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Why Are There Sulfates in My Cosmetics?

April 25, 2022 3 min read


There has always been a lot of debate in the world of beauty and cosmetics about the ingredients used in products, which ones are harmful and which ones are helpful. Without the right information, knowing what to avoid and what to stick to can be overwhelming. One such controversial compound is sulfates. Sulfates have been met with a lot of opposition over the last couple of years and most people don’t know for a fact if it’s good or bad for them. We’ve put together this article to discuss what sulfates are, why they are included in fashion products and their potential risks. Do you have to be extra vigilant and make sure there are no sulfates in your products? 

Foamy Product

What Are Sulfates?

Sulfates are mineral salts that can be found all around us, they can be found in water, in the air and in the soil. They can also be synthetically produced. Sulfates found in cosmetic consumer products are the subject of this article. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium lauryl ethyl sulfate (Sodium Laureth Sulfate; SLES) are the major sulfate compounds found in consumer fashion products. 

Where Are SLS and SLES Found?

SLS and SLES are commonly used in bath and personal care products like the ones listed below:

  • Shampoo 
  • Laundry detergent
  • Facewash
  • Bath bombs
  • Liquid soap
  • Handwash

Why Are They Used in Shampoos and Soaps?

When you use a shampoo or soap and it lathers and foams, that’s probably sulfates doing their magic. Sulfates make shampoos, soaps, and toothpaste lather and foam. Sulfates also attract oil and water because they are surfactants. The combination of these two features makes them effective detergents and also effective at washing grime and dirt off the skin and hair. But this is where the concern comes in, they can be too effective and end up stripping the skin and hair of oil, making it dry and patchy. 

The Downsides

The downsides of sulfates are closely linked to their effectiveness. Sulfates can strip the skin and hair of essential and natural oils and make the skin dry and hair brittle. The main concern with sulfates is that they tend to irritate (redness, itching, dryness) in people with sensitive scalps. There are also claims that sulfates can cause cancer, but there is no scientific evidence to back these claims. So the main issue with sulfates is that they tend to be drying agents and can strip the skin and hair of natural oils while doing the job of cleaning off dirt and grime. This means the question you should be asking is, how sensitive is my skin? Are products with sulfates going to negatively affect my skin?

Bath Products

Who Should Avoid Sulfates?

Most people can use shampoos and soaps with sulfates with no serious consequences, but some people should be more careful and watch how they use products with sulfates or ditch them altogether. 

People With Sensitive Skin

Because shampoos containing sulfate can strip natural oils off your hair and scalp, that’s pretty much how they work, it’s important to be more careful if you have sensitive skin. Using products containing sulfates repeatedly can make your skin dry and rough. Sulfates can also irritate the skin and allergic reactions. A good practice to follow is to watch closely how your skin reacts to a product and stop using any product that irritates your skin. 

People With Dry Hair

Again, the drying tendencies of sulphates come into play here. If you have naturally dry hair, you should completely avoid sulfate-containing shampoos and hair products. Sulfates can further dry your hair, increase the friction between your hair and make it super frizzy. 

Should You Avoid Sulfates Or Not?

The decision to avoid sulfates or not is based on your skin and hair makeup. There are no confirmed serious adverse effects from using sulfate products. Knowing yourself and paying attention to how your skin and hair react to products is of more importance here. Sulfates or no sulfates, a good principle is; to stay away from anything that irritates your skin and stick to what works well for you. 

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