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Understanding Skincare Ingredients – Sulfates

Millions, if not billions, of people use shampoos and conditioners on a daily basis and there is no denying that shampoos and conditioners form an integral part of a person’s daily routine. With the millions of people who use shampoos and other cosmetics on a daily basis, it is astounding how so few of them actually read what is on the label and this is not a good thing.

I used to be one of those people that just reached for the shampoo and conditioner from the shelf without bothering to really look at what was in my shampoo and conditioner. I mean, why would I do that since I had been using the same shampoo and conditioner for ages and they did give me smoother hair (more often than not). However, as I got older and wiser (hopefully) I realized that maybe I should be more careful with what I apply on my skin and my hair. This is what prompted me to do research and I must say I was pleasantly surprised with what I found out. It wasn’t all good news, mind you, but I gained knowledge and it was one I put to use and want to share with you.

Sulfates Here, There, and Everywhere

Upon doing research, I realized that some ingredients in my shampoo and conditioner may actually be doing me more harm than good. You see, when you look at the back label of your shampoo and conditioner, you will see all sorts of chemicals but one chemical in particular that you should pay close attention to is something called “sulfates.” Now, why was I so alarmed upon finding out about sulfates?  Have a look at some of my research findings and you will see where I am coming from. It was a real eye-opener and I hope to help you open your eyes as well.

Sulfates are present in your shampoo and conditioner but they are also found in things like your body washes, facial cleansers, shaving foam, and even toothpaste. In cleansers, sulfates are used as surfactants—water plus oil soluble compounds that foam up and make lather when they are introduced to water. This is what makes them effective in breaking down grease.

So naturally, I had to do a little ore digging and I found out that sulfates are actually synthetic ingredients and come from sulfur that is derived from petrolatum and other things. However, it is worth noting that lauryl alcohol makes up the largest part of the sulfate molecule and it comes from plants and coconut oil. To make these sulfates, the plant-based lauryl alcohol is made to react with sulfuric acid. Of course, sulfur is present nature but companies need to use petrolatum-derived sulfates for manufacturing processes.

Kinds of Sulfates

I found out that there were actually many different kinds of sulfates but the two—SLS or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and SLES or Sodium Laureth Sulfatear—are the ones that are mostly used in skincare and hygiene products. Why naturally, I had to dig deeper and I found out that what made these two so popular was that they were extra-foamy so manufacturers only need a little bit of it in the products they make and this means they save money. It is really quite clever but I did wonder what sulfates meant for my skin and my health especially after seeing ads for sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners.

The Truth about Sulfates

If you have seen the ads for sulfate-free shampoos and other personal hygiene products, you will wonder as I did what is so bad about sulfates that some products need to be sulfate-free. I checked numerous views on this and what I found was quite interesting. You see, these sulfates do not really do much except add foam to the product and while they will not kill you, they can most definitely irritate your skin and your scalp. They can even make your hair dry. For some people, the shampoo run-off coats their skin and this results in rashes or just little red bumps; this is the skin reacting to the harsh sulfate. Some people avoid sulfates like the devil and I think that if you have sensitivities to it, that is a great idea. For folks who do not have a negative reaction to the chemical, you may still want to rethink your decision of using personal care products that are made with sulfates.

Most people who decide to go sulfate-free even if they do not have problems with it choose to do so for health and ethical reasons. For instance, some people might not react to it but the fact of the matter is that it is a synthetic chemical and who knows what harm it can do in the long run? In instances such as these, I say it is better to be safe than sorry. Some people also choose to go sulfate-free for the reason that they want to make a stand and that is a stand against using non-renewable resources like petrolatum.

My Decision

Upon reading and doing my research, I finally decided to make the move to sulfate-free. It wasn’t an easy decision mainly because I got so used to shampoos with rich lathers and sulfate-free shampoos do not have much of a lather. It was strange at first and I never really felt like my hair was clean due to the lack of bubbles but after a week or so of using it, I kid you not, I actually felt a difference in my hair. For one, it felt less greasy and I didn’t have a horrible bed head like I used to. Also, I liked knowing that I was making a difference—small as it may be. For those of you considering making the switch, you may want to try out low-sulfate versions first so that you can transition smoothly. Once you are used to the less bubbly feel, you may go sulfate-free and you will hardly notice the difference.

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