Shampoos are a necessity. Although their frequency of use depends on your hair type, we can all agree that shampoo should actually be good for your hair. For many people, that means using ones formulated without silicones, parabens, or — and this seems to be a big one for folks — sulfates. Over the years, there’s been much chatter about sulfates in shampoos and their supposedly harsh effects. But are they really as damaging as they’re made out to be?
“The bad rap started in the ’70s, when some shampoos contained ethanolamine lauryl sulfates that released carcinogenic nitrosamines,” says New York City board-certified dermatologist Neil Sadick. “At the time, manufacturers took corrective action, but ever since, sulfates were associated with health risks.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), European Union, and Health Canada have all reached a consensus that the sulfates currently in shampoos are safe when used as intended, which is why there are still products on the market with these compounds, he adds.
If you have dyed hair, one myth you’ve probably heard is sulfate-free shampoo is better because it won’t strip your color. However, according to cosmetic chemist Randy Schueller, water is as damaging as any cleanser. “When your hair gets wet, it swells, the hair shaft opens, and some color leaches out,” says Schueller, who tested sulfates against other surfactants and didn’t see a difference in terms of fading color.
Still, cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson points out that sulfates can dry hair out, which can be damaging, particularly after coloring. So although it’s great to know sulfates aren’t as scary as you thought, they can be pretty irritating to the skin. “Sulfates can over-strip the skin of oils, which can leave it dry and prone to allergic reactions,” says Robinson. And it’ll sting if it gets in your eyes. Ouch.
Lathering up with a good ol’ sulfate-free shampoo can work wonders for your hair and scalp, especially if you have sensitive skin. So, we compiled a thorough list of the best sulfate-free shampoos, according to the pros and our editors.
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1. Rahua Classic Shampoo