The Great Sufate Debate

Okay so it’s not that great of a debate, but hey it rhymed.  Lately it seems you can’t go anywhere(anywhere with shampoo ads or beauty info) without hearing the phrase “sulfate-free”. There is also a movement of folks who not only avoid shampoo with sulfates, they avoid shampoo altogether.  These folks ( majority have curly hair in varying degrees, ) believe that the culprit of their hair woes-typically dry scalp and hair, frizz, breakage, etc was the fact that they cleansed their hair and scalp with shampoo.  Instead of conditioner, hair is cleansed with hair conditioner or a sulfate free shampoo. Hard to remove silicones are avoided.

What is a a sulfate? With regards to cosmetics and this discussion, it’s a surfactant detergent. Before detergents became widely available to the public, people washed their hair with soap. Soap cleans well but the ph level is mildly alkaline, hair’s(technically not a liquid) ph is mildly acidic.  Most folk used collected rain water(acidic) to wash, this sort of balanced it out,, they also boiled the soap with water, herbs, anything to lower the ph. These were early shampoos. In the 1930’s modern shampoo with synthetic detergents was introduced.  Considering the fact that more and more people were now using treated public water, I’m sure it was revolutionary(as revolutionary as a cosmetic can be).

With business being what it is, most makers of shampoo used the cheapest detergents they could(sulfates). Levels varied among brands. Ph levels as well.   Upon hearing many mothers  still used soap to wash their child’s hair because shampoo stings the eyes, they came out with baby shampoo, which use  milder detergents than sulfates.  The beauty industry used the same formulation and marketed these products to women who colored or permed their hair as “non-stripping”.

So fast forward to today. We live a catch word crazed society.  A weight loss diet comes out claiming results if you cut out carbs, suddenly the mainstay of the worlds diet forever is bad for you.  Rumours fly around about this causes cancer, you should use this lotion it has “all natural” ingredients.

Okay so back to shampoo. more women than ever color their hair, use products that build up, heat style etc. In short we overwash and chemically and physically damage our hair.  Hair color that is labeled “permanent” fades. What can we do to keep our hair healthy, keep our color from fading?  Stop overwashing, overstyling,overprocessing our hair. That can’t be it, there’s no money to be made, and we need to look the models in the magazines.  It’s got to be the shampoo we’re using,  that’s it. The detergents in our shampoo are ruining our color and the health of our hair.

There have been NO studies to prove, hair color fades any less with sulfate free shampoos. Think of hair like a long pine cone type strand coated with shellac. Picture all the “brown’ color is inside.Say you want red pinecone instead of a brown.  You want a red pinecone, you need a chemical strong enough to break open the shellac, to “paint” the cone( yes you could just paint over the shellac, ride with me for a minute). So you now have a red pinecone. Trouble is when over time the rain and the elements(styling, products  etc) the red leeches out. Now with the pine cone, you’d just add another coat of shellac. You can’t do that with hair. The shellac is gone.  That color is going to come out eventually no matter what you do.

For the no poo gals who say but my hair has never looked better since I stopped shampooing. Or since I greatly cut down on shampooing”low-poo”. You’re probably right. But the problem wasn’t the shampoo, you washed too much. Secondly you’re taking conditioner and “cleansing” with it. This may be enough for you. It’s basically the same formula as cleansing  your face with cetaphil. This is enough for some people. If you’re happy with it, keep on. I bet watering your shampoo down a little so you’re forced to do more scrubbing and it rinses better and cutting way down on frequency would do the same thing. I also think the fact that you’re properly moisturizing, and cut out drying silicones, and heat styling has a lot to do with it.

I just think that for me and my daughters washing only when needed with an acid balanced shampoo is just fine for us. Tried co-washing(scrubbing with conditioner only) for us there was just too much product buildup and hair was left dull. Sulfate free shampoos seemed to leave hair rough,dull, and not as clean feeling.It’s all personal preference. There is skin under that hair, sweat and sebum glands, I apply products to my hair, my hair is subjected to the environment etc. It needs a thorough cleansing.  So are all these company’s now touting sulfate free shampoos, saying there other formulas with sulfate are somehow inferior, or bad for hair, or cause cancer? No, and neither are scientists.

If you don’t believe me check out my go to for the facts about cosmetics the beauty brains. As luck would have it when I went to get the link, the homepage article is about sulfates. They are scientists who state facts. They are not selling anything nor have hidden agendas.  Just the facts on chemicals. I an ingredient hound, not because I am looking for “all natural” or some other meaningless  reason. Cinnamon oil is natural and is an irritant if using too much. There are perfectly safe chemicals to use on your skin as well. I just like to know what I’m paying for, what is in a product that makes it work for me(or not) This saves money as you’re not buying the same product marketed five different way. Also I make soap and other cosmetics.

By the way check out the ad, still pretty solid advice.

Update: I just received an email from the folks over at the beauty brains with a 6 minute commercial about a book they’ve written. They book is designed to teach you the scoop about beauty products and save you money. Still a great site with great fact based beauty info.

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Published in: on September 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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