There is a lot of controversy surrounding the sulfate debate and in my “Basic training” post I stated to steer clear of shampoo containing sulfate. However, after doing some research and talking to some experts, I had to dig deeper and figure out where I stood. Is it really bad for your hair? If so, why and how bad is it? What about these sulfate-free shampoos on the market? Can they give me the same clean feel that my previous shampoo once gave me? And the list goes on. I was also quite curious about the truth about sulfates and shampoo. I researched, asked the experts and did some background history on these killer sulfates and found enough information for any naturally curly diva to make a sound decision. To sulfate or not to sulfate; that is the question. And this, my natural divas, is how I came to my answer.
What are sulfates?
Sulfates have a few different names such as sodium lauryl sulfates, ammonium laureth sulfates, and sodium laureth sulfates. Sulfates are found in many cleaning products, detergents and shampoos to create a soapy like foam. Sulfates basically strip hair of everything. Everything includes dirt, pollution and natural oils that are essential for dry or curly hair (i.e. us natural chicks). Sodium laureth sulfate is derived from coconut oils. SLS is as natural as sulfates come and are supposed to be a little easier on hair.
So where did sulfate and shampoo combination start?
There doesn’t seem as if there was a time where shampoo existed without sulfates or some type of surfactants. In the beginning, shampoo was made of the same components as bathing soap. It didn’t contain any conditioning products. Mass produced store bought shampoo was introduced around the beginning of the 20th century. Shampoos with added synthetics were introduced in the 1930’s. As shampoo grew to be more popular, people began to shampoo their hair more often. The oil sebum is produced in the scalp which causes hair to have a greasy feel or look. African Americans and other curly girls have kinky hair and dryer scalps causing less sebum to be extracted during a certain period. As the shampoo with synthetics grew, more sulfates were added and shampoo became more commercialized. With 70 babes and celebs posing for shampoo commercials and adds, us average folks began to wash our hair daily. And our sulfate rich shampoo addiction was born.
How many of the shampoos on the market have sulfate and what are the real effects?
Over 90% of shampoos on the market today contain some form of sulfate. The effects of sulfate filled shampoo include dry scalp, hair loss, clogged pores, and dry hair.
How do I know if my hair product contains sulfate?
This is simple. Read the ingredients on the back of the bottle. If any type of sulfate is one of the first ingredients on the list, it contains a considerable amount of sulfate. If sulfate appears lower down on the list or not at all, the hair product either contains a low amount of sulfate or none at all.
Are there any sulfate alternatives out there?
Of course there are. You can try an organic sulfate free shampoo like these http://killerstrands.blogspot.com/2008/01/sulfate-free-shampoo-list.html. Some curly girls also combine water and baking soda to remove dirt and build up without using a shampoo. Other natural divas continue their addiction to sulfate shampoo, however, they do use shampoo that claims lower sulfate and shampoos only containing Sodium laureth sulfate because it is derived from coconuts and is considered not as bad for your hair.
What do I think?
There is a lot of information as well as misinformation out there on how to take care of natural or curly hair. I currently have a TWA (teeny weeny afro) and I can get away with not having to shampoo my hair at all. I don’t tend to have to much heavy build up on my scalp. I simply co-wash (washing hair with conditioner) with a light conditioner daily and deep condition weekly. For me, my hair responds well. I don’t have dryness and my hair stays clean. However, I did purchase a new bottle of mostly natural deep conditioner that contains sulfate. The conditioner contains sodium lauryl sulfate. However, it is a conditioner therefore it probably contains a very small amount of the sulfate. All in all, I think that the sulfate debate will go on forever and it is a case by case preference. I’m still learning about my hair as it grows and I preferably have found that sulfate free hasn’t helped or harmed me. It doesn’t seem to make my scalp or hair feel any different or more hydrated. So, for me, I think I am willing to branch out and try a low sulfate conditioner. Every head of curly natural hair is different. With that said I suggest you research and weigh the pros and cons and find what works best for you.