Should I Use a Sulfate Free Shampoo? [Answered]

Let me take a guess that you're reading this article because you've heard that sulfates are bad for you and recently you've also heard that many companies include them in the shampoos they produce. So the question you're looking to answer is – should I use a sulfate free shampoo or am I safe carrying on with my old brand…


Why Do Companies Put Sulfates in Their Shampoos?

First a question for you – do you agree water is wet? Yes… comes the resounding response. Well you'd be right, but there are varying degrees of wetness. I can hear you now "what on earth is he talking about".

Waterboatmen displaying water tension.Have you ever seen a water-boatman or skimmer skate across the top of a lake. It can do that because of a little thing called surface tension. That's the stuff that keeps raindrops together in a sphere when they fall.

Take a look at the picture on the right, you can actually see the water surface bending beneath the weight of these tiny creatures. That water surface that they're standing on is held together by the water tension.

Go and fill a glass with water and you can see it for yourself. Fill it to the brim but carefully add a little more. The top of the water can be seen coming over the edge of the glass but it does not escape over the side. Well, not unless you really have filled it too full and at that point the surface tension will break and the water pours over the edge.

Water Tension GlassNow imagine millions of tiny spheres of water in amongst your hair when your trying to wash it. They all have this surface tension and instead of spreading out and sticking to your hair, and so wetting it and cleaning it, they're all sticking together. Of course your hair does get wet but the water would penetrate deeper if it didn't have this tension around it.

Into this miniature world steps the wonderful surfactant. A surfactant is able to break down the surface tension of water and allows it to spread easily. And I bet you've already guessed, sulfates are a surfactant.

Adding them to shampoo allows the water to penetrate through the grease on you hair far more than otherwise possible. Thus helping achieve a much deeper clean.

You can try this for yourself. Washing up liquid is another surfactant. Take your full glass, from above, and add one drop of detergent to it. The surface tension of the water will break and the water will trickle over the edge of the glass. Impressive experiment or what, you could be back in school if you closed your eyes. OK, not that great but you get the point. Water is wetter with a surfactant added.

They are also the ingredient that makes all those lovely bubbles in your washing up bowl or on your head when using a shampoo that has sulfates added to it.

Now there are other ways of getting those bubbles but they're mostly more expensive and they aren't as effective at producing a lather.

Have We Been Conned by Advertising?

Do we even need a lather in our shampoo, or in the washing up bowl (yes I know you've got a dishwasher but not everyone has).

The straightforward answer is no. We don't need bubbles but we do need water to be as wet as possible.

The problem is that advertising on the television has conditioned us (pardon the pun) to expect luxurious lather from our shampoo, and if it has this then it must be doing a really good cleaning job.

That's their job and they've done it well. But we know now, don't we, that you really can do without all that lather. And, it takes ages to drain away doesn't it. So we don't need lather but we do need wet water. Simple.

Types of Sulfates Used in Shampoos

There are a few main types of sulfates used in the manufacture of a shampoo. They aren't all used at once though.

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or SLS
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate or SLES
  • Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate
  • Sodium Myreth Sulfate
  • TEA Laureth Sulfate

I've Heard Sulfates Are Irritants Is That Right?

Sulfates have been known to cause irritation to those folks who have susceptible skin, such as those with eczema.

If you do suffer from eczema then one thing you could try is switching to a sulfate free shampoo for a little while to see if that makes a difference to your condition.

Of course remember that your conditioner could also contain sulfates. So be sure to swap out to all sulfate free hair products not just the shampoo. And while you're at it take a look at the ingredients in your body wash too. And guess what, your toothpaste could be hiding some as well.

To recap, yes they can cause irritation but not usually to the extent that individuals with normal skin would notice.

In order of irritation the sulfates are listed below, from least irritating at number 1, to most irritating, at number 5:

  1. Sodium Myreth Sulfate
  2. TEA Laureth Sulfate
  3. Sodium Laureth Sulfate
  4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
  5. Ammonia Laureth Sulfate

Why You Should Avoid Using Sulfates In Shampoo and Other Personal Hygiene Products

Now there have been scare stories posted online about how sulfates are carcinogenic. There has been no corroborating evidence to support these claims anywhere.

The most popular sulfate for use in shampoo is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. This is the best cleaning agent and one of the cheapest surfactants to manufacture.

But a higher concentrated version of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is used to degrease engines. So if it can strip that grease what does it strip from your hair and body.

woman washing hairIt will generally strip you hair of its natural oils and your body too. This leads to both of them drying out faster than normal.

Make sure you use a very good conditioner or body moisturiser after using products with it in.

Of course we all know how painful a dollop of shampoo can be if it gets into your eyes. This is due to the sulfates in the shampoo. Ever wonder why baby shampoo doesn't sting. Yep, because it doesn't contain any.

There have been some studies that suggest long term exposure to sulfates can have damaging effects on hair folicles and could contribute to thinning hair.

Unfortunately, sulfates do a really good job of cleaning your hair. So you're essentially left with a trade off. Do you want your hair looking and feeling clean for a little while, before it goes dry, or do you use a sulfate free shampoo which will not strip as much oil and will not dry out your hair but will need washing again sooner.

Sulfate Shampoos and Dandruff

As well as drying your hair and body they can, of course, dry out the scalp. If you're already prone to itching flaky skin on your scalp, otherwise known as dandruff, then the sulfate loaded product lines are going to make that worse.

Try to find a milder shampoo, or one that contains one of the least powerful sulfates, the ones with the lower numbers from the list above.

Other Groups That Should Avoid Sulfate Shampoos

  • People with really dry hair. African American hair is generally more brittle and drier than other hair types. So this group in particular should look for other choices.
  • We'll mention people with eczema here again for completeness.
  • Anyone with oily skin. This sounds counter intuitive. Surely someone with oily skin will want a product that strips the oil away. Unfortunately, the body will produce even more oil to replace that which has been lost. So avoiding sulfates would be a good plan for these folks too.
  • Anyone with chemically damaged hair or colour treated hair. The sulfates will fade the colour in your hair every time you wash it.

The cosmetic industry is self regulating and they have put out a statement to the effect that sulfates are safe to use in brief contact where the skin is rinsed thoroughly afterwards.

Sulfate free hair care isn't that hard to achieve and there are a number of products on the market, with more appearing daily, that are sulfate free. Take a look at the list below to give you a head start (boy I'm on form today) into finding replacement sulfate free shampoos you can use.

Sulfate Free Shampoo List

  • Pureology – All Shampoos sulfate free
  • John Masters Organics
  • Jonathon Product – Green Rootine Shampoo
  • Kiss My Face – Miss Treated Shampoo
  • AG Hair Cosmetics – Color Savour Sulfate free Shampoo
  • DS Laboratories – Revita Hair Growth Shampoo
  • Samy Salon Systems – Fat Hair Sulfate free
  • L'Oreal – Everstrong Reconstructing Shampoo
  • RedKen – Nature's Rescue Detox Shampoo
To round up, unless you have sensitive skin, have a dry itchy scalp or have really dry hair then you don’t have to avoid sulfate shampoos at all. They’ve (at the time of writing) not been proven to cause any serious ailments.

Try to use sulfate free shampoos and other sulfate free products if you have eczema or any of the other conditions mentioned above. Or if you have even the slightest doubt about their safety swop. Why not, it's not like it's an irreversible decision, or that it may cost loads of the folding stuff. Their is no risk in trying the sulfate free shampoos available.

When picking a sulfate free shampoo make sure to read the ingredients carefully. Some shampoos labelled "SLS free" will actually contain one of the other sulfates in its place.

If this article helped you in anyway then we’re glad, and respectfully ask that you give it a tweet or a link from Facebook. Thanks for your help.


  1. Cassy says:

    This was a really helpful and entertaining read! Thank you!

  2. Bigartia says:

    I will like to add IHT9 Natural Shampoo in your Sulfate Free Shampoo List

  3. Sulfate says:

    Well, generally most people dont knw about SLS in shampoos etc. And those who do know dont bother to spread the info. But we all should be informed abt the effects of SLS. Nice article :)
    btw, i find L'Oreal – Everstrong Reconstructing Shampoo really good and nice smel too :P

    • jeannie says:

      i just tried the L’oreal ‘Sulfate Free line and it left my hair flat and waxy so i looked up the ingredients and it has paraffin (wax) in it, i will not be using it again. i want something that is natural and wax free. i think i rather have dryness from sulfates then build up from wax






    • NurseWhiteRN says:

      I’m sorry, not being funny… do you have Eczema on your “hair”? Perhaps your condition of eczema includes various areas of your body that of course affects your skin one being the scalp.

  5. A. Massey says:

    I found your article to be very helpful, as I person who needs a rationale before i am able to “buy in” to a notion. I am an African American female and am looking forward to seeing the difference this will make in the condition and dryness of my hair. I will report back soon.

  6. M. Huber says:

    This was an awesome article! I have know that I have issues for years. It only got worse 5 years ago when i had a reaction to a sulfa medication overdose. Now, my skin can hardly take little doses of anything that may irritate it. Will you tell me what other hair products contain irritants? I have started using a foam to help with my curl and hairspray. Do those type of products contain chemicals that cause problems for others? I have been having a hard time and wanted to know if I there are products that don’t have irritants.
    Thanks so much!!

  7. Jason says:

    This is a great article. I have been using sulfate-free products for some time now, because my skin gets extremely dry in the winter, plus I developed eczema on my arms and chest, and get dermatitis on my scalp. Of course, I had been using medicated shampoos, but I wasn’t thrilled with the performance of those and felt like they just covered up the problem. Anyway, my mother has some of the same issues, so I was trying to convince her why she should switch, when I ran across this article, and it is an extremely good reference for those with any concerns over sulfates.

  8. Kelsie says:

    hey! who sponsers Beauty Top Tips ? By the way, wonderful article. I’m doing a research prolect on sulfates and this helped TREMENDOUSLY!

  9. Gremlin says:

    Yes, this was really helpful!
    Short follow-up question: Do I only need to avoid ingredients that have “sulfate” in their name, or is just “sulf” also bad? I was recently wavering over a product containing ” “something” sulfosuccinate”.

    Would be great if that was “allowed”, because I am using a sulfate-free “little girl”-shampoo right now, which is pink with sparkles and has a yellow-blonde princess on the pictured on the bottle that I am kind of embarrassed displaying in my bathroom ;-)

  10. Gremlin says:

    Oh, just forgot: There is an organic shampoo, self-professedly formulated especially for sensitive scalps, that uses Sodium Coco-Sulfate.

    (This one: )

    Would this be no. 5 (or 0) on your list – or is it not a sulfate after all, despite the name?

  11. Jenna says:

    I liked your article. I just got my hair cut and thought it seemed drier than usual. I wondered if it was because I switched shampoos and asked the stylist. She recommended using a sulphate free shampoo.

    I was wondering about Infusium 23. I’ve heard it’s supposed to be sulphate free, but I found the ingredients in their color defender shampoo – Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate

    I’m thinking that they sound similar to their sulphate counterparts, but they may be safer for the hair? Can you help me out with the difference?

    • beautytoptips says:

      OK, another quick Google search came up with “Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate is derived from coconut and palm oils. It is a safe, skin-friendly surfactant (foaming agent) for both skin and hair.”
      Disodium laureth sulfosuccinate – Extra-Mild Co-Surfactant for Body washes, shampoos, bubble baths. It is known to be very gentle to the skin and scalp.

      Hope that helps.

  12. Charita 24 says:

    I have medium curls that are a mix of coarse brittle and smooth hairs… I typically experience a LOT of shedding and dryness. I’ve tried several sulfate-free shampoos (even a very expensive “Surface Bassu”) and I think the Shielo Shampoos are the BEST. By far. My hair is never dry any more since using the Shielo brand (I use both the Shielo Hydrate and Color Protect lines). **No split ends, and my hair shedding/breakage has been at least cut in half. I LOVE the smell… I don’t think it is too strong and it is still noticeable and nice the next day (if you’re going to skip a day washing).

  13. Raquel says:

    Do you know how long Sulfates have been used in Shampoos ect……? I remember some I use to use that I wish I had now ; }

  14. Alexis says:

    Do not buy L’oreal ‘Sulfate Free’ products. It actually contains cones AND sulfate. Read labels.

  15. Deirdre says:

    Thanks, great article.
    Most baby shampoos actually contain SLS- even Johnstons! They probably ONLY use a small amount though.

  16. Christa says:

    Hey! Thanks for your website! It’s really informative. I too was told not to use Sulfates but wasn’t sure why, and this site breaks it down really well!! I have been using Tresemme for the longest time, because it seemed to be the only shampoo and conditioner that really worked with my hair. I am mixed (half black half white) and have really poofy curly hair, but it’s very fine. It’s a bit damaged from brushing basically, never dyed and straightened maybe every few months with a flat iron. I just got a trim for the first time in a LONG time :( bad me, but ANYWAYS… I decided to get a new shampoo, and I got this brand called Live Clean at Shoppers Drug Mart. I got their Exotic Nectar shampoo and conditioner. The shampoo is 98% plant ingredients. and contains Argan, grapeseed, and olive oils in it. It is also pure vegan and SLS/sulfate free, paraben free DEA free, phthalate free, phosphate free, and petroleum free. I haven’t tried it, but I thought it may be nice to check out!

  17. Raven says:

    Nutress Hair has my favorite Sulfate-free. Its called Stop Break Sulfate-Free Shampoo. It is really good because it is super gentle but still has the nice lather I am used to. Most of the other Sulfate-free shampoos don’t lather so well but this one does and it leaves my hair feeling soft and conditioned, not stripped. You should add this shampoo to your list!

  18. Jen says:

    Thank you for your article; very interesting. I’m going to try a sulphate free shampoo and conditioner – Ojon – Supersleek. It’s pricey but hoping it will stop my irritated scalp and make me look less frizzy!

  19. Lisa says:

    I bought a Keratin shampoo that was supposed to be used after having the Keratin hair-straightening done. I assumed it was SULFATE free but when I looked at the ingredients it said it contained SULPHATES. Does the different spelling mean it’s not the same thing or are they actually the same thing, and if so, how could there be a Keratin hair product that is specifically sold and marketed to be safe to use after having the treatment done, but that contains the main ingredient we are told not to use? Thank you.

    • beautytoptips says:

      As far as I know Lisa the different spellings are simply down to USA and UK styles and mean exactly the same thing. 

  20. Ronnie says:

    I started using sulfate free shampoo – I was told that sulfate strip hair color. I use the sulfate free to slow the fading process on my colored hair. Is this a good way to slow down the fading process?

  21. Catherine says:

    Great article! About a year ago I began using th L’Oreal sulfate free products and have never looked back! Within the first week of use my hair ‘healed’! They are really not pricey products especially if you consider the savings from ‘repair’ products I no longer find I need. Thanks for all the info.

  22. IRENE says:

    Is WEN really good for your hair? I’ve seen the infomercials and they sound so convincng, but I don’t want to give in too easily. Also, if I have oily, fine hair, would it be better to use sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners? And would it then be ok to wash my hair every day?

    • beautytoptips says:


      Sorry but I don’t know that product.

      Can anyone else help Irene out here?


    • Kiki says:

      I bought a few WEN products a couple of monthes ago. As far as I know the ‘Cleansing Conditioner’ for WEN does not contain any sulfates. I have copied and pasted the Key Ingredients off their website here,
      Key Ingredients
      Water (Aqua), Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Prunus Serotina (Wild Cherry) Bark Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Hydrolyzed Wheat, Protein, Panthenol, Butylene Glycol, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Polysorbate 60, PEG-60 Almond Glycerides, Amodimethicone, Citric Acid, Menthol, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Fragrance (Parfum, Limonene).

      If you look on their website it is very helpful. Good luck with it!

  23. You are really making a difference by educating people on safe shampoos without sulfates. Thanks alot. The world needs more people like you.


  24. Samantha Williams says:

    Thank you for this. I am African-Caribbean, and will start using sulfate free products and let you know of my results.

  25. Sandy D says:

    Informative & easy to follow article. QUESTION: After switching from Dove to Pureology Super Smooth shampoo & conditioner I noticed a significant amount of hair loss. Can a shampoo do that? Did I buy a knock off at my local beauty supply?

  26. Isolina says:

    I have noticed significant difference in how my hair feels after using a sulfate free shampoo. It doesn’t feel brittle and dried out and I know that all the dirt and grime is gone. My favorite sulfate free shampoo is from Nutress Hair products. They have a line of products called ‘Stop Break’ including the sulfate free shampoo. Nutress products repair damage to my hair and protect it to prevent further damaging. The best part is the products are so affordable; less than $5 per bottle. Check them out!

  27. mary says:

    I personally like the Pro Naturals one, it smells amaaaaazing and it makes my hair way softer. Honestly, changing to sulfate free shampoos was the best decision I could have made for my hair, I had always read about people doing it but it took me way too long to actually try it out. Thanks for this info though, gave me a bit more reason to stick to sls free shampoos :)

  28. Marsha says:

    I have just recently learned about the issues with sulfates. I am an african american RN and an avid label reader. I have just purchased Palmers olive oil shampoo and conditioner which are both sulfate and paraffin free. I will be trying them this week.

  29. Casey says:

    I prefer going sulfate free for most washes then every once in awhile using a sulfate to eliminate build up. Once I stopped using shampoos and products with sulfates I no longer got pimples a long my hair line! i FOUND out that sulfates clog pores! Acne prone people should beware of these sulfates

  30. Samantha R. says:

    I most definitely agree with you. The big product distributors don’t what us knowing what were putting on are bodies. I choose to stick with natural so I know what I’m putting on my body is safe.


  1. [...] after all that blathering we’ve confirmed sulfates are bad for colored hair–and really, not great for all [...]

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