Cleanliness is close to godliness. It’s a popular idiom that gets repeated time and time again by mothers and teachers sick of sloppy homework assignments. Of course, you won’t become an immortal for keeping yourself clean, but it helps set a proper personal image; not to mention, proper hygiene is directly related to a healthy lifestyle.
When it comes to personal hygiene, we often don’t realize all the chemicals and ingredients that often go into the products we use. Keeping clean is important, but what we clean ourselves with plays significantly into that concept of cleanliness and health.
Sulfates, an ingredient found in shampoos and conditioners, among other cleaning products, have recently come under fire as a potential catalyst for hair loss.
Before delving into the world of sulfates, we have to under surfactants. Surfactants are found in every cleaning agent, whether it’s shampoo, body soap, facial wash, or laundry detergent. The chemical nature of a surfactant allows it to surround and trap oily materials while simultaneously reducing surface tension. This expedites the removal of oil, sweat, and dirt. Put simply, the surfactant is the cleaning factor in the formula.
However, surfactants are detergents, which can be harsh or gentle depending on the concentration and the type of compound used.
Sulfates in Shampoo
In the last few decades, shampoos have the used sodium lauryl sulfate or the related sodium laureth sulfate as surfactants. The main reason: they are super cheap and create lots of bubbles and foam.
People hold certain notions about shampoos and what they should do. They expect lots of lather and foam in their shampoo, but that’s actually a misconception. Lather and foam do nothing for hair and only occur as a result of the sulfates binding to air instead of oil. If anything, excessive foam is merely a sign of wasted shampoo.
So What’s Wrong with Sulfates?
So sulfates create a lot of foam, which the general public is trained to appreciate, and it’s cheap for manufacturers. What’s the big deal?
- Interesting enough, outside of the world of hair care, sodium lauryl sulfate is used around the world in clinical studies as a skin irritant. In higher concentrations, it has been shown to corrode skin. Of course, that doesn’t mean that commercial shampoos have enough of a concentration to cause irritation to your scalp, but if your skin is especially sensitive, washing your scalp in SLS probably won’t feel great.
- Sodium lauryl sulfate is rumored to be potentially carcinogenic (i.e. cancer causing). Although this has not been proven in experimental studies, SLS has been shown to cause significant epidermal changes when applied.
- Sodium lauryl sulfate strips your hair and scalp of essential oils, which causes a drying effect while also fading any dyes in your hair. Just imagine what it could do to your scalp.
- With that drying effect, your hair follicles can sustain some severe damage. This could, in turn, lead to hair loss. This may be the reason why teenagers often have problems with thinning hair.
Although the information surrounding SLS is a bit shaky, there’s no proof that SLS is more beneficial than alternatives either. It would be wise for health-conscious consumers to avoid shampoos containing SLS as it’s often a marker for the use of other undesirable ingredients.
What to Look for in a Shampoo
Now that you’re convinced to stay away from sodium lauryl sulfate, what ingredients should you look for in shampoo or conditioner?
You’ll want to find natural ingredients. Look for ingredients like glucosides and glycerine, which should show up on the label as decyl glucoside or coco-glucoside. These ingredients come naturally from corn and sugar. These shampoos obviously won’t have as much foam or lather as you might be used to, but your hair will still feel healthy, clean, and soft.
Another option would be using nothing but warm water to clean your hair. While this sounds potentially disgusting to many, you have to realize that your hair is the way it is because of years of using shampoos containing harmful chemicals, like sodium lauryl sulfate. Once those chemicals have worked their way out of your system, your hair will be left as clean as ever.
The better you take care of your hair, the better it will take care of you, so choose wisely and keep yourself informed about products you consume.