Are you interested in trying sulfate-free shampoo but don’t know where to start? Are you exploring the benefits of sulfate-free shampoo before ditching your current shampoo? Do you want to know whether it is worth taking the plunge? Once I was also in your place, not sure which product to use and not satisfied with the products I was using. Now that I have spent some time exploring and using sulfate-free shampoo, I am here to guide you to get started on this journey.
Let me start with little of my story.
My Hair journey
Till half a decade back I used to buy normal over the counter shampoo. I used to get excited on seeing a flashy advertisements on TV. Even though I didn’t use much heat or styling product on my hair, I still used to suffer from significant hair fall and difficult to manage hair.
I never linked my hair problems with the products I was using. The deciding point came when a particular winter every combing session resulted in losing 100 strands. My naturally silky hair had become dry and were breaking way too easy to ignore any more. At this point, I knew I had to do something to tackle this beast.
During my research, I found abnormal hair fall could be because of medical condition or using wrong/unsuitable hair products. First thing I did was to get a medical checkup done to expose any underlying medical conditions. After getting that out of the way, I started tackling my hair products. This brought me to analyze the ingredients of my shampoo and conditioner and their impact on my hair and overall well being.
If you walk down the hair care aisle in any supermarket, you will see numerous options for shampoo. It seems every day a new brand is entering this segment.
How to decide the right product among so many options? The answer lies in the back of the bottle. Check the ingredients.
Don’t fall for marketing gimmick, always see the ingredients of a product !
I learned the hard way that real criteria to decide a product was to check the back and not front of the bottle. Don’t get distracted by the flashy front cover instead see the ingredients mentioned on the other side. Also, check the place at which the proclaimed active ingredients are coming in the ingredients’ list. The major bulk of the product comes from the first line of ingredients. A good component mentioned in the 4th or 5th line indicates only minimal amount has been used and won’t have a prominent effect in the final product.
Ingredients in Details
If you see the ingredients list of any shampoo, the top two lines typically look like:
Water (Aqua), Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Glycol Distearate
For this article, I will only focus on sulfates generally used in shampoo.
Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate
The two most common surfactants used in shampoo are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate.
They are most commonly used because they are cheap to produce and easy to use. These are strong surfactants and are commonly used in detergents as well. When you use a product with any of these surfactants, you are cleaning your hair with very strong detergent. This results in squeaky clean hair where along with dirt your hair’s natural oil is also cleaned.
Your hair’s natural oils are nature’s conditioner which is enough to maintain healthy hair. When these oils are stripped, natural balance of scalp and eventually hair is disturbed.
Scenario 1- scalp gets the message that more oil needs to be generated to compensate for the loss. Scalp works in overdrive mode to produce more oils and thereby causing oily hair.
Scenario 2- Now imagine, even though your scalp’s oils are stripped but where your scalp is unable to produce enough oil? Result -dry, brittle hair which tangles and break easily.
One way to break this cycle and calm your scalp is to ensure you are not stripping oil from the scalp. Use gentle products that remove dirt, oils but does not give you squeaky hair by stripping natural oils.
After sulfates, silicones are a commonly used ingredient in most of the shampoos? Why are they used? To make hair look healthy.
Silicones don’t add any nutrient to hair, they just make a coating on hair to make it appear healthy and shiny. Healthy hair is one where hair cuticles are laid flat and make it easier to comb. The silicone coating prevents moisture or any nutrient to reach the hair. In the long run, this dries out the hair and makes it brittle. Typically they have the names ending with -cone or –conol or-xane.
How to get rid of silicones?
So what to do if you want to get rid of this silicone coating? Strong surfactants (read SLS/SLES) are capable of removing this silicone coating.
See the vicious cycle?
Step 1. Strong surfactants = dry hair
Silicones = Make hair appear healthy by coating them
Remove silicone build up= use strong surfactants
Along with their impact on our hair, most of these ingredients are also considered toxic to the environment, meaning they impact our water bodies and indirectly animals
Alternatives-benefits of sulfate-free shampoo
So want to take a break from this cycle and try some alternatives?
You can either use completely sulfate-free shampoo or go for products with milder variant of surfactants. Both have their own pros and cons. With completely sulfate-free shampoo, you won’t get lather, it is difficult to spread the product on hair and generally cause tangles during wash.
With milder surfactant shampoo, you will get some lather, easy to spread and lesser tangles with the disadvantage of still using some surfactants.
I would say I have tried quite a lot of variety of hair wash methods including completely natural, sulfate-free shampoo, hair wash powder, clays, and shampoo bar. I realized I love my foam(vain, I know!) and like the products which spread easily without causing any major tangles.
Benefits of sulfate-free shampoo in a nutshell
More manageable hair
Better scalp oil balance
Better moisturized hair
Lesser time needed to style hair
Is it worth doing the change?
If it works for your hair, then there is nothing inherently wrong in using a sulfate or silicone laded shampoo. After all, everyone is unique and their hair needs are different. If you suffer from hair breakage, dry brittle, frizzy hair, then maybe your hair needs something more gentle. Give non-sulfate shampoo a shot and see how it works for you. Use them for at least 2 months and see whether you get benefits of sulfate-free shampoo or not.
Where to start?
Ok, so now you want to switch to sulfate-free shampoo but not sure which product to try first? No worries, I have got you covered. You can check my list of sulfate-free shampoos available in India to start using gentler shampoo.
Do you use sulfate or sulfate-free shampoos? Let me know in comments below.