Thursday, September 13, 2012

Not all sulfates are sulfates

I don't really see anything wrong with sulfates in our surfactants, but some people wish to avoid them...but not all sulfates are sulfates. If you're avoiding sulfates, I guess you have to stay well away from Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) and BTMS (behentrimonium methosulfate). You won't be able to use gypsum in your house (calcium sulfate) or take chondoitin sulfate supplements. Sulfates are all around us, so to say that sulfates aren't good for us is a sweeping statement that has little to no validity.

What the heck is a sulfate and why does it seem to show up all over the place in our ingredients? Join me for the next Chemistry Thursday to learn more!

This is why I hate the glib reminders that "If you can't pronounce it, don't eat or use it" or "Sulfates are bad for our hair" because we don't get into the why of the concept and never truly understand why we do what we do. (Quick! Spell anthocyanin. Can you pronounce it? If not, then you must avoid these fantastic flavonoids! See - it's a silly rule!) If someone tells you to avoid something, ask them why. Find out exactly what that person thinks will happen if you use that ingredient, and ask them for the evidence - solid, reputable evidence - for their statement. (Yes, it takes work, but anything worth having does.)

I still have no idea why we are supposed to avoid sulfates in shampoo - yes, SLS is considered a less gentle surfactant, but SLeS, ALeS, sodium myreth sulfate, and others are not! - despite the recent discussion about the topic on the blog! (I'll link to it later when I'm not mobile!) If you can provide a solid explanation and some good evidence, please comment here! (Note: EWG and Skin Deep are NOT reputable sources!)

Related posts:
Surfactants: Sulfates
Surfactants: Alkyl sulfates (the family in which you'd find SLS)
Surfactants: Alkyl ether sulfates (the family in which you'd find SLeS)

A few links about SLS
How to interpret surfactant names
Query: Why do you think SLS is bad for your hair?


Anonymous said...

I totally agree, anything you're "supposed to avoid" IS worth taking a thorough look at. Anything you "NEED" to use, also.

As for the sulfates, well, I havent had the best experience with them. I know sulfates are not all bad, they just dont work with my skin very well (dry and sensitive skin here, that just happens to live in a desert to boot) :P
That said, I'm not going to tell other people to avoid them, just because I'm sensitive to them. Lol, I even use them a couple times a week as well, because well, they are really good at cleaning XD And my other stuff is only so-so at giving me that sparkly/squeaky clean feel XD


Organa said...

Hello Susan I would also like to understand certain things about surfactants, but I think I have to say as a shampoo but the shampoo that you buy on a shelf concentration is between 50 to 60% surfactants.Qual would be the function of this large amount of surfactants ? Foam? Stability?
Was it really true? If it was so bad would have already fied bald toothless because SLS is in everything.

Aljonor said...

Hey Susan:
I learned the hard way. I used to stay away from certain ingredients because of all the horror stories I heard during my natural hair process. Boy, let me tell you that my hair always looked a hot mess following those rules! My hair was dry, sticking up here and there-lol-And, people would stare. I admit that some ingredients that cause scalp irritation should be avoided. But as for me, my hair was breaking off and styling was very limited. When I recently started to added those "avoid these" ingredients, I realized that the lack of properly cleansing my hair and the lack using ingredients that would help protect the hair strands during handling was causing more damaging than good. I wasted a lot of length and time messing around trying to avoid things. I think that there should be a balance to everything. But to simply avoid helpful hair ingredients because of fad sayings does not help when the end result is a "hot mess". lol. I know some naturals who de-tangle for 4 hours because they don't use silicone. My hair has been in better shape now than before.

Hebridean Sprite said...

Hey. You make an excellent point, especially because some easy to say names are actually not all that great for you.
I would like to say though that many people avoid SLS or other sulfates in hair products because they have bad allergic reactions to them. Quite a few people are highly sensitive to them resulting in red swollen itchy and rash covered skin. I just thought I'd mention it as there are some people who are genuinely unable to use them regardless of hype etc.
Excited to read your coming posts :D

Anonymous said...

I know anytime I use sls shampoo I get the itchies & sores and acne pop up on my scalp. I buy the sls free stuff and it isn't cheap, but if my hubby hates the stuff gives him sores etc. I do wish I could use regular shampoo.

Kirk said...

@Organa: A shampoo containing 50% to 60% surfactant is quite outrageous. Usual ranges for surfactants in wash off products are around 5% to 20%.

Roxy said...

I know this is an older post, but I just found it.

I have curly hair and I've followed the "Curly Girl" routine in the past, which I'm sure you've heard of. Among other things, it advises you to steer clear of shampoos containing sulfates (namely SLS). SLS doesn't affect my skin badly, and I love its lather, but it and most surfactants in shampoos wreck my hair. I've just stopped using shampoos, period - I've found that the surfactants in conditioner products are usually sufficient on their own to cleanse my hair. (Although, thanks in major part to what I'm learning on your blog, I'm very excited to experiment with making my own mild shampoo in the future!)

I've wondered myself why people say "sulfates" instead of what they really mean. I suppose it's easy to give people a list of no-go components, but I think it would be equally as easy to teach people to look for mild surfactants in the ingredients list.