.
  • Amino Acid Sulfosuccinates - Known for their mild and anti-irritant properties, these surfactants are especially suitable for products made for delicate skin and baby shampoos due to their gentle nature.


All in all, clever marketing schemes do not educate consumers; they just confuse them. Just know, "sulfate-free" does not necessarily mean the product is better; it just means that the product does not contain sulfates. Check the ingredient to find out for sure if the product is better. The proof is on the label.


Topics: The Truth Behind