When browsing for beauty products, you may notice that some brands champion themselves as ‘sulfate-free’. But what exactly does sulfate-free mean, and is it important that we buy products without sulfates?
If you’re unsure of the term and what it means, keep reading to learn what sulfates are, how they work, if we should avoid them, and so much more.
What are Sulfates?
The big question is – what exactly are sulfates?
Sulfates are detergents or surfactants found in beauty products such as shampoo, facial cleansers, body washes, and toothpaste. Of course, they’re often found in household cleaning items like laundry and dish detergent, too. Sulfates are the most commonly used detergents in the beauty industry.
The most common sulfate-based ingredients present in personal care products are sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate.
Sulfates work to remove dirt, sebum, and other product residues, and they also have properties that create lather.
Sodium lauryl sulfate is a degreaser commonly found in toothpaste. It delivers us that pleasant foaming action we get when we brush our teeth, helping to achieve that squeaky clean feeling in the mouth.
Why Are Sulfates Bad For You?
So, if sulfates help clean our bodies and they produce that much-loved foaming action, why are they bad for us?
The biggest problem with sulfates is that they can lead to varying levels of skin and eye irritation. For those that experience it, this irritation can worsen the longer the product is in contact with the skin.
Sulfates often dry out the skin, and many people find they can lead to acne when their skin is in consistent contact with sodium lauryl sulfate. However, it’s good to know that this is usually less of a problem with body skin than the face, so most people can typically tolerate sulfates in body washes.
Toothpaste with sulfates can sometimes lead to unwanted symptoms inside the mouth, too. Sodium lauryl sulfate can result in or irritate existing allergies, canker sores, and unpleasant breath.
Should You Use Sulfate-Free Beauty Products?
Whether you should use sulfate-free beauty products depends on your preferences and the sensitivity of your skin.
Do you crave that bubbly lather and squeaky-clean feeling when you hop in the shower? Then sulfates are your friend. Today, many beauty brands are conscious of using a combination of sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate that’s known to be suitable and safe for mild and gentle cleansing.
However, if you have sensitive skin or want to avoid sulfates altogether, keep an eye out for products labeled as sulfate-free. Just remember that most sulfate-free products won’t lather up and are more likely to create a hydrating, creamy effect.
Sodium lauryl sulfate is a foaming agent, so when it’s not used, your cleansing products won’t create those frothy suds you may be used to. But don’t worry – lathering isn’t an indication of your product’s effectiveness. Just because it doesn’t lather, it doesn’t mean it can’t clean properly.
However, when choosing a shampoo, understand that if you use a lot of styling products or have significantly greasy hair, a lathering cleanser with a detergent-like effect can better remove product and oil from the hair.
There isn’t currently a substance that’s been created that delivers the foamy action that sodium lauryl sulfate provides in toothpaste. But some brands are replacing sodium lauryl sulfate with oils like olive and coconut oil to help remove bacteria. While these oils don’t deliver that frothy-clean feeling, they do help clean the mouth following brushing.
What Are Some Great Sulfate-Free Products to Try?
There are plenty of excellent sulfate-free products out there to try, but here are some of our favorites.
The Lipid Recovery Science Anhydrous Cleanser is developed to cleanse the skin before or after exfoliation. It works best as a daily cleanser and is suitable for even the most sensitive and dry skin. It contains no sulfates, fragrance, soap, or preservatives, ensuring a mild cleanse that minimizes irritation and allergic reactions.
The cleanser contains a coconut-derived sugar ester which works wonders for gently removing makeup, dirt, and excess sebum.
Another wonderful sulfate-free beauty product is the Obagi Professional-C Microdermabrasion Polish + Mask 30%. The mask reduces the appearance of fine lines, hyperpigmentation, and sun damage leaving the complexion with a beautiful, youthful glow.
Packed with 30% vitamin C, the multi-tasking polish and mask exfoliates and primes the skin for a visibly brighter and smoother complexion.
Are you suffering from acne? Then reach for the Replenix Acne Solutions Pads. Using a sulfate-free formula, the pads are soaked with ultra-pure glycolic acid 5% with acne-fighting salicylic acid 2% to unclog pores and speed up removing dead skin cells. The skin is left clearer, smoother, and blemish-free.