Sunday, March 29, 2009

Need You Be Sulfate Free?

Green is the new black. It sometimes seems as if organic is a new status symbol, and with the launch of Loreal's new EverPure hair care line, now even the mass market is in the game. It's no surprise then that the debate over sulfates seems like it's nearing hysteria. Is your shampoo causing your hair to fall out, giving you cancer, or causing birth-defects in your unborn children? Will you even be able to have children if your husband's body wash has Sodium Lauryl Sulfate in it?

Sulfates (specifically Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate) are ingredients commonly used as detergents, foaming agents or emulsifiers in shampoos, body washes, facial cleansers, even toothpaste. The debate rages over claims that they cause everything from birth defects to cancer. How can you tell fact from fiction?

The fact is, where application to the skin is concerned, sulfates have been proven safe for everyone except those that are allergic to them. Like most contact allergies, sulfate allergies usually manifest as an itchy rash or hives, and will subside a few days after you've stopped using the offending product.

The truth is, most of the studies that I found supporting the argument that sulfates are dangerous involved administering unusually high concentrations of the sulfates and prolonging exposure. In one instance an animal study discovered that sulfates can cause cataracts. This result was produced using high levels of the ingredient, applying it repeatedly, and leaving it on indefinitely. Beauty and personal care products that contain sulfates have much lower concentrations than those tested, and when combined with a short exposure time (you put it on, then rinse it off) the danger is very limited.

There is some evidence that sulfates can deposit onto the hair shaft and do damage, but this is in no way a conclusion. The CIR panel (the common authority in reviewing all ingredients not reviewed by the FDA) has found both sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate safe for use in cosmetics. They both carry a low to moderate risk, according to CIR. Just to point it out, several widely available organic lines (such as Giovanni, Kiss My Face and Avalon Organics) have sulfate-free shampoos that carry just as high of a risk, due to the fact that they use natural ingredients like cocamidopropyl betadine, which has allergy, immunotoxicity, and contamination concerns.

What does this all mean? If you want to err on the safe side, and find a sulfate-free formula that you like just as much as your old product, then sure, switch. If, on the other hand, you're suffering for the loss of your old sudsy, you're probably not going to die young from using it.


MollyLoretta said...

I LOL when people claim cosmetics cause cancer, etc. These ingredients are typically tested strenuously. However, I still hate sulfates. Why? Because they ARE hard on color (and prevent the shampoo from being pH balanced). As a hair-coloring fiend, I always use sulfate-free, and it definitely does help preserve the beauty in hair color!! Other than that.... There's no real difference.

Plus, I don't trust drugstore brands of hair product.... The ingredients are typically low-quality, and also the "professional" product they sell is often expired or out-dated. Professional product is only guaranteed when sold in a salon, as they get it from a proper distributor.

Unknown said...

Molly Loretta-

I will say that hair is the one area of the sulfate debate that I'm still not sure about. I'm confident that sulfates are not damaging my skin, but I do tend to have dry hair and I worry that sulfates could be a contributing factor. I also color my hair, and anything that can help prolong the life of my color is fine with me.

I have tried just a few sulfate-free lines, and I can say that the difference between the professional line and the drugstore brand was definitely noticeable in my case.

The cheaper brand did not lather as well (which, in and of itself means nothing) and it left my hair dull and dry. I honestly felt like it was harsher than most formulas that are loaded with SLS.

The salon brand definitely made my hair look and feel better than it's lower priced competition, but I'm not sure I saw any difference in how long my color lasted. It also came in at over $50 for a shampoo and conditioner- not exactly economical!

I suppose I'll continue my search to find a sulfate-free shampoo that's somewhere in the middle ground! I just read your post(for anyone who hasn't, click the link to Molly Loretta's blog in the sidebar!) and may have to hunt down some Pravana.

Speaking of professional product, I've always been a bit suspicious of salon brands in discount retailers and grocery stores- having worked with prestige brands in retail before I knew there had to be something off about these brands selling to places like Kroger. Thanks for the info!

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