The common belief that more lather means cleaner hair has fueled the use of synthetic foaming agents such as sulfates. Sulfates are used in most liquid cleansers, which also includes dish soap and foaming bath products.
Hair care is formulated for specific hair types (fine, curly, straight, color treated) with active ingredients impacting texture and condition. While sulfates are very good foaming agents, they have acquired a negative reputation due to their potential to cause irritation. They can often result in the depletion of natural lipids (oils) on the hair and scalp causing both to become dry, brittle and flaky. When the scalp loses its natural oils, the sebaceous glands increase production, resulting in a lack of equilibrium. Sulfates can also damage the hair shaft, resulting in split ends and breakage. Addressing these concerns, surfactant manufacturers have developed alternatives resulting in an uptick in sulfate-free shampoos. These milder ingredients are less abrasive, resulting in softer hair with noticeable shine, as natural oils remain on the hair and scalp after washing.
Many of these new surfactants are of natural origin and help to lock in moisture; they are less aggressive on color and curl treatments and are less likely to irritate the scalp, offering a natural, holistic approach to hair quality management. Sulfate-free shampoo will not lather quite as easily but a little more water can be used to get a good result and can produce a noticeable improvement in hair and scalp condition with consistent use.
By Jay Yano
Master Stylist & Educator, Founder
JYano Hair Care