One of our key selling points is our “no sulfate” promise. We say it over & over. You may have heard other companies make the same claim. Increasing awareness over the last few years has led to calls for more sulfate-free products . But what even are sulfates, and why should we care? Here’s a rundown of what, where, why and how!
Sulfates are detergents, also known as surfactants. Their purpose is to add lather (think of the foam from brushing your teeth, or the suds from your shampoo). They work by lowering the surface tension between ingredients, which is why they’re used as a cleansing and foaming agent. In a sense, they’re like a de-greaser, making surfaces nice and slick so that dirt can slide right off.
Sulfates found in a wide range of products, such as shampoo, body wash, and toothpaste, as well as household cleaning products. The two most common types are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), which is slightly milder.
Sulfates are very good at what they do. Manufacturers have been using them since the 50’s, and they’re the most common surfactant used in the beauty industry. They’re the reason a little goes a long way when it comes to shampoo. The problem is, they can be too good at their job, stripping your hair of not just dirt and grime, but also the natural oils that keep it healthy. This can make your hair feel rough, dry, and brittle. They can also cause dryness and irritation on your scalp.
Another issue with sulfates is that, because of how harsh they are, they can cause skin and eye irritation. Sulfates dry out the skin, and some people find they lead to more acne. SLS can irritate existing allergies and even cause new ones! This is because SLS can penetrate the skin and break down its protective layer, leaving your skin more vulnerable to absorbing irritants.
With all that being said, why does the beauty industry continue to use sulfates?! Funnily enough, SLS is deemed as being ‘safe to use’ by many regulatory bodies, even though it’s widely known to be an irritant when left on the skin for prolonged periods of time. The main reason they’re still so popular is that SLS is derived from petroleum, which means it can be made for a much lower cost compared to plant-based surfactants.
Another reason for its popularity is that it creates the lush bubbles and foam we’ve come to expect from our shampoo. Non-foaming shampoos can often clean just as well as their foamy cousins, but somehow, we don’t believe it unless we can see it.
Luckily, sulfates are not the only surfactants out there! At Upfront Cosmetics, we promise never to use sulfates in our shampoo. One of our surfactants of choice is Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate, aka SLSa. While that sounds very similar to the common surfactants, it’s quite different. SLSa is a coconut-based surfactant, as opposed to petroleum-based. The molecules of SLSa are much larger than those of SLS, making them more difficult to absorb into the skin and less likely to cause irritation. This makes it a much more gentle and skin-friendly cleanser, while still giving you the bubblicious lather you’d expect in a shampoo!
SLSa isn’t even the only surfactant we use! In addition to SLSa, we also use 2 other plant-based surfactants; cocamidopropyl betaine (CocoBetaine) and sodium cocoyl isethionate (SCI) This means our bars lather just as well as traditional shampoos, while being safe for all hair and skin types. With Upfront Cosmetics, you never have to compromise the health of your hair for a quality shampoo!