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February 05, 2021
The media reports highlighted the sensitivity some people have to Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS). An effective detergent (surfactant – surface active agent) which helps dissolve grease and dirt but then rinse out easily. This can be good or bad depending on hair or skin type.
It’s the most common in use and found in everything from soaps to toothpaste to laundry detergents. But it can be a little harsh for those with sensitive skin. We don’t use Sodium Lauryl Sulphate in any of our shampoos.
But the sulphates story has been blown up by Chinese whispers and an army of keyboard warriors not looking too deeply into the science. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate is a long word, ‘Sulphates’ falls of the tongue more easily. That soundbite roped in a whole family of ingredients and led to a lot of discussion and misinformation about sulphates. So, I wanted to help give some further clarity. Being cleansers, sulphates are found in shampoos, but not conditioners, treatments, or styling products.
Our own 3'''More Inches Cashmere Protein Shampoos draw from a range of different naturally derived cleansers and are all SLS free.
Most shampoos will be comprised of 5-10% surfactant to clean and foam. The following four can all be derived from coconut oil through a refining process although versions can also be produced synthetically. Milder surfactants may not lather very much and may not be as effective on very oily hair or hair laden with styling products, so you may need to shampoo multiple times where once with an SLS shampoo will do. The milder ones will limit the fade on hair dyes through shampooing and be gentler on the scalp.
SLS – Sodium Lauryl Sulphate can be seen either as the harshest or most effective degreaser and creates lots of foam. It also has the smallest molecular structure. This could be unnecessarily harsh on dry hair or sensitive scalps. All our shampoos are SLS free.
SLES – Sodium Laureth Sulphate is a much gentler cleanser and has a larger molecular structure. We use this in our Cashmere Protein Volumising Shampoo, our Scalp Balancing Shampoo and Angelica Rose Shampoo.
ALS – Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate is gentler still and has the larger more complex molecule which is harder for outer layers of skin to absorb so is seen as much less likely to irritate sensitive skin. We use this in our Cashmere Protein UV Protective Shampoo and our Exfoliating Scalp Shampoo.
SLMI - Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate is also derived from coconut oil, is sulphate-free and considered one of the mildest surfactants (cleansers) on the market. We use this in our Cashmere Protein Moisturising Shampoo.
Sulphates are effective and safe when used as directed in wash-off cosmetics like shampoo and soap. But stronger ones may leave sensitive hair and skin feeling dry, depending on how much is used, their concentration and what other hydrating ingredients are in a product.
If we’re using sulphates, we’ll formulate with the gentler ones and use the smallest percentage needed to get the job done effectively. We also use other natural cleansing ingredients like salt, and plant juices, and essential oils to complement the effects of surfactants. And we use rich, hydrating ingredients like cashmere amino-acids, coconut oil, olive oil, glycerine and castor oil.
If you have a keratin treatment, then swimming, or washing your hair often, or with aggressive detergents will take it out quicker. But washing it twice with more of a weak cleanser isn’t necessarily better than one effective wash using a small amount of gentle sulphate.
If you’re happily using products containing sulphates, continue using them. If you experience scalp irritation, exploring options with gentler sulphates or no sulphates may be worthwhile. If you want to reduce sulphates in your shampoo routine, here are a few options:
1. Use Less
Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES) and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS) are gentler options. They still provide a rich lather and leave hair feeling clean, but without as much potential to irritate sensitive skin.
3. Avoid Sulphates AltogetherSLMI - Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate, from coconut oil, is sulphate-free and considered one of the mildest cleansers. We use this in our Cashmere Protein Moisturising Shampoo.
I know the science doesn’t interest everyone but I hope this blog helps your understanding of some key ingredients.
Michael Van Clarke
February 04, 2023
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