Posted on by Paul WebDev

All You Need To Know About Sulfates


The increasing
popularity of natural and organic skin care led to the appearance of a lot of controversial claims regarding the safety of compounds, widely used in the formulation of
personal care products. Many of us get super confused, on a daily
basis, because the opinions we stumble upon on the internet, are often opposite
to one another. While some sources tell us that compound X is very dangerous
for our health, others claim it is perfectly safe for use. Confusing, isn’t it?

As organic
advocates, our primary mission is (and always will be) to help our customer
make informed choices. Since sulfates are one the most discussed group of
cosmetic compounds on the internet and their safety is questionable, we’ve
decided to separate truth from myths and tell you why you should to avoid them. Do
they cause cancer? Do they provoke allergies? Do they speed up aging? Read on,
and you’ll find out!

What Are Sulfates?

Sulfates are used in personal care product as
surfactants, emulsifies, cleansing and foaming agents. They appear in the
ingredient lists of tooth pastes, shampoos, soaps, facial cleansers, shower
gels, laundry detergents, bath salts, bleaching agents, hair color…
basically, almost everywhere. The most popular ones include Sodium
Lauryl Sulfate
(SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Ammonium Laurel Sulfate
(ALS) and two more that are not used so often – Sodium Myreth Sulfate
and Triethanolamine Laureth Sulfate.

The primary reason why companies choose to use sulfates is because they
break down lipids with ease and produce rich lather, which gives the user the
sensation of deep cleansing. Another reason, as many of you can guess, is that sulfates
are pretty cheap. 

Note: Even though sulfates are derived
from coconut or palm oil they are neither natural nor organic! Keep that in mind!

 

Do Sulfates Trigger Allergies?

Like any
other compound, sulfates can cause allergic reactions in individuals that are sensitive. That being said, I’d like to mention that even natural and organic
ingredient can provoke allergic response in some people. If you have
hyper-active immune system (which is what allergies are) virtually anything can
trigger a negative response in your body.

Nevertheless,
the problem with sulfates is a bit deeper. Since they possess the ability to
break down lipids, their frequent use can damage the natural lipid barrier of
the skin that serves protective function. Once this barrier is disrupted more
allergy-causing substances enter in our body, which increases the chance of
getting allergic reaction. Apart
from that, when the integrity of the lipid barrier is disrupted, our skin gets irritated
most often and rashes, redness and inflammations are more likely to appear.

Despite the
claims on the labels of sulfate-containing products (like
“gentle formula”, “no tears”, “delicate cleansing”) sulfates are
known irritants (not only in babies) and there is more than one study supporting that. 

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Do Sulfates Cause Premature Aging?

Sulfates dehydrate the skin,
strip it off its natural oils and break the proteins that keep it elastic and
firm, which inevitably increases the risk of your skin aging prematurely. As we’ve
mentioned in previous articles, the key to healthy, youthful skin
is keeping it hydrated and nourished. And, trust me – sulfates are not the best compound to put
on your skin if you want nourishment and hydration…

“I’ll use rich, nourishing products
to restore my skin’s balance”
you would say. Unfortunately, even the best and the most potent creams/serums
on the market, won’t do much for your skin, if you use sulfate-loaded facial cleansers
on a daily basis.

Are Sulfates Bad For Your Hair?

Sulfate-free
shampoos became a huge thing in the past 5 years, primarily because of all the
fuss around the safety of SLS and SLES. But are they really bad for your hair?

While
sulfates are really good at cleansing, they are also very good at breaking
lipids and proteins and irritating the skin. These three “great qualities” of
sulfates make them ideal if you want to be a proud owner of brittle hair, irritated
scalp and hyper-active sebaceous glands. If you are wondering why your scalp is
constantly itchy and why your hair get greasy one day after you’ve washed it,
read the label of your shampoo – the culprit might be hiding there.

When
sulfates dissolve the natural lipids that lubricate and protect your scalp,
your sebaceous glands try to compensate, by producing more sebum, which always
leads to not-very-clean-looking-roots shortly after taking a shower. Apart from
that, sulfates dehydrate the hair strands and make your tresses look frizzy, dull and lifeless. Definitely not sexy.

In spite of
everything I’ve mentioned above, I’d like to say that all of this is very
personal. There are individuals who tolerate daily use sulfates very well and
do not experience any side effects. If you are not one of those people though,
it’s time to ditch SLS out of your bathroom. Just do it.

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Do Sulfates Really Harm Your Health?

To begin
with – no, sulfates do not cause cancer. There is no scientific proof that
sulfates are carcinogenic. Still, many people are concerned that during the
process of synthesis of sulfates they can be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane (carcinogen). Even though this is true, I really want to believe
that manufacturers are conscious and they pick carefully the companies they purchase
compounds from… My hopes though will not serve much when it comes to safety,
so I’ll leave this one to you – you decide whether it is worth taking risks.

Some sources
also suggest that frequent exposure to sulfates can cause hormonal imbalance,
neurotoxicity and reproductive toxicity, because sulfates tend to accumulate
and leave residues in some organs in our bodies. While the scientific data here
is limited and quite controversial, once again, I’ll say that I’d prefer to be
safe. After all, I don’t think I am going to lose a lot, by getting rid of
products that may harm my body. What would you lose?  

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