A few weeks ago I instigated a twitter conversation around shampoos after going to see the launch of a new range from L'Oreal, which I believe is the beginning of a revolution in the mass haircare market. The range is SLS and silicone free (of which you can read more about here) but that led to a lot of questions from people asking 'what does that actually mean?' and 'why is that good for my hair?' Back in the day I worked for a professional haircare brand and started studying for a qualification in the science of hair and skin; this has given me a lot of knowledge and understanding of beauty products and what claims can actually be substantiated. There are so many myths and miscontrued pieces of information out in the social space, so this hopefully clears up some of those and answers some burining questions.
What is an SLS free shampoo?
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (or SLS) is a chemical ingredient used in lots of different cleansing products such as shampoo, shower gel and face wash. It's this agent that actually gets rid of the oil, grease and dirt from hair and skin by grabbing onto it so it can be washed away with water. Although this is used in the majority of products you can buy on the high street, it can actually be harmful to sensitive skin and cause problems - particularly by stripping away too much oil/moisture and aggravating conditions like eczema and psorasis. Even if you don't normally have sensitive skin, excessive use of products containing SLS can cause itchy, flaky or dry skin. For the majority of us it won't cause a problem to use products containing this ingredient, but if you do suffer with an itchy scalp or really dry limbs this may be a good place to start investigating. It's become a trend of late to claim you're SLS free as brands become aware that consumers are understanding the science behind their ingredients; this isn't a reason to panic though as for the majority of us you can get away with using SLSs without a care in the world.
My SLS free shampoo doesn't lather as much - is it cleaning my hair?
Yes, totally, 100%. We've all been molded into believing that a good shampoo is one which gives off a really rich, creamy, foamy lather. However, this isn't actually a sign of a good shampoo as all the product is doing is capturing air rather than grabbing and removing dirt. The cheaper ingredients are the ones that foam the most, meaning it's normal for your bottle of £2.99 shampoo to lather like a foam party in Ibiza, but your £15 bottle from the hairdressers to not. We're so used to doing the 'lather, rinse, repeat' routine that it takes a while to get used to 'wash, rinse, sit back' instead.
I've heard silicones are bad - why?
Many shampoos and conditioners contain silicones which sit on the surface of hair and create a smooth, silky and shiny finish. This is great for a week or so, but as you continue to use the product the silicone just builds up and up until you're left with a coating of silicone all over your head. This will start to weigh down your barnet over time, leaving you with limp and lifeless hair that you can't do much with. The silicone molecule is too large to be absorbed into the hair so it's purely a superficial ingredient to make hair look pretty, albeit temporarily. The problem worsens when you change shampoos and it takes a while to strip the silicone to reveal the hair underneath - so many people think the shampoo isn't working and return to their silicone-heavy brand and the cycle starts all over again. The key is to firstly stay away from as many silicone heavy brands as possible, but also to use a claryfying shampoo every 2-3 weeks to strip away any build up and reveal a healthy swishy head of hair underneath.
I've heard products claim to improve the health of my hair - can they?
In a word, no. Hair is dead. Once it pops out the top of your head there's nothing you can do to actually improve the health of your hair, you can only improve the appearance. You can coat it in good stuff, create an illusion of shine, volumise it, fiddle with it and style it within an inch of its life, but effectively it's as dead as a dodo. When shopping for products be very careful because there are certain legalities around what you can and can't say - when I was working in NPD at a professional hair care brand I spend my life putting the word 'help' in front of every sentence that came out of the PR department! You can help prevent breakage or damage to hair by coating it or using products full of strengthening ingredients, but on the whole a lot of the campaigns I see on a daily basis are somewhat misleading - be careful what you believe.
This is a start to the discussion around haircare, skincare and whatever else you want to know. I'm more than happy to answer questions or follow up on this post with future ones, depending on what you're burning to ask! Just add a question in the comments section below and I'll be back with my science hat on shortly...