Switching To Sulfate-Free Shampoo? Here Is All You Need To Know

Medically reviewed by Dr. Shruti Chavan, MBBS Dermatologist
Written by Arshiya Syeda

Whenever anyone looks at you, the first thing that they notice is your hair. Beautiful hair adds to the appeal of your face and stands as a crown of beauty in its own right. However, do you ever wonder if you are taking proper care of your hair?

Most of the hair care products contain different types of chemicals, including sulfates, that may be harmful to our hair and scalp. But, what are sulfates? And, how do you know if a shampoo is sulfate-free? Read on to find out.

What Does Sulfate Shampoo Mean?

Sulfates are salts formed from the reaction of sulfuric acid with other chemicals.

They are surfactants, meaning they have detergent-like properties and act as foaming agents and super cleaning agents (1).

The hair care industry uses sulfates, mostly in the form of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), in shampoo to help remove dirt and oil from your hair and scalp and clean them thoroughly.

Although it is a standard shampoo ingredient, CDC has warned about the excessive use of sulfates, citing detrimental effects to human hair (2).

So, what does sulfate shampoo do to your hair? Find out in the next section.

Understanding The Role of Sulfate Shampoo For Hair

Your scalp secretes natural oils known as sebum that are vital for the health of your hair. They protect the keratin in your hair and the hair follicles from damage. The sebum forms a waterproof layer on the surface of the hair strands to prevent damage to keratin (3).

Sulfate shampoos help to remove the dead cells, free oil, and any other dirt that is present on the hair.

However, according to a study, the downside is that they can also remove the essential oils from the hair and damage the hair protein (4).

Sulfate shampoo creates a lather that is responsible for breaking free the surface tension of water. It also easily mixes with oils. Thus, while rinsing your hair, it can wash off the dirt, dead cells, and sebum effectively.

However, though it makes your hair cleaner, it also damages your hair’s keratin. It increases hair porosity and decreases hair moisture, which makes your hair dry and brittle.

Hence, the current industry is focusing more attention on producing shampoo that is free from sulfates.

So, what are the advantages of going sulfate-free? Find out below!

Advantages Of Sulfate-Free Hair Shampoo

If you decide to use a shampoo that is free from sulfates, you can experience the following benefits:

  • Shampoo that is free from sulfates can help to lock in the natural moisture. It helps to maintain the original shine and softness of your hair. Such shampoos can also help you gain extra hair moisture in due time.
  • It takes a lot of time and effort to color your hair. To preserve it for longer, you can switch to a shampoo that is sulfate-free since the aggressive sulfates can fade your hair color quickly.
  • If you are using a shampoo that is free from sulfates, you no longer have to worry about the scalp irritation that plagued your life while using the previous shampoo. Additionally, you will no longer need to endure the burning sensation if the shampoo accidentally enters your eyes.
  • Shampoos with sulfate-free ingredients are mostly organic. Hence, it also helps cut down on harmful chemicals.

The American Academy of Dermatology advisory states that if you have skin and scalp problems like rosacea, contact dermatitis, and eczema, you should switch to a shampoo that is free from sulfates.

You must be wondering if a sulfate-free shampoo is for everyone. Read on to find out.

Who Can Use A Sulfate-Free Shampoo?

If you have issues like rosacea, contact dermatitis, eczema, or general scalp itchiness and dryness, it is time to go sulfate-free. There is no such restriction on who can use these shampoos, but it is best to consult a doctor for the best results and to avoid any adverse effects.

You also need to be able to differentiate between sulfate-free and sulfate-based shampoos. Here is how you can do that.

How To Know If A Shampoo Is Sulfate-Free?

Since you know the benefits of sulfate-free shampoo, you may be wondering if your current shampoo is one of them.

If you find either of the following ingredients in the ingredient list of a shampoo, you can be sure that it is not sulfate-free:

  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
  • Parabens
  • Triethanolamine

Now, let us now look into how sulfates damage our hair.

How Do Sulfates Damage Your Hair?

In the past, people thought that sulfates were carcinogenic. Thankfully, this has been proven false (5).

However, people are still wary of the level of sulfates in personal care products. This is because they have the potential to make your hair dry and brittle, resulting in many hair problems. Hence, you will only find products with a low concentration of sulfates, which can cause minimal damage to your hair.

As you grow older, sulfates begin to damage your hair even more. During menopause, you may experience hair fall, melanin reduction, thin follicles, and low protein and vitamins in the hair (6). Due to these factors, the hair becomes weak, and sulfate shampoo can damage the cuticle cells further. It exposes the inner hair cortex to external forces of moisture and temperature, resulting in breakage, split ends, and frizz.

Make sure to keep a tab on your hair health, decide if you need to make the switch to a sulfate-free shampoo, and enjoy your hair’s natural shine and softness!

Additionally, it is important to know the best way to use a sulfate-free shampoo. Find out how in the next section.

How To Use A Sulfate-Free Shampoo

  • To clean your hair with a sulfate-free shampoo, make sure to soak your hair and scalp in water thoroughly.
  • Now, apply the sulfate-free shampoo to your scalp.
  • Add more water to spread the shampoo easily and lather it up a bit.
  • Massage your scalp.
  • Now, rinse off the shampoo with cool water.
  • You may repeat this process a second time if you feel your hair is extra greasy.

You can try this regimen whenever you want to wash your hair with a sulfate-free shampoo. However, the biggest question is, how often should you use sulfate-free shampoo? Find out more in the next section.

Can You Use Sulfate-free Shampoo Daily To Wash Hair?

You need not wash your hair every day unless it is very oily. However, unlike sulfate shampoos, which make your hair brittle, a sulfate-free shampoo can be used daily, along with a conditioner to moisturize your hair.

However, does your hair feel greasy after using a sulfate-free shampoo? Find out why below.

Why Does Hair Feel Greasy After Using Sulfate-Free Shampoo?

Your hair may turn greasy either due to your hair type or the constituents of the shampoo.

Abandoning the harsh SLS-based shampoos for a sulfate-free decyl glucoside or coco glucoside shampoo means lesser cleaning action. However, these shampoos may not be able to develop lather quickly and build up in an area.

To get around this problem, you need to add more effort and remove the build-up.

Are you wondering how sulfate-free shampoo reacts with colored hair? Read on!

Why Is Sulfate-Free Shampoo Better For Colored Hair?

Dermatologists recommend you to switch to a shampoo that is sulfate-free after dyeing or bleaching your hair. It is because, after hair color treatment, your hair becomes more vulnerable and requires more moisture. Using a sulfate-based shampoo can make it dry and brittle, which may cause various hair problems, such as split ends, hair loss, and color fading.

It is best to know about the pros and cons of sulfate-free shampoo before making a decision. Keeping that in mind, here are the problems a sulfate-free shampoo could cause.

The Problem With Sulfate-Free Shampoos

As consumers are slowly educating themselves about the harmful effects of sulfates, the trend of using sulfate-free shampoo is gaining traction. However, just because a shampoo is free from sulfates does not mean that it is better or worth buying.

Many manufacturers market their product as a sulfate-free to keep up with the trend, but it could be false as well.

Some manufacturers are just trying to attain the tag of ‘sulfate-free’ by selling you shampoo with olefin sulfonate, which is closely related to the sulfate family. The use of these shampoos can be equally harmful to your hair, if not more potent.

Hence, it is best to go for herbal sulfate-free shampoos or make one at home, since beyond the grey zone, sulfate-free shampoos are largely advantageous.


We take special pride in our hair. Hence, it is necessary to take good care of it with proper shampoo. If you do not face any hair or scalp issues, you can carry on with your shampoo.

However, if you are experiencing irritation on your scalp, it can be a signal to switch your old shampoo out with a sulfate-free shampoo.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can sulfates harm your aging scalp?

As you grow older, your sebaceous glands produce lesser sebum. The sebum helps to waterproof the scalp, preventing moisture loss and pathogen entry. As sulfates wash away the sebum, your scalp becomes more vulnerable to rashes, inflammation, and infection.

Can sulfate-free shampoo help with hair growth?

There are many rumors that suggest sulfate-free shampoo aids hair growth. However, you must keep in mind that they are just rumors with no valid research or scientific proof.

Are sulfates environment-friendly?

Manufacturing sulfates requires either palm oil or petroleum jelly. The processing of palm oil involves the burning of palm trees, which can endanger many ecosystems and local livelihoods.


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Arshiya Syeda is an editor and certified counselor. Ever the lover of the written word, she served on the editorial boards of her school and college newsletters. Writing articles on hairstyles, hair care, and nutrition helped her combine her love for reading, writing, and research. As an editor, she helps her team members deliver polished and meticulously researched content. Arshiya is fluent in English, Urdu, and Hindi and aims to become a multilinguist by learning German and teaching herself American Sign Language (ASL).