Skip to Content

What Is Sodium Sulfate in Shampoo? | A Detailed Guide

Although the beauty industry has been shifting towards natural and chemical free products, many shampoos still contain an ingredient called sodium sulfate. These sulfates are cleansing agents that allow shampoo to clean your hair.

And they are responsible for the nice lather you get when you wash your hair. If you wonder, “What is sodium sulfate in shampoo?” You are in the right place. Read on to learn all you need to know.

What Is Sodium Sulfate in Shampoo?

Sodium sulfate is a surfactant, or surface active agent, and it reduces surface tension between two particles, helping the shampoo clean more effectively.

Its chemical structure has one end that is hydrophilic, and attracted to water, and the other is hydrophobic, and attaches to oil, dirt, and more. When you use shampoo, it creates the lather that then lifts dirt, oil, product residue, pollutants, and more from your hair.

It happens to be in most shampoos, leading many people to ask questions, such as:

  • How do sulfates work?
  • What are the benefits of sulfates?
  • Are there any risks?
  • What are the types of sodium sulfates?

We set out to find the answers, and they are listed below. Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about sodium sulfates in shampoo.

You Might Also Like:

How Sulfates Work

Image helping answer,

Bass Stock/Shutterstock

Sulfates are cleaning agents that are made with mineral salts that contain sulfur. They are added to shampoos to give you the lather and foaming you need to lift dirt, oil, product residue, and more from your hair.

They are made up of molecules that attract both water and oil, which is why they can lift dirt, oil, and more from your hair. When you wash your hair, it foams as you massage the shampoo into your hair. That is the sodium sulfates at work.

Then, the dirt, excess oils, and other pollutants that are on your hair are drawn to the sulfate molecules, and the water from your shower can rinse them away. It leaves your hair clean and free of dirt and oils. 

Benefits of Sodium Sulfates in Shampoo

There are benefits to using shampoo with sulfates. First, they cleanse your hair. They are surfactants, which means that they disrupt the surface tension and remove dirt and excess oils from your hair.

The sebum is the oils your body makes naturally, and it can capture dirt, pollen, pollutants, and more. The sodium sulfates lift and remove it all from your hair.

When you use shampoo and get that nice lather, that is the sodium sulfates at work. This allows you to use less product because it foams up and expands. They remove buildup from products, and they can help prevent buildup.

They also have antimicrobial properties, which means that they fight bacteria and promote a healthy scalp. It is easy to rinse your hair and the water whisks away all of the grime, leaving your hair clean.

Drawbacks to Sodium Sulfates in Shampoo

Although sodium sulfates do a great job of cleaning your hair, they can lift more than the dirt, oils, and grime. They can be an irritant if they get in your eyes and they can make them itch and water.

This type of shampoo can also lift all of the natural oils from your hair, which can make it dry and brittle. Some people have sensitive skin, and sodium sulfates can cause dermatitis and make your skin itchy and red. There have been rumors that sulfates might be carcinogens that cause cancer.

But there is no scientific study or evidence to support this claim. If you shampoo with sulfates too frequently, they can damage your hair. Your hair is a protein filament, and 91% of each fiber is protein.

When it is damaged, it affects the strength of your hair strands, which makes it look dull and flat. This can cause split ends and frizz. You should make sure that you follow up with a conditioner that puts the moisture back into your hair. If you allow your hair to become damaged, it can break and start thinning.

Read Next: What Is Hair Made Of?

Types of Sodium Sulfate in Shampoo

There are two main types of sodium sulfates in shampoo: sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. They both serve the same purpose, which is to make your shampoo lather and lift dirt and oils from your hair.

These two sulfates are the most commonly used in shampoo products. Sodium laureth sulfate is made from sodium lauryl sulfate.

It is a chemical that goes through a process called ethoxylation, where ethylene oxide is introduced, and it changes the chemical makeup of the compound. After, the sodium laureth sulfate is created, and it is a gentler chemical than sodium lauryl sulfate. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are sulfates bad for hair?

Some people say that sulfates should be avoided, but the truth is that if you use them properly, they are not bad for your hair. It is important to make sure that you follow up with a good conditioner, and you should not leave the shampoo with sulfates sitting in your hair.

Is sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate better for hair?

Sodium laureth sulfate is milder than sodium lauryl sulfate, so it is better for people with sensitive skin or who have dry or damaged hair.

Can I use shampoo with sodium sulfates on dry or damaged hair?

If your hair is dry or damaged, you will want to be careful using shampoo with sodium sulfates. It is important to clean your hair, but you need to hydrate it as well so that it can hold moisture and get back the moisture that the shampoo washes away when it removes the oil.

So, What Is Sodium Sulfate in Shampoo?

Sodium sulfates are the cleansing agent in your shampoo. They are responsible for the lather when you wash your hair, and they lift dirt, excess oils, and more from your hair.

They do a great job of cleaning, but you may need to be careful if your hair is dry or damaged. Be sure to follow up with a conditioner to lock moisture into your hair.