Is Sulfate-Free Shampoo Worth Getting Lathered Up About?

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and ammonium laureth sulfate are perhaps two of the most buzzed about, debated, and prevalent ingredients found in personal care and cleaning products. Unlike bleach and chlorine, which is generally recommended you avoid, sulfates lie in somewhat of a gray area. A cheap lathering detergent used in many toothpastes, shampoos, hand soaps, and laundry detergents, “SLS is used to boost a product’s cleaning power and create the foamy sudsy appearance that consumers equate with effectiveness,” according to Healthy Child, Healthy World.

However, when it comes to your shampoo, keeping up appearances may not be the best way to go. No, the reasons aren’t grave: “Many people believe that SLS is a carcinogen, but to date there’s no evidence whatsoever that this common ingredient causes cancer. Nor can it combine with other ingredients and/or environmental pollutants to create new hazards. That bears repeating: SLS has not been linked to cancer,” write the experts at Healthy Child, Healthy World. However, sulfates can irritate eyes and skin and have been shown to be hazardous to aquatic life. Furthermore, some experts, like Hair Rules’ Anthony Dickey, argue that sulfates create frizz and, if you color your hair, strip strands of their coveted dye.

However, it remains unclear whether less-sudsy, sulfate-free shampoo actually dries out hair, or whether a gentler wash is truly the best thing for your tresses. Paul Shiraldi, the vice president of L’Oréal Paris’s sister salon brand, L’Oréal Professionnel, attests that, when it comes to sulfate-free shampoos and their SLS-containing counterparts: “It’s really a consumer preference rather than a defined difference on the care of the color,” Shiraldi told The New York Times. Christo, a Greek hairstylist with a Fifth Avenue salon, recalls one customer who was an avid user of shampoo sans sulfates: “She was using a non-sulfate shampoo that just doesn’t clean the hair well,” he said in an interview with The New York Times. According to said customer, her lackluster hair color was the fault of a stylist at another salon. However, all it took was a wash with a clarifying, low-sulfate shampoo for her to change her tune.

We spoke to Demetris Potaminaos, owner and senior stylist at DS Studio Organic Haircare, which Allure ranks as one of the top salons for hair color services in New York City, about his take on the whole sulfate debate. “The truth is the more natural the shampoo, the better it will be for the color and the scalp. It’s not just sulfate that affects hair health, intensity and duration of color. There are a lot of other agents at work. Many shampoos claim to be sulfate-free, but still contain paraben, laurate, and other chemicals that aren’t great for your hair.”

When it comes to sulfate-free shampoo, what does work? Well, Potaminaos has developed his own line of shampoos made with natural ingredients from his native Greece. “We enhance the shampoos with ingredients like Greek thyme and chamomile. These help replenish and protect color-treated and dry hair. The great thing about these shampoos is the way that they help the scalp. Using a mild shampoo with the least amount of chemicals possible gives you extended results.” If you’d like to put your hair on the Mediterranean diet, head over to the DS Organic Haircare site to see the full line of products.

So it seems, at the end of the day, it really does come down to consumer preference. (If you’re looking for suggestions, we personally love Burt’s Bees and Kiehl’s Since 1851. They’re all-natural and really get the job done.)