In recent years, a "Sulfate-Free" label has become increasingly common on the label of every new shampoo and conditioner. The term has become associated with being "healthier" and "organic" even when that is not the case. Sodium Laurel Sulfate is a harsh surfactant, found in household cleaning products and even in tooth paste. Sodium Laurel Sulfate is also a suspected carcinogen which is why consumers seek alternatives. However, not all companies making sulfate-free shampoos are truly free of sulfate compounds or derivatives.
The Chemistry of Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Chemistry is a defined science. When you change one element of a formula or ingredient, you change the composition, which in turn, changes the ingredient. For example, Sodium Laurel Sulfate becomes Sodium Laurel Sulfonate, simply by changing an O to an X in the ingredient design. Voila! The product is now sulfate free. Or so they claim...
Marketers love these slight variations that allow them to glamorize a healthier point of difference in their products, giving the consumer the impression that the product is safer, healthier, and cleaner. We call this “word smithing, or green- washing”. In reality, these new surfactants, although gentler, are sulfate compounds.
What most consumers don’t know is that these companies are choosing chemicals that are often stronger and harsher than sulfate. These substitutes include Cocamide DEA, Cocamide MEA, • PEG, Propylene Glycol, Cocamidopropyl Betaine or Hydroxysultaine.
How Do I Find Sulfate-Free Products?
In common terms, these new generation of surfactants acts as a cousin to their original counter parts. The good news is that truly sulfate-free hair products are out there! True Sulfate Free Shampoos are derived from gentler, plant-extracts and amino acid, seed oils, such as palm or coconut oil, and possess numerous advantages over their chemically manufactured counterparts.
Look for products that contain many of the following ingredients:
- Gulcosides – 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. Because it is naturally derived, Lauryl Glucosides facilitate effective cleansing with a reduced potential for irritation.
- 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, these 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 super gentle nature.
Stay away from products that claim to be sulfate-free but contain the following ingredients:
- Cocamide DEA
- Cocamide MEA
- Propylene Glycol
- Cocamidopropyl Betaine
Editor Note: Check out our review of truly toxin-free haircare from Innersense Organic Beauty!