What the hell is in the ingredient list? Part 1 - Sulfates!

Ingredients, Rant, Sulfates -

What the hell is in the ingredient list? Part 1 - Sulfates!

Come one, come all! We're going to get down to the nitty-gritty of discovering what the hell is in all these common ingredient lists. 

If you know me at all, you'll know that I think buzz words like "all natural" and "chemical-free" are absolute loads of horse shit. That being said, there's definitely some bad things in common skin and hair care products-- why else would I decide to make my simply made products? But, on the other hand, there's also a lot of fear when it comes to "words I can't pronounce"-- and a lot of that actually comes down to what the United States requires of companies when listing their ingredients. 

So, let's get started. This is going to be a multi-part series on common ingredients and ingredient groups, and today we're starting with sulfates-- one of the most controversial topics in the cosmetic world. By the end of this series (which may never truly end, we'll see), you should be able to pick a bottle up off the shelf at Target and know exactly what you're reading.

What are sulfates? Why don't I want to use them?
Sulfates are made when sulfuric acid combines with another chemical to produce a salt. The most common sulfates you'll see in cosmetic products are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), and Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLSa). These products, in essence, produce bubbles. Lots and lots of bubbles. They are surfactants, or chemicals that will sit on top of a standing body of water. They can be rather harmful to our environment, because they coat the tops of lakes and streams which limit the cross-over of oxygen into the water system.

SLS and SLES are also often found to be irritating to people with sensitive skin, and some reports say that they have correlations to cancer in lab animals. Because extended exposure to these two sulfates are a big reason for skin and lung irritation, especially when included in animal testing, these are worth staying away from. Unfortunately, they're very, very common-- not only in skincare and haircare, either. They're found in toothpaste, on the lubricants of pills, almost all commercial cleansers and shampoos, and other various cosmetics. 

However! If you've ever looked at our bubble bars, you'll notice that we choose to use SLSa. Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate is a much less harmful product that is not known to cause any sort of cancer or irritation to skin, because the molecular size of SLSa is much larger than those of the other two sulfates. It is derived from coconut and palm oils, and is rated as a 0 in irritation factors on Ecocert's ranking of natural and organic products. SLSa does not penetrate mucus membranes because of its larger molecular size, so it is considered a much safer alternative that still gives you the fluffy bubbles you're looking for in bubble baths and shampoos. However, because it's such a better alternative, naturally, it's much more expensive! Similarly to the salads at McDonald's, it's better for you by far, but costs a little bit more to use.

What do sulfates do to my skin/hair?
Because sulfates are what produce bubbles, that means they do tend to strip oils away. This can be both a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what kind of hair texture/type you have and what you're aiming to see in your skincare routine. Sulfates wash excess oil away by emulsifying with them and creating a foamy lather-- from there, once you rinse, it goes right down the drain in a very effective way. However, because they are so good at stripping oils and sebum away, they can often leave hair and scalp dry when used in shampoos, and can leave delicate facial skin a bit on the dry and scaly side if used too frequently.

Ultimately, if you're finding that your skin is red, itchy, dry, and/or irritated, using a sulfate-free cleanser is most likely going to help. Many people like the aesthetic and feel of cleansers that include sulfates, because of the foamy, bubbly, lathery wash they produce. If your skin isn't having a negative reaction to them, you don't really need to worry-- sulfates are generally regarded as safe when used in certain ratios, though I always recommend looking for products that contain SLSa instead of SLS and/or SLES.

Do you have any additional questions or comments about sulfates? I'd love to address them, and I'll add them to this post if it fits! Let me know what you thought of this blog post!



  • Emily

    Very informative post! Can’t wait to read more in the future

  • Kerri Stewart

    Thanks! Once I started seeing products that said “sulfate-free” I figured they were bad for you. Now I know why. I will be checking the labels from now on.

  • Katie

    Thanks for taking the time to inform us! Wishing you all the best through the next years of business

Leave a comment