Shampoos are meant to clean the hair. There are “normal” sulfate based shampoos, non sulfate shampoos and stronger clarifying or chelating shampoos. For more info on those stronger shampoos, see my post on “preventing and dealing with buildup”.
As you probably already know, even though they work great in shampoos as far as cleaning the hair, sulfates can be very drying for the hair, stripping it of not just dirt and dust but also of its own natural oils, giving you that squeaky clean feeling.
This can sometimes be useful if you have buildup in the hair and need to get a “clean start”, but not something that should be used very often.
Luckily it is easy to know if the product is sulfate based when you look at the ingredients list since these ingredients always contain the word “sulfate”.
Sulfates come in different “strengths”:
Ammonium lauryl sulfate and Ammonium laureth sulfates (ALS) are the strongest cleansers, followed by Sodium lauryl sulfate and Sodium laureth sulfates (SLS). TEA laureth sulfate and sodium myreth sulfate are a bit gentler.
What to look for in “sulfate free” shampoos are:
Cocamidopropyl bataine: This is a gentle cleanser that is often found in Sulfate free shampoos. This is an ingredient that works well with tightly curly hair! It is also often found in baby shampoos since it is very mild.
Other gentle cleansers are:
- Coco betaine
- Disodium cocoamphodiacetate
- Disodium cocoamphodipropionate
- Sodium cocoyl isethionate.
Watch out for ingredients with the word sulfate but that aren´t the normal ALS or SLS sulfates
Shampoos that contain these “other” sulfates that claim to be “sulfate free” can actually be even more drying than the regular sulfate shampoos! This is because these shampoos usually combine these other “sulfates” with other detergent ingredients, creating an even stronger detergent in the process while being “sulfate free”!!
Other cleansing ingredients that might be good to know is: ingredients ending with –sulfonate, -isethionate, -xylenesulfonate, -sulfosuccinate, -sarcosinate, -sulfoacetate.
Many sulfate free shampoos don´t lather as much as sulfate based shampoos. Even though you don´t need lather for the shampoo or conditioner to clean the hair, the lathering ability is actually of some significance when choosing a shampoo. I say this because the lather will help spread the shampoo through the hair, lessen the manipulation needed and thus reducing the risk of tangles and friction to the hair. When the shampoo lathers it is also an indication that the hair is clean since oils and dirt reduces the lathering ability of the shampoo. You might have noticed that your shampoo lathers less when your hair is very dirty or oily?
The ingredients that are so called “foam busters” are what makes the shampoo thicker and gives it the ability to foam.
Common “foam busters” are:
Lauramide diethanolamine (DEA)
Cocamide diethanolamine (DEA)
Cocamide monoethanolamine (MEA)
I hope this information was helpful in your search for a shampoo that will work well for your hair.
Remember that what works for some might not work for you and the other way around. Just because someone says that a particular ingredient is bad or doesn´t work well for their hair doesn´t mean that it is not going to be good for you.
Sulfates can be drying for the hair, but there might be a “moisturizing shampoo” out there that has sulfates in it that could work great for you too. If you use other products that contain silicones or other “hard to wash out” ingredients, or if you swim regularly, that shampoo might be perfect for you.
Knowledge about ingredients and how they work will empower you and help you find the products you need as well as give you a better understanding of why a certain product works or not for your hair.
Something else to keep in mind is also that your hair needs will change over time and with the different seasons.