The Lathering truth about Sulfates in your shampoo

Fredericksburg Salon Exposes facts about Sulfates in your Shampoo

Hi, I am Lisa Nguyen owner of Cool Looks Salon in Fredericksburg, VA .  Our company has been putting off sending this report for months now, but after hearing a brief report on WTOP radio last week regarding unfavorable ingredients in shampoos and I decided it was time to post this notice.

Over the years I have been working as a Cosmetologist / Stylist, and I have routinely heard clients (women as well as men) make the same complaints regarding :

Common Sulfate Reaction (Click to Enlarge)
  • scalp irritation
  • pronounced hair loss
  • dry hair problems
  • breaking brittle hair
  • split ends

 Aside from abusive practices like coloring your hair weekly, using improper dyes etc.  I believe that sulfates can be directly or indirectly involved in harming users of shampoos.  Actually, this is not news.  For years complaints about sulfates are among the most common ones made to the FDA, Health Canada, and to shampoo manufacturers.

What are sulfates and what are they used for?       

Sulfates are cleaning agents (detergents) and you’ll find them in most industrial and home cleaning products, such as:

  • Engine Degreasers
  • Floor Cleaners
  • Car Wash Soaps
  • Bubble Bath Products
  • Your shampoo
  • They are also used as a standard in Medical Trials / Testing by Dermatologists to purposely irritate the skin in order to measure healing.

How to tell if my shampoo contains sulfates     

If the bottle in question states “Sulfate Free” then it doesn’t contains sulfates.  However, over 90%  of all marketed shampoos contain sulfates.   All major popular  Salon shampoos contain them.   The pic below shows a typical listing of ingredients in a typically more expensive  bottle of Sulfated shampoo.

Figure 1

The chart below shows a list of the most common sulfates followed by their abbreviation in parentheses ( ).  They are either used by itself, or are combined  in combination with others.

Check out the list of the Sulfates below:

Name                                  Abbreviation    Skin Irritation   Absorption (Skin)

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate            (SLS),                     1                        1

Sodium Laureth  Sulphate         (SLES)                   2                        2

Ammonia  (Laureth) Sulphate   (ALS)                     1                        4

TEA Lauryeth Sulfate              (TEA)                         3                        4

Sodium Myreth Sulphate       (SMS)                          4                        4


Figure 1

*** 1 stands for most harmful  and 5 for least harmful case***

*** All of the sulfates listed above dry the hair and skin ***

How about Sulfates listed on a shampoo bottle as Natural Coca Derivatives?  

Yes, although these sulfates were derived from Natural Coca, they are later combined with other chemicals creating an undesirable mixture. I have actually seen shampoo bottles listing SLES, TEA, and SMS as natural.   Do not be fooled by these tactics of the shampoo makers.  They are definitely not natural!

Sulfates and Problems Issues Associated with Hair and Scalp.

SLS and related sulfates are very strong cleaners.  In the same way that SLS dissolves the grease of your car engines, it also dissolves the oils on your skin, and causes the following conditions:

  • Dries out your hair and scalp.
  • Causes scalp irritations, cause or can worsen eczema, dandruff, and other scalp conditions.
  • Clogs your pores

Hair Conditions greatly affected by Sulfates

Damaged cuticles – chemcally damaged hair
  • African American Hair is inherently drier and more brittle than Caucasian, European, or Asian hair.
  • People with acne and oily skin or scalp should avoid them .
  • Persons with Chemically damaged Hair should defintely avoid Sulfated shampoos

Sulfates and Health related issues

  • The Cosmetic industry states that a SLS concentration as small as 2% can cause changes or damage the area of skin where it is applied, including possibly harm your eyes if applied close to them.   A normal bottle of your shampoo contains between 10% – 15% of this ingredient, now, what could continuous  use of Sulfated shampoos  be doing  to you?
  • The American Journal of Toxicology Studies concluded that a concentration of 10% – 30% SLS can corrode the scalp and damage hair follicles, thus slowing hair growth, by as much as 8 times the normal rate of growth?   While not the sole cause of hair loss in most cases, SLS and SLES have been linked to being a contributing factor to hair loss.
  • Medical Journals state that SLS and SLES can be absorbed by the skin and accumulate in small quantities, hence allowing other environmental contaminants underneath the skin to clog pores. This can eventually cause whiteheads or black heads where the shampoo has come in contact.  Basically, it’s like sulfates strip the hair and scalp of their natural oil and dirt quite well, and then trap some of that underneath your scalp or skin!

Do Sulfates cause Cancer?

No,   At this time there is no indication they do by themselves.

Some sulfates like (SLES), (ALS) and (TEA) are combined with ethylene oxide (Ethoxylated) to make them less irritating to skin.  The problem is that in trace amounts a very harmful compound 1,4-dioxane is sometimes created during this Ethoxylation process and it can accumulate in the body.   This substance is linked to cancer.  Any sulfate listed with an ending “eth” means it is at risk.   An example of this is Sodium Laureth Sulfate.

Click on the following  2009 report showing tests from childrens bath and personal care products put out by the Product Safety Commission.

Product Safety Commision Report 2009.pdf

Why doesn’t the FDA investigate, and test Sulfates more closely?

The FDA grants the Cosmetics Industry the right of self regulation, and this industry doesn’t have to answer to anyone. They basically can use almost any raw product for their shampoo as long as it is not in itself known to be carcinogenic.

Another product that is quite similar to shampoo is children’s bubble bath.  Unlike shampoo, bubble bath is regulated by the FDA (it’s not a cosmetic) but it contains the same foaming sulfating chemicals.  Bubble bath is required by law to display the following statement on a  warning label with their packaging.

“Caution – Use only as directed. Excessive use or prolonged exposure may cause irritation to the skin and to the urinary tract.  Discontinue use if rash, redness, or itching occurs. Consult your physician if irritation persists.  Keep out of reach of children”.

Healthy Hair, Cuticles intact


Why are Sulfates used in shampoo?


It’s all about money.  Sulfates are very inexpensive for the manufacturers to use in shampoo.

What the Cosmetic industry say about Sulfates in their products.

Experts representing Cosmetic companies made a representative statement regarding Sulfates that Sulfates are safe for brief and not continuous use, followed by thorough rinsing of the skin.

Our Take on Sulfates

Shampooing hair with sulfated shampoos is definitely just a brief exposure, hence the risk is minimal.  However many people shampoo their hair daily and we really do not know whether a series of little exposures to SLS and the other sulfates will have a dangerous cumulative effect.

Given the lack of adequate research and suggestive evidence, however, we believe it might be wise for health-conscious consumers to seek products without sulfates.  We have discontinued use of the common Sulfated Shampoo Brands and now use only the very best “Sulfate Free” shampoos.

Why did we write this report?

Our purpose in writing this report was to inform and prepare our regular customers, as well as new and potential customers, of the current sulfate controversy.  The last thing we would want to happen is your being blind-sided by another and even more serious report regarding your shampoo on either WTOP radio, or perhaps the evening news.

 What to do now? What are the alternatives?

We have tested countless sulfate-free shampoos  on ourselves, clients, friends, and family. We found that one line of product stood well above all other sulfate-free shampoos, as well as above the normal leading Salon sulfated brands .

We were the first Salon to introduce this popular West Coast line to the Fredericksburg area, and enjoy a temporary exclusivity advantage over other Salons in the area.  For this reason we temporarily are not disclosing the name  of prodcut line  in this report.  We are quite sure that this product will soon become a common Salon item in the area. Our new clients give very favorable comments and most purchase some product on their visit here.  One experience  and you will know!

Note in an attempt to hopefully decrease the virolent SPAM by website robots for this article we have added a password to post comments.  The password is    Shampoo2


Cool Looks Salon Studio

1865 Carl D. Silver Pkwy, #108

Fredericksburg, VA  22401

(540)  786-4639