Opinion

Sulphates in cosmetics: the truth about the pros and cons

If you have ever looked at the ingredient list of your favourite shampoo or facial cleanser, you have probably seen the word "sulphate". But what are sulphates really and why are they so controversial in the world of cosmetics?

Sulphates are a type of detergent often used in personal care products such as shampoo, soap and toothpaste. There are several types of sulphates that can be used, but the most common are sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES).

Why are sulphates used?

Sulphates are used in personal care products because they are effective in cleaning dirt and excess oils from the skin and hair. They also create a foaming action that many people associate with thorough cleansing.

However, sulphates can also have some disadvantages for the health of our skin and hair. Below are the pros and cons of sulphates.

Benefits of sulphates

  1. Effective cleansing: Sulphates are very effective in removing dirt, sebum and excess oils from the skin and hair. This makes them a popular choice in personal care products.
  2. Foaming: The foaming action of sulphates is often associated with thorough cleansing. Many people like to see a lot of foam when washing their hair or face.

Disadvantages of sulphates

  1. Drying out skin and hair: Sulphates can dry out skin and hair by removing the natural oils needed to keep them hydrated. This can lead to dry, flaky skin and brittle, damaged hair.
  2. Skin irritation: Sulphates can irritate the skin, especially in people with sensitive skin. This can lead to redness, itching and burning.
  3. Hair colour damage: Sulphates can fade hair colour, especially in people who have dyed their hair. This is because sulphates can pull the colour out of the hair.
  4. Environmentally harmful: Sulphates can enter the environment and harm plants and animals in water bodies.

What types of sulphates are used in cosmetics?

There are several types of sulphates used in cosmetics, but the most common are sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES).

Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) is an aggressive cleaner often used in cleansers, shampoos and toothpastes. It can dry out skin and hair and cause irritation, especially in people with sensitive skin.

Sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) is a milder version of SLS and is often used in products for sensitive skin. Although it is less irritating than SLS, it can still dry out skin and hair.

Sulphate-free alternatives are also available, such as ammonium lauryl sulphate (ALS), which is less aggressive than SLS and SLES and less drying on the skin and hair.

Shampoo without sulphates

Shampoo without sulphates offers an alternative for people who are sensitive to sulphates or want to clean their hair in a milder way. These shampoos often contain other mild cleansers, such as cocamidopropyl betaine, which are effective in removing dirt without stripping the hair of its natural oils.

One of the advantages of shampoo without sulphates is that it is gentler on the scalp. Sulphates can irritate the skin, especially in people with sensitive scalps or certain skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. By switching to natural hair care can reduce these irritations and make the scalp feel healthier.

In addition, sulphate-free shampoo can better preserve the colour of coloured hair. This is because sulphates can strip colour from hair, causing the colour to fade faster. With sulphate-free shampoo, the colour stays vibrant and bright for longer.

While sulphate-free shampoo offers many benefits, there are also some points to consider. Because these shampoos are milder, they may not lather as much as traditional shampoos. Some people also experience that their hair initially feels greasier when switching to sulphate-free shampoo. This is because the hair needs time to adjust to the new formula.

Sulfate-free facial cleanser

Facial cleansers without sulphates offer an alternative for people who are sensitive to sulphates or want to cleanse their skin in a gentler way. These cleansers often contain other gentle ingredients, such as plant extracts and mild surfactants, which are effective in cleansing the skin without removing natural oils.

One of the advantages of facial cleansers without sulphates is that they are gentler on the skin. Sulphates can dry and irritate the skin, especially in people with sensitive skin or certain skin conditions such as eczema or rosacea. Switching to a sulphate-free facial cleanser can reduce these irritations and leave skin feeling healthier.

Moreover, facial cleansers without sulphates can help maintain the skin's natural balance. Sulphates can wash away the skin's natural oils, which can lead to excessive sebum production in response to drying out the skin. With sulphate-free cleansers, skin stays hydrated and balanced.

Using facial cleansers without sulphates is also beneficial for people with dry skin. Sulphates can further dry out the skin and worsen symptoms of dryness. Switching to milder cleansers can reduce dry patches, flaking and irritation.

It is important to note that facial cleansers without sulphates may not foam as much as traditional cleansers. This is because sulphates are responsible for the foaming effect. Some people associate foam with thorough cleansing, but the foam level has no direct relationship with the effectiveness of the cleanser.

Soap without sulphates

Soap without sulphates offers gentle and caring cleansing for the skin. These soaps often contain natural ingredients, such as plant oils and extracts, that cleanse the skin without stripping away the natural oils. They provide a mild lather and leave the skin moisturised and soft.

One of the advantages of soap without sulphates is that it is suitable for people with sensitive skin. Sulphates can irritate and dry out the skin, especially in people with sensitive skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or dermatitis. Switching to a sulphate-free soap can reduce these irritations and leave skin feeling healthier.

Moreover, soaps without sulphates are suitable for people who want to make environmentally conscious choices. Sulphates can be harmful to the environment because they are not easily degradable and can end up in water. Sulphate-free soaps are often biodegradable and do not contain potentially harmful substances, making them a more environmentally friendly option.

Soap without sulphates is also suitable for people who prefer natural and organic products. Many sulphate-free soaps contain organic and ethically sourced ingredients. They are free of synthetic fragrances, dyes and preservatives, making them safer for the skin and the environment.

Why are sulphates bad for your health?

As mentioned above, sulphates can dry out the skin and hair and cause irritation, especially in people with sensitive skin. But there are also other reasons why sulphates are potentially harmful to our health.

Sulphates can be absorbed through the skin and enter the body, where they can interact with other substances and potentially cause harm. There are concerns that sulphates can be carcinogenic and can disrupt the endocrine system, causing hormonal imbalances.

In addition, sulphates can disrupt the microbial balance of our skin, which can lead to inflammation and acne. This is because sulphates not only remove the dirt and oil layer from our skin, but also the good bacteria needed for healthy skin balance.

Are sulphates always bad?

While sulphates have some drawbacks, this does not mean they are always bad. It depends on the individual skin and hair type, as well as the specific products used.

Some people can tolerate sulphates well and do not experience dry skin, irritation or acne. However, other people may have more sensitive skin and experience more disadvantages from using sulphates.

Moreover, products containing sulphates can be effective in removing dirt and excess oils from the skin and hair. However, it is important to remember that there are sulphate-free alternatives available that have the same cleaning power without the drawbacks of sulphates.