Sulfates are a commonly used ingredient in many hair care products, but they have become a topic of debate in the beauty world. Some people swear by them, while others avoid them at all costs. But what exactly are sulfates and why are they so controversial? Is sulfate free shampoo for everyone? and what are the alternatives?

The Good

Sulfates are powerful surfactants that help to create a rich lather, removing dirt and oil from hair. This makes them an effective cleaning agent for people with oily or greasy hair. They are also inexpensive, which is why they are used in many budget-friendly hair care products.

The Bad

However, sulfates can be harsh on the hair and scalp, stripping them of natural oils and leaving hair feeling dry and brittle. They can also cause irritation, itching, and redness, especially in people with sensitive skin or scalp conditions. Additionally, sulfates are known to fade hair color, making them a less desirable option for those with dyed hair.

The Ugly

Another issue with sulfates is that they are not environmentally friendly. They can pollute water and harm aquatic life, which is why many countries have banned them. Additionally, sulfates are a common allergen, causing skin reactions in some people.

The most commonly used sulfates in hair care products are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). It’s important to note that not all sulfates are created equal. Some, like SLS, are known to be harsher than others, like SLES. Additionally, the concentration of sulfates in a product can also affect its effectiveness and potential side effects.

shampoo foaming up

sulfates have been widely used in hair care products for decades, but their reputation has come under scrutiny in recent years due to concerns about their potential impact on health and the environment. As a result, many people have turned to sulfate-free hair care products, which are believed to be gentler and less damaging to the hair and scalp.

Sulfates aren’t all bad and SLES is one of the milder ones

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) is a commonly used sulfate, and it has several advantages compared to other sulfates, such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Some of the benefits of using SLES in hair care include:

  1. Milder Cleansing Action: SLES is considered to be milder than SLS, making it a good choice for people with sensitive scalps or damaged hair. It is less likely to strip the hair of natural oils, reducing the risk of dryness and brittleness.
  2. Lather and Foam: SLES is still an effective foaming agent, producing a rich lather that helps to clean the hair and scalp.
  3. Inexpensive: SLES is relatively inexpensive compared to other ingredients, making it a cost-effective option for many hair care products.
  4. Versatility: SLES can be combined with other ingredients to create a wide range of hair care products, from shampoos to conditioners.

SLES can be a useful ingredient in hair care, providing a milder cleansing action and good lather, while still being affordable and versatile. However, it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone may tolerate SLES well, and it can still have some negative effects, such as causing dryness and irritation in some people.

So what are the alternatives?


This is a type of surfactant derived from coconut oil, it provides a mild cleansing action, while also conditioning the hair and scalp.

Amphoteric Surfactants:

These are a type of gentle surfactants that are less likely to cause dryness or irritation, they work by balancing the pH level of the hair and scalp, leaving hair feeling soft and smooth.

Decyl Glucoside:

This is a plant-based surfactant that is derived from corn and is gentle enough for use on sensitive scalps.

Castor Oil:

Castor oil is a natural oil that is often used as a substitute for sulfates in hair care products, it provides gentle cleansing and conditioning, while also promoting healthy hair growth.

Aloe Vera:

Aloe vera is a natural ingredient that is commonly used in sulfate-free hair care products, it helps to soothe the scalp and hydrate the hair, reducing the risk of dryness and brittleness

These alternative ingredients can provide gentle cleansing, while also nourishing the hair and scalp, making them a good choice for people who want to avoid sulfates in their hair care routine. However, it’s important to remember that everyone’s hair is unique and what works for one person may not work for another, so it’s always best to choose a product that suits your individual hair type and needs.

With an abundance of shampoo and conditioner options available, it’s easy to find a product that suits your hair type and personal preferences. Whether you’re looking for sulfate free shampoo, cruelty-free or vegan options, there’s something for everyone. If you’re unsure about which products are best for your hair, consult with your stylist for expert recommendations and information about the products available.