Sulfates are chemicals used as cleansing agents. They’re found in household cleaners, detergents, and even shampoo.
Two main types of sulfates are used in shampoo: sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. The purpose of these sulfates is to create a lathering effect to remove oil and dirt from your hair. If your shampoo easily makes a lather in the shower, there’s a good chance it contains sulfates. Sulfate-free shampoos make little to no later.
Compared to other cleansing ingredients in shampoo, sulfates are said to have the deepest cleansing effects. They belong to a class of cleansers called anionic surfactants, which clean away substances.
Sulfates are considered shampooing staples. Still, the use of sulfates in shampoo has been controversial in recent decades. Some people believe that sulfates can directly damage your health. Since shampoo is used daily in many cases, the thought is that this much exposure to sulfates can lead to serious risks. Sulfates were once perceived to be cancer-causing agents, but further scientific evidence debunked these claims.
However, this doesn’t mean that sulfate-containing shampoo is safe or appropriate for everyone. It can be damaging to certain types of hair, and it may even cause skin irritation in some people. Learn more about these possible risks and what you can do about them.