You hear a lot about shampoos being “sulfate-free” these days. For many years, this ingredient has been part of almost all shampoos and many other cleaning and self-care products. But in recent years, scientists linked it to cell damage and even hair loss. The Journal of the American College of Toxicology says sulfates are still a safe part of products in concentrations of less than one percent. Does this ingredient in my shampoos cause hair loss?
What are sulfates?
Cleaning products that create suds or foam do so because of sulfates, a chemical additive. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is one such ingredient found in the majority of hair shampoos and conditioners.
Besides creating a foaming action, this key ingredient in shampoos emulsifies grease when combined with water. It draws the grease into the water for it to wash it away. It also reduces the surface tension of water, empowering your shampoo to loosen oils and grease from your scalp and hair.
Remember our statement above from the Journal of the American College of Toxicology, that we are safe using this ingredient in concentrations up to one percent? Unfortunately, the average shampoo containing sulfates has a concentration of about 15 percent. That scares many people who wonder if this level of toxicity causes or contributes to hair loss.
Cell Damage from Your Shampoo
The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database lists SLS in particular as a low hazard to humans. But researchers tie this sulfate to skin irritation, organ toxicity, and environmental toxicity.
To confuse matters even more, the Food and Drug Administration and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review both claim sulfates are safe in low doses. So why does the American College of Toxicology (ACT) claim anything over one percent to cause hair loss and health risk? Actually, that one percent relates to continuous use, with the ACT clarifying that higher concentrations are safe for humans when used discontinuously. We use shampoos discontinuously, for example.
The ACT found cellular damage after exposing animal tissues to the questionable shampoo ingredients on an ongoing basis. With the amount in shampoos, a concentration of about 15 percent, and continuous exposure, lab rats experienced diarrhea, depression, skin irritation, labored breathing and death. The higher the concentration to which they exposed lab rats, the more damage those animals suffered.
But again, we do not wear shampoos continuously. We apply these products, then immediately wash them away.
The term “discontinuous” is an important factor in making sulfates a low hazard to humans. But the choice of whether to continue using these products or exchange them for sulfate-free options is yours to make. Many brands have added new shampoos and conditioners to their product lines, in an answer to the cell damage studies.
Hair loss is not one of the problems the lab rats suffered after sulfate exposure. This supports the view that hair loss does not occur because of shampoo use when those shampoos have sulfates in their ingredients lists.
Do Sulfates Cause Hair Loss And Cancer?
Although many people believe these ingredients cause cancer, this risk is not backed up by scientific research. Through the 1970s, some shampoos contained a different sulfate that has connections to cancer. That ingredient, ethanolamine lauryl sulfate, contained nitrosamines that cause this terrible disease. But they are since banned for use in American cosmetic products.
To the contrary, sodium lauryl sulfate has no properties that cause cancer. To back up this statement, the American College of Toxicology and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review both participated in an expert panel in 2002. They confirmed the ingredient safe for humans and free of carcinogens through an assessment.
Why Use Sulfate-Free Shampoos?
Since you reportedly do not risk hair loss from your shampoo or conditioner with sulfates, you can use these products without much worry. But if you have sensitive skin and suffer irritation after shampooing, this ingredient might relate to that skin problem.
Another reason to consider using sulfate-free shampoos is your hair quality. Shampoo with sulfates tends to act harshly on the hair to clean it. They essentially strip the hair of dirt, oils, and grease. In the process, they wash away good oils that keep your hair looking shiny and healthy.
Sulfate-free shampoos also help you maintain your hair color longer if you dye your hair or cover grays. Regular shampoo detergents containing the ingredient strip color away, too.
Making the switch to products not containing these ingredients is certainly a personal choice. But there are some trade-outs. You will immediately notice that sulfate-free shampoos do not lather or foam like the ones you have used your whole life. For some people, this feels confusing, much like fireworks without their sounds. Still, the shampoo is cleaning your hair as it should.
Answers About Your Hair Loss in Raleigh, NC
In Raleigh and Apex, North Carolina, AZ Hair Restoration helps clients from all over the country regrow their own healthy hair. If you notice hair loss or have questions about whether hair restoration is right for you, schedule an online or in-person consultation today. Call us in Apex at (919) 830-3778 or Raleigh at (919) 615-0577.