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Dear David: What’s the Deal With Sulfates?

sulfates in shampoo, damaged hair


So, for years I’ve heard that sulfates are something to avoid in hair care and skin care products. I know it can cause irritation and dryness for skin, but what do they do to the hair?

-Christine (Yes, me! On the phone with David)

Sulfates are primarily used for creating a more lathering effect in your hair products. They do help to clean the hair, but as they remove product build up, they take everything out of the hair like natural oils. Your hair will definitely feel more dry when you just shampoo it, you need to add some things (eg- the benefits of those natural oils) back into the hair with conditioner.

Wait, I know the lather doesn’t really help us get any cleaner, but we all just love the lather!

Without the lather you really feel like you’re not getting the cleaning effect. But, often you are really getting clean. That’s the whole thing behind those **** products (product name removed to protect the innocent). I don’t feel like my hair gets clean with them. It tried it and I felt like something was wrong. I stopped using them.

As you use them, sulfates will strip your hair and can affect your scalp, leaving it dry. The weather here (David is in Florida) can affect the scalp a lot as the humidity shifts. Your scalp gets dry and itchy, you scratch and flake. As you scratch you’re harming the surface of your scalp, opening it up. You have areas that aren’t quite healthy, they’re irritated and harmed. Add on some products, maybe alcohol based styling products for example, then it irritates the scalp further and the whole thing gets even worse. It’s a vicious cycle, setting you up for an unhealthy and irritated scalp.

Some people say there isn’t much effect from what is in your shampoo, but think about this… There are so many things going into your shampoo. If you can eliminate some of those harsher chemicals without an issue, then it’s better.


David L Hensley is the Chief Creative Officer, Head Stylist and basically hair guru for Laid Brand Hair Care, one of my newest obsessions. David has worked in both Los Angeles and Florida and works with both celebs and us normal people. He has a great understanding of hair and how to work with hair to create great looks!

David has agreed to help with a series of posts answering your hair care and styling questions. Please let me know if you have questions you’d love to see addressed!

Laid Brand Hair Care
David L Hensley

Image © Federico Marsicano | Dreamstime.com

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About Me

I’m a doctor, a mommy and a bit of a beauty addict. If you let me, I can take 2 hours to get ready in the morning. Really. I'm on a quest for faster beauty that works!

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  1. 5.20.12
    Jill said:

    Oh, Christine, I can think of many questions I'd love to ask! For starters…are all the "no sulfate" shampoos equal? If not, what should we look for? Also, when I read the ingredients, there's something listed as sodium lauryl sulfoacetate. This sounds a lot like sodium lauryl sulfate. Is there really a difference? I've noticed some shampoos list that they contain no parabens. What's the advantage of this? Other than using products with no sulfates, is there something else to consider for color treated hair? I have many other questions, but don't want to post such a long comment. Looking forward to learning more about hair care!

  2. 8.2.17
    Sarah said:

    I love the idea of using sulfate-free products but they break me out! I thought it was just me but I googled and it seems like a known, common, issue. Do you have any suggestions as to how to combat that?

    • 8.3.17
      15mins said:

      Your skin is likely reacting to something in the product, and most hair products don’t rinse off 100%. I’d use a face wash as your very last step in the shower