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Sulfate free shampoo: All you need know

Have you ever wondered how a shampoo generates a rich lather as soon as it is mixed with water? The answer is using chemicals like sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. 

What are the main benefits of using sulfates in shampoo?

  • Sulfates are chemicals used as surfactants in shampoos to hold water and other particles together. 
  • It is also responsible for the rich foam or lather in shampoo. The foaming action makes it easy for you to spread the shampoo on a large area.
  •  It also helps in deep cleansing of the scalp and remove dirt and excess oil. 

Are sulfates dangerous when used regularly?

Sulfates have the potential to wreak total havoc on your hair. There are many negative effects that sulfates can cause to your hair shaft, hair follicles, and your scalp. Sulfates are closely linked with damage to hair protein. In fact, one study from 2005 shows that hair immersed in a sodium dodecyl sulfate solution loses two times as much protein as hair immersed in water. This can lead to split ends, breakage and hair that is difficult to manage. Some of these include:

  • Dry hair and dry scalp. Sulfates dissolve all of the natural oils on your scalp, thus leaving your hair and scalp dryer than normal.
  • Scalp irritations. Sulfates have the potential to worsen dandruff and eczema. In turn they also leave your scalp feeling tight and itchy.
  • Fading hair colour. If you colour your hair, the aggressive cleansing that sulfates gives you will strip your hair of that colour, leaving you with dull, faded locks.
  • Hair loss. Sulfates corrode and damage your hair follicles,which leads to hair loss. This is especially true if you don't properly rinse shampoo out of your hair.

Switching from sulphate to sulfate free shampoos

When switching from sulfate shampoo to sulfate free shampoo, you’ll have to make a few adjustments to get used to the change.


  1. Sulfate free shampoos do not lather.  Most common problem experienced by people who switch is that they do not feel that hair is being properly cleansed because it does not lather. You must remember that other shampoos lather so much because they contain sulfates. 

Some tips to work up some lather if you’re dissatisfied

  • Make sure you saturate your hair with sufficient water before applying shampoo
  • Wash your hair twice. It is less damaging even if you wash it twice to make sure you get rid of oily scalp. 
  1. Sulfate free shampoo leaves your hair hydrated. Since the sulfate free shampoo does not strip your scalp of natural oils, you might feel that your hair is a little sticky. But if you dry it well you’ll feel that your hair is naturally hydrated and not sticky or oily. 

Some tips to make the best of your sulfate free shampoo

  • Make sure you wash your hair twice if you’ve applied oil before shampooing
  • You can use a variant that is suitable for oily scalp- Hibiscus or Aloe vera shampoo instead of coconut shampoo.

Who should make the switch immediately?

People with genetic sensitivity to DHT. Sulfates aren’t known to affect scalp DHT levels and as not directly linked to hair loss in men. But you can indirectly link the two. If you’re susceptible to skin irritation from sulfates, you could temporarily lose hair. Excessive exposure to sulfates can weaken your hair and it is likely to break. Sulfates are best avoided if you have sensitive skin or naturally thin hair. 

People with sensitive scalp. Scientific studies, including one from 1996, suggest that people with low levels of ceramides -- a type of waxy lipid molecule found in your skin cells -- are more likely to experience skin irritation and contact dermatitis after being exposed to sulfates such as sodium lauryl sulfate.

People with curly, dry and frizzy hair. Sulfates strip the essential oil from your hair, leaving your curls frizzy, dry and tangled. They potentially damage the texture of your lovely curls. You should shift to sulfate free shampoo to lock the natural oils and strengthen your hair.

People with dyed and chemically altered hair. People who colour their hair or regularly use heat for styling may want to avoid sulfates as these processes already damage the hair. To otherwise keep the damage minimum to already treated hair, shift to a sulfate free shampoo and make it strong naturally. 

So what do you do if you love the silky effects of silicones but not their sticky side-effects?

Some shampoos and conditioners, such as Elephantrunk Nourishing Hibiscus shampoo, use natural hibiscus extract as a substitute to provide shine, softness, and detangling. Hibiscus extract comes with an added advantage of providing the hair roots and scalp with nourishment and anti ageing properties. 

Some shampoos try to get the benefits of silicones from oils and other moisturizers, try Elephantrunk coconut shampoo. Elephantrunk coconut shampoo contains natural coconut milk and is enriched with vitamins, nutrients, and fatty acids that benefit the hair in different ways. Oil based shampoos give great shine.

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