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Are Sulphates in Shampoos Bad for Hair

The Absolute Best Haircare Tip I’ve Ever Received

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As someone whose natural hair shape definitely falls into the triangular category, I’ve genuinely spent most of my lifetime trying to defrizz, defluff, and generally stop it puffing up to three times its normal size (especially where even the tiniest amount of humidity is involved).

Already naturally dry and slightly wiry, my bleach addiction only served to make my hair even less healthy so by the time I reached my early 20s I had strands that were pretty much bushy and untamable most days.

And then one particularly wonderful day something great happened: I read an article about shampooing hair which changed the way I’ve washed mine ever since…And my formerly fluffy locks have never been happier.

Because as it turned out, everything I thought I’d known about washing my hair had actually been drying out and even damaging my already pretty neglected hair.

And since I’d always thought that keeping my hair squeaky clean was important for its health I’d completely missed that most of the shampoos I was using actually contained ingredients which were harming it: sulphates.

What Are Sulphates?

One of the most commonly-used detergents, sulphates (look for names like SLS/sodium laureth sulphate and SLES/sodium lauryl ether sulphate on a product’s ingredients list) are high-foaming detergents which can be found in everything from shower gel to face wash.

And while sulphates do a great job of cleaning, they are actually so effective they can strip hair of its protective oils so that moisture (and hair colour) is able to leave the cuticle.

Mayo Clinic states that “SLS makes products sudsy and foamy. It can be found in cleansers, shampoos and shower gels.

“SLS can cause skin and eye irritation, and it is frequently contaminated with a known carcinogen.”

The result for me was dry, colour-faded hair that never felt really soft however many conditioning products I used after washing.

The Fix

So now I have been sticking to sulphate-free alternatives (look for ingredients like coconut-derived sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate) which still foam (although generally less so than sulphate shampoos), and clean hair thoroughly without stripping it.

According to Medical News Today, “Sulfate-free shampoos may feel different at first. They will likely take longer to create suds, and people may have to use more of the shampoo to clean their hair thoroughly. A person may also have to use extra water to rinse these shampoos from the hair.

“However, sulfate-free shampoos will generally clean the hair just as effectively as those that contain sulfates,” it adds.

Now, after washing, my hair still feels cleansed but has a softness and shine which it didn’t before. I also find my colour tends to stick around a little more reliably too- where before my highlights would fade now I can get away with topping my colour up a little less often.

So, as well as using a twice-weekly conditioning mask, plenty of serum, and being really careful about how I brush my hair, I now use something like Function of Beauty’s Shampoo and Conditioner which are custom-made to your hair’s needs and never contains sulphates.

And yes, while my bleach habit means my hair’s never going to be the glossy, perfect strands of my dreams, by not drying it out and breaking it so much I have genuinely noticed a real difference in its frizz and dryness levels.

The Takeaway

If like me your hair always seems just a little dry, even after using masks and leave-in conditioner, consider switching up your shampoo to a sulphate-free version to restore softness, moisture levels and shine.




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Sally Underwood is a journalist, *serious* beauty fan, and Editor-in-Chief of Live That Glow. Formerly Editorial Director of one of Europe's largest newspaper groups, Sally has been a beauty obsessive since her teen years spent dragging her long-suffering (but immaculately-groomed) friends around every beauty counter in London. She now leads Live That Glow's editorial operations.

Expertise: Skincare, Body care
Education: University College London

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