The Effects of Sulfates on Curly Hair Over Time

Posted by Controlled Chaos on

Unless you've been living under a rock in recent years, you've no doubt heard a lot of talk about sulfates. Chances are good that you've had a stylist tell you to avoid them or read an article or blurb about how harsh they are. Let's talk a little about exactly what sulfates do to your hair, short-term and long-term, and why avoiding them is indeed a wise choice—especially for curly hair.

First, let's start with some basic information. Sulfates in your shampoo, soap, dishwashing liquid, or laundry detergent are...well, detergents. If they're listed on your shampoo as sulfates such as sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate or ammonium lauryl/laureth sulfate, then yes...they're the same ones that are in your dish soap. So essentially, if you use a sulfate shampoo, you're basically washing your hair with laundry/dish detergent!?

Well, kinda. The purpose of sulfates is to break down oil and grease so they release from whatever you're washing (i.e., that pan you cooked chicken wings on last night). And yes, sulfate shampoos break up oil and grease buildup from your hair. You might be thinking, "Okay, what's wrong with that?" 

Let's say, for example, you wash your hair every other day with a sulfate shampoo. The sulfates strip darn near everything out of your hair and scalp, including your natural oils. Do you really think your hair and scalp will have a chance to recover from that deep cleaning and stripping in just the one day in between? 

Let's talk about what sulfates do to your hair with long-term use. The stripping is bad enough, but that's not all they do. The sulfates may break down the oils/grease/fats on the outer surface of the hair, but what do you think they do when they break those barriers down and have access to the inner parts of the hair shaft? They continue breaking things down. And what's left when they are on the inner layers of the hair strand? Yep, the internal structure of the hair itself! So essentially, using a sulfate shampoo long-term is destroying your internal hair structure. 

In addition, when the shampoos come in contact with water, some of them can leave an alkaline residue on the hair that turns into calcium salts, which are deposited and accumulate on the hair over time. This eventually will leave the hair looking opaque and feeling tangled. Um, can we say EW!? 

Now, the fact is that there are plenty of shampoos out there that contain much more gentle detergents and surfactants, from no-sulfate cleansing conditioners to gentle low-sulfate shampoos that still create some lather (shameless plug: our Hair Cleanser is a completely sulfate-free, low-foaming shampoo that's perfect for all hair types!). And the gentle detergents are more than sufficient to cleanse the gunk from the hair without causing all that damage to the structure of the hair.

After your gentle cleansing treatment, be sure to style your curls with Controlled Chaos Curl Crème to complete the curl-friendly moisturizing package. You will notice a big difference in the way your hair looks and feels, and you will be able to rest easy knowing you aren't breaking your hair down from the inside. We'd call it a win-win.

References: 1, 2, 3, 4

curl care curly hair hair care ingredients SLS sulfate free shampoo sulfates

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  • So say that I was born with natural curly big bouncy curls and I’m like the only child with curly hair of my whole dad family and no one else has it so like its a pretty BIG DANG and they went away ?! Do u think it could of been the sulfate shampoos, heat, or rain, or something….PLZ I need my hair to be full of life …like what shampoos or conditioners or deep conditioners or something ..just something that would bring back my hair into curls..thanks for reading if able.. If able to leave a respond God bless you..!

    GEnnesis on
  • I am biologist and I’ve never heard of a ‘fatty protein’…. because such a mythical creature simply does not exist. The rest of this post sounds plausible.

    Milia on
  • I wish more stylists knew this. I use a product recommended by my stylist and sulfates are the second ingredient listed on the label! I’m changing products I use.

    Carol on

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