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What Is SLS in Shampoo? | An Overly-Detailed Guide

With all the talk about using healthy products on your hair, you may have heard of sulfates. More and more shampoos are labeled as “sulfate-free” today. 

You may have wondered, “What is SLS in shampoo?” We will break it down for you and explain what SLS means and how it can affect your hair.

What Is SLS in Shampoo?

SLS stands for sodium lauryl sulfate, and it’s one of the synthetic detergents that was originally created to clean laundry. They were first used in the 1940s, and they were added to all kinds of cleaning products, including shampoos.

They are inexpensive and easy to produce, and they lather well. However, they are a strong chemical compound, and they can cause hair to become dehydrated. If you are using a shampoo that contains SLS, you may have a lot of questions.

Most people want to know the following:

  • What are sulfates?
  • How do they affect your hair?
  • Should you be concerned?
  • What are the alternatives?

We had the same questions, and we set out to find the answers. Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about SLS in shampoo.

Read Next: What Is Lauryl Sulfate in Shampoo?

What Are Sulfates?

SLS, aka sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate, is commonly used in shampoo and other cleaning products. It’s a synthetic detergent, and if you check the ingredients of commercial detergents, it’s often the first one listed.

Before sulfates were created, people used soap derived from lye and lard. Although they were good for cleaning, they were very harsh.

When scientists created sulfates derived from sodium lauryl sulfate, it became widely used for any type of cleaning product. Sulfates are inexpensive and easy to produce, and they are less damaging than the lard- or lye-based cleaners.

They also produce a lot of lather, which makes people feel clean. Although they do a great job of cleaning, they do more than lift dirt and grime. Unfortunately, they also strip the hair of its natural moisture and leave it dehydrated. 

For this reason, there is a trend toward shampoos that are gentler and help your hair remain healthy. The shampoo may lather less, but it cleans well and allows your body to retain its own protective moisture.

Read Next: What Is Sodium Sulfate in Shampoo?

How Do Sulfates Affect Your Hair?

Sulfates are a chemical compound, and they are harsh. They do a great job of cleaning, but they strip everything out of your hair, including moisture, color, and more.

When you use shampoo with sulfates, they make your hair swell and the outer layer of the cuticle opens. Then, all of the moisture from your sebum leaches out. In addition, sulfates make your hair color fade.

The color molecules leach out with the natural moisture. Eighty percent of the color fading that you experience occurs as a result of using sulfate-based shampoo or other hair products that contain SLS. 

Should You Be Concerned About SLS in Shampoo?

If you want your hair to be healthy and look great, you should avoid shampoos that contain sulfates. You might miss the lather that sulfates give you, but your hair will retain its natural moisture.

You’ll spend less money repairing damaged hair, and your color will last longer. Although SLS has these effects on your hair, there is no evidence to suggest that there are any long-term health issues.

You do not need to stop using shampoo with SLS for your physical health, only to improve the health of your hair. Most research classifies SLS as an irritant, not a carcinogen. 

If you have found that you have allergies to this type of chemical or that your hair or skin is sensitive, you will want to avoid it. In addition, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people with rosacea avoid sulfates.

Other people who should avoid them include people with eczema, contact dermatitis, or sensitive skin. Sulfates are strong for people with fine or dry hair. This hair type is more fragile, and it easily breaks off if you use shampoo with sulfates.

It also increases frizz because sulfates make a negative electrical charge when they have contact with your hair. It’s recommended that people with frizz avoid sulfates in shampoo.

Read Next: How to Get Rid of Frizzy Hair

What Are the Alternatives?

For an explainer titled What is SLS in Shampoo, a magnifying glass zooming in on a shampoo bottle label

Alona Siniehina/Shutterstock

If you want to stop using shampoo with sulfates, you need to find a shampoo marked “Sulfate-free.” Sulfate-free shampoos tend to be more expensive, but they are worth it in several different ways.

First, since your shampoo won’t be stripping your hair of its natural oils, you won’t spend as much money buying products to hydrate your hair. In addition, if your hair is color-treated, the color won’t fade as quickly.

If you have dry or fragile fine hair, your hair will be much healthier if you choose a sulfate-free shampoo. There are plenty of options available today, as there is more awareness of the damaging chemicals in hair care products. 

Finally, you can protect your hair in other ways, even if you use shampoo with sulfates. Your hair may not need to be washed as frequently as you wash it. Oily hair benefits from daily shampooing, whereas dry hair only needs to be washed a few times a week.

You can also choose shampoo that is designed for your hair type, and be sure to use conditioner. You can also minimize the amount of heated tools you use on your hair. These tools will dry out and damage your hair. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do sulfates in shampoo cause hair loss?

SLS is not linked to hair loss directly, but it can damage your hair, dehydrate it, and lead to hair breakage. It can irritate your skin, which can cause you to lose hair.

Can you use sulfate-free shampoo every day?

You can use sulfate-free shampoo every day without damaging your hair.

So, What Is SLS in Shampoo?

SLS is one of the chemical compounds called sulfates. Sulfates are added to most cleaning products for their ability to lift away dirt and grime. Unfortunately, they also lift your hair’s natural oils and damage your hair. When possible, it’s best to avoid products with SLS.

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