What is Sulfate Free Shampoo?

Shopping for shampoo is complicated. When you peruse the aisle at your local store or the category at your favorite online retailer, you are inundated with options, many of which have enticing benefits: hydration? Yes, please. Repair? Need that. Shine? Sign us up. ‌

Choosing the benefit you want is just one part of the process. It’s also important to look at the ingredients and choose the formula with the right ones for your hair type and overall health. Certain ingredients have been found to have negative effects on the hair and body. Sulfate is one of them. 

Why has sulfate made its way into so many shampoo formulas, then? Well, there are many kinds of sulfates, but a couple of them, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate, are particularly good at removing dirt and oil and foaming up to give that desirable squeaky clean feeling. However, as studies on what sulfate does to your hair have emerged showing potential downsides including irritation and exposure to carcinogens, it has become abundantly clear that shampoos free from these ingredients are necessary. 

Here, we’ll cover everything you should know about sulfate free shampoo: what it is, why it is better for you and your hair, and how to choose the right sulfate free shampoo for you.

Sulfate Free Shampoo Is..

First things first. What is sulfate free shampoo? It’s simply shampoo that is free from sulfates. As we briefly mentioned above, there is more than one kind of sulfate that you may find on ingredient labels. The most common sulfates in hair care products are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). While there are some key differences between Sodium Laureth Sulfate vs. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, both can be damaging to your hair and should be avoided. Today, many bottles will say “sulfate free” on the label, but to be sure, you can check the ingredient list for these two ingredients as well as Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate (SDS), a code name for SLS.‌

Let’s demystify sulfate free shampoo even further: it’s shampoo! It’s just better for your hair in many ways because it tends to be gentler on both your strands and your scalp. Of course, not all sulfate free shampoos are created equal. If you still want that foaming feeling and a deep, effective clean, you have to seek out a moisturizing shampoo containing other surfactants and cleansing ingredients that deliver results. The good news is these formulas do exist.We’ll share quite a few of them at the end to make your search all the easier.

Why Should You Use Sulfate Free Shampoo?

Now that you know what it is, let’s get into what is sulfate free shampoo used for. Knowing the benefits of using sulfate free shampoo can help you understand why it’s important and decide if it’s right for you. Here are a couple really good reasons to use sulfate free shampoo:‌

To Preserve Your Color

Sulfates are powerful cleaning agents, which means they can quickly strip your hair of added color. As anyone who colors their hair knows, preserving that fresh-from-the-salon sheen and hue is anything but easy. Save yourself an extra trip to the salon (and its impact on your wallet) and keep your hair color looking its best by opting for sulfate free shampoo. For added benefit, reach for a sulfate free formula specifically designed for color-treated hair, such as our Color Care shampoo, which protects against the main factors that degrade hair color: UV rays, hard water, and damage.‌

This benefit alone is why sulfate free shampoo is a non-negotiable for those with dyed or bleached strands.

To Prioritize Moisture

As powerful cleaning agents, sulfate-containing shampoos can also be quite drying to the hair. When using sulfate shampoo, hair can become rough, brittle, and prone to breakage over time, especially if used often. ‌On the other hand, sulfate free shampoo is often far less drying and can help hair retain its natural oils that contribute to moisture and softness. For particularly damage-prone, dry hair, try our Restore Shampoo from our line of deeply hydrating hair repair products, which uses a mild amino acid-derived surfactant blend to gently cleanse hair and conditioning agents to restore damaged cuticles.

To Protect Your Skin

If you have sensitive skin, you may react negatively to sulfates, which can be irritating and even harsh to the skin. Side effects include itchiness, flakiness, and red patches.‌Sulfates are also harsh on the eyes. While we have made a habit from the early days of washing our hair to keep shampoo out of our eyes, it does happen, and when it does, it’s far more painful when the formula contains sulfates. ‌Protect your sensitive scalp and your eyes with a sulfate free formula such as Clarifying Detox Shampoo, which cleanses the hair and nourishes the scalp.‌

To Avoid Harsh Chemicals

 Another good reason to go sulfate free is if you are trying to avoid any harsh chemicals. There is a slew of reasons you may want to avoid harsh chemicals, including those we mentioned above as well as a desire to free your home from potentially harmful products. ‌Sulfate free shampoos are often much gentler on the skin, eyes, and hair and easier on your home environment as well. ‌Cleaning up your hair care routine can be as simple as ridding it of sulfates, but there are other ingredients that you should look out for too. 

What Else to Look Out For

Sulfate isn’t the only ingredient to be aware of when you’re looking for the best possible hair product. It’s also important to steer clear of these ingredients: 

• Phthalates: Phthalates are thought to be endocrine disruptors, meaning they can disrupt your endocrine system and affect your hormones. Look out for them in fragrances and other scented products. 

• Parabens: Parabens are a type of preservative found in beauty products to prevent bacteria and mold. Parabens were thought to be endocrine disruptors, and while there isn’t strong research to support the health risks, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

• Formaldehydes (Donors + Releasers): Another type of preservative, formaldehyde donors, release a small amount of formaldehyde over time to prevent the growth of microorganisms. While formaldehyde donors are considered to be safe at low levels, some studies show that formaldehyde can cause allergic contact dermatitis in the skin.

Who Should Use Sulfate Free Shampoo?

Sulfate free shampoo benefits almost everyone, no matter your hair type. To determine if it could benefit you, ask yourself the following questions: ‌

• Do you have color-treated hair?

• Do you shampoo every day?

• Do you have damaged hair?

• Is your hair low porosity or has difficulty retaining moisture? 

• Do you have an existing skin condition such as eczema, contact dermatitis, or rosacea?

• Are you prone to frizz?

• Do you have sensitive skin?

‌If you answered “yes” to any one of the above, you should use sulfate free shampoo. Even if you didn’t answer “yes” to any of the above, you still may want to consider sulfate free shampoo. If you don’t, you may miss out on some of the most cutting-edge hair care products on the market, considering so many new and innovative formulas are created sulfate free.

How To Choose the Right Sulfate Free Shampoo

Now that you know all the benefits of sulfate free shampoo, we’d bet you are ready to make the switch. Thankfully, finding the right sulfate free shampoo for you can actually be quite simple. 

Our collection of Living Proof shampoos is sulfate free (free of SLS and SLES).‌

This means instead of shopping by the ingredient label when browsing hair products online, you can focus purely on the benefit you need. 

• Is your hair lacking fullness and lying flat? Try our Full Shampoo, a gentle, sulfate free formula that preps your hair for maximum fullness and body by removing residue and buildup, and helps repel dirt and oil to keep hair cleaner, longer.‌

• Do you have damaged and dry hair? Reach for our Restore Shampoo, which helps restore damaged hair cuticles for visibly healthier looking hair. Yep, it’s also sulfate free. 

• Are you a curly-haired girl? Then it’s our sulfate free Curl Shampoo that you should go for. This formula is fit for all curly hair types and powered by our Healthy Curl Complex to gently cleanse and deliver balanced conditioning for stronger, more defined curls straight from the shower.‌

See, you don’t have to sacrifice results when you go sulfate free. While sulfates such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) may be effective cleaning agents used in many shampoos, they can be a little too effective and actually strip and dry your hair. We have found better alternative surfactants that are just as effective yet mild and gentle, so you can go sulfate free and still experience clean.

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Living Proof Review Team

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