Home » Sulfates are the antihero of hair care —are they actually a problem?

Sulfates are the antihero of hair care —are they actually a problem?

by NBC News

We don’t always have the answers, but we have some people on speed dial who do — which is why we present to you our series TMI (Too Much Information) where we have experts explain if lip balm is actually badhow often should you wash your hair and more. 

Are sulfates the enemy of healthy hair? The chemical compound, commonly used in shampoos and other hair care products, has a bad reputation. But the truth is not as black and white: sulfates are sometimes ok for some hair types. That’s pretty wishy-washy, especially when you’re trying to shop for a new hair care product. 

To get to the bottom of it, we talked to dermatologists and asked them to weigh in on whether sulfates are actually bad for your hair.

SKIP AHEAD What are sulfates? | Are sulfates bad for your hair? | What hair types should avoid sulfates? | Our favorite sulfate-free shampoos

What are sulfates? 

Sulfates are a common ingredient in skin and hair care. They’re used often because of their ability to act as surfactants, says Dr. Brendan Camp, a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York City. Surfa-what? That’s a fancy word for chemical compounds acting as a cleansing agent — exactly what sulfates do. 

Sulfates are most commonly used in shampoos because they “aid in the process of lifting oil, debris and dirt from hair shafts and allowing them to be rinsed out easily without leaving a residue,” says Camp, who points out that sulfates can also be found in conditioners and hair masks. 

The most common sulfates used in hair products are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). 

Are sulfates bad for your hair?

Sulfates aren’t bad for all hair types all of the time. For example, when hair has a lot of product buildup or oil, a shampoo with sulfates can effectively cleanse strands. However, their ability to cleanse is a double-edged sword and can make them not-so-great for certain hair types.  “Sulfates are known to strip natural oils…

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