What are sulfates?
Sulfates are aggressive detergents made of sulfur-containing mineral salts. The most common are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES).
How do sulfates work?
Sulfates are surfactants – molecules that can attract both oil and water: One end of the molecule clings to the oily dirt, while the other clings to water. Translation? They can lift the grease and grime off of our skin and hair, dissolve (emulsify) it into solution and then rinse everything down the drain.
What effects do sulfates have on hair?
- Sulfates wash away the natural anti-microbial peptides, proteins, and water-proofing oils our biomes create. Without these health-preserving substances, our hair and scalp are stripped of vital moisture, exposed to harmful microbes, allergens and environmental pollution and vulnerable to damage, infection and illness.
- Sulfates lift the cuticle of the hair. The outermost layer of the hair shaft is a series of hard-shelled, overlapping hair cells called the cuticle. They lay flat, like shingles on a roof. Owing to the reduced surface tension, sulfates work their way under the cuticle, making it lift and buckle. This exposes the cortex of the hair to moisture, which causes frizz, or to arid air that can cause dryness. The compromised cuticle and cortex weakens the entire hair strand, making it dull and prone to damage, breakage and split ends.
- Sulfates make your hair take longer to dry. When the cuticle is lifted, more moisture is absorbed into the cortex, which then takes up to twice as long to dry. If you are using a hair dryer, that’s twice as much heat exposure on an already-compromised hair strand.
- Sulfates leave an anionic charge. Sulfates have a negative electric charge – and that charge remains on your hair and scalp when you rinse the shampoo away. This leaves a dulling residue and can cause static and flyaways. To neutralize this film, the hair must then be coated with a synthetic, silicone-based conditioner (more chemicals), which masks the damage with an artificial shine.
- Sulfates cause scalp irritation. Since sulfates strip the natural lipids off the scalp, its natural water barrier is broken. Chemicals from products can then permeate the top layers of skin, causing irritation and inflammation. Meanwhile, the underlying layers of skin are exposed to pathogens (disease-causing bacteria) that otherwise wouldn’t be able to get there.
- Sulfates cause follicle stress. Each hair follicle is covered by something called a “lipid cap.” Sulfates remove this protective cap, exposing the good microbiota that live within to the atmosphere. Since they are anaerobic, these good bacteria die, and bad bacteria have direct access to a now undefended follicle.