Sulfates are a group of detergents or surfactants that are used in countless consumer goods today. The most commonly used sulfates are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). These corrosive cleaning agents started off as an industrial strength cleaning additive since they easily cut through heavily soiled surfaces.
It was around the 1930’s when shampoo, soap, toothpaste and other foaming personal care products containing these synthetic detergents were introduced. They have remained in most commercial formulations ever since the public grew used to high-lather products.
Harsh surfactants strip the hair and skin of valuable moisture
The fact that SLS and SLES detergents produce such a heavy, thick lather is not a good thing when it comes to your skin, hair and mouth. This corrosive lather actually strips away precious moisture and protective barriers.
It also roughs up the cuticle of the hair, making it appear dull, dry and damaged. The stripping action contributes to increased porosity which makes for a dull appearance and more problems with frizz and manageability. It has even been linked to follicular damage and can potentially contribute to hair loss.
When used in the mouth, it has a similar effect by eating away at the outer layers of protective skin cells and irritating the tissues. Using sulfate-containing toothpastes has been linked to canker sores and other lesions.
Soaps and skin cleansers containing these detergents strip away the protective lipids (natural fats) that encase the skin. They upset the moisture balance of the skin and unnecessarily dry it out. The false sense of “clean” that these detergents give is really due to the fact that they are stripping our protective layers from our skin and hair.
Sulfates can produce toxic by-products
Sulfates themselves are classified as a skin and membrane irritant and therefore, also a possible carcinogen with repeated or prolonged exposure. They also can produce even more hazardous by-products by the other ingredients they are often blended with.
The interactions with other common cleansing ingredients cause an offspring of toxins called nitrosamines. These are of the nitrate family. You may have read about these compounds as they are well known carcinogens when consumed or applied to the skin.
Two chemicals called 1,4 dioxane and ethylene oxide are also commonly found as contaminants in sulfate detergents. Dioxane is a known carcinogen and ethylene oxide is classified as a developmental and nervous system toxin by the California EPA.
Harsh detergents are simply unnecessary in personal care products
While it is true that sulfates are the cheapest way to get a large amount of lather, it is totally unnecessary to actually clean bodily surfaces. There are many natural astringents that cleanse the surface of the hair, skin and even the mouth without damaging or breaching protective barriers. There are also gentle and natural sudsing agents that clean without compromising the integrity of these tissues.
We have simply grown used to piles of lather because that is what we’ve been exposed to. Larger amounts of lather simply equate to excessively stripping, drying and corroding the delicate surface of the hair and skin. Skipping these high-lather detergents will mean healthier looking, shinier, and more vibrant skin and hair as well as a healthier mouth.