Sulphates are essentially cleansing agents that help to create a rich lather when mixed with water, lifting away dirt and grease to leave hair feeling clean. They're commonly used in the majority of budget shampoos and cleansers (including shower gels and bubble baths) because they're both effective and cheap, so much so that they're also used in washing-up liquid and laundry powder. Although they do the job effectively, these common detergents can be incredibly irritating for sensitive scalps. Not only do they wash away product build-up, dirt and grease from the scalp, but they can also strip the scalp and hair of beneficial oils and nutrients that help keep everything lubricated. If you have sensitive skin or suffer from eczema or psoriasis, sulphates more often than not make the situation even worse - which is why doctors and dermatologists often recommend sulphate-free shampoos and body products.
If your hair often feels dry, brittle and coarse or looks dull and lifeless, it may be a result of the sulphates in your shampoo: they're hugely stripping on the hair, removing not only the grease and dirt we'd like to be rid of, but the goodness and natural oils that help to leave hair looking and feeling healthy. As science and technology progresses, there's really no need for the majority of brands to keep using the cheap sulphates that offer a temporary gain but long term pain. So many are now seeking softer and more natural alternatives, which although often reduces the natural lather of products we associate with a 'good' shampoo experience, really has no impact on the hair itself. Although many brands are really investing in new technology (including Liz Earle, L'Oreal and MoroccanOil) it's still incredibly common for even the most expensive brands to be using sulphates in their formula to provide consumers with a deceptive rich lather.
The ingredients you want to be looking out for are sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES). Effective alternatives include derivatives of coconut, such as sodium coco sulphate which is actually *not* the same as these 'nasty' sulphates, and the less irritating cocamidopropyl betaine. However, many brands are now claiming to be 'sulphate free' as they know consumers are wary about these potentially stripping ingredients, but they're just replacing them with equally as nasty alternatives. It's well worth doing your research if you're concerned, sticking to 'natural' or organic brands that will only harness the power of nature in their formulas.
In my opinion, if you can pick up a sulphate-free shampoo that does the job just as well and doesn't cost the earth, then why would you continue to use products that strip hair of its goodness? Although it's definitely the buzz phrase of the moment, sulphate-free is becoming more widely understood and is definitely a selling point for many of us that want to look after our barnets. If you've coloured, dry, curly, frizzy or even over styled hair, then avoiding sulphates could help prevent the situation from deteriorating further; it won't solve the issue or inject any additional goodness, but it will help you regain control. The important thing is to make informed choices and pick what's right for you and your hair.
Have you made a pledge to be sulphate free, or are you just not fussed about all the hype?