Are You Sulfate-free?

Looks like we’re not the only ones singing the anti-sulfate song. The New York Times is reporting today that sulfates have some folks in a lather—which is not the best pun I’ve ever heard, but I’ll repeat it anyways. According to the article, a whole bunch of very mainstream brands have launched low- to no-sulfate shampoos. From the article:

Jennifer Disomma, the director for product development for L’Oréal Paris, said, “We do know sulfate-free shampoos are gentler on the hair fiber.” Yet the company’s Vive Pro line has shampoos that list sodium laureth sulfate as the second ingredient. Nine shampoos, in fact. In an e-mail, Ms. Disomma said, “Providing EverPure, EverStrong and VIVE Pro shampoos gives the consumer choices that meet her needs.”Jennifer Disomma, the director for product development for L’Oréal Paris, said, “We do know sulfate-free shampoos are gentler on the hair fiber.” Yet the company’s Vive Pro line has shampoos that list sodium laureth sulfate as the second ingredient. Nine shampoos, in fact.

Ruh-roh! Are these companies trying to have their cake and eat it too? Yes, of course they are.

But I have a few things to add that the article doesn’t mention. Yes, sulfates are bad for your hair because they strip out the good stuff that makes your mane healthy and shiny, but they are also bad because they can be contaminated with a carcinogen called 1,4-dioxane. This made news with baby products, but we like to forget stuff.

Also, are we sure these companies are even telling the truth? I, for one, am not. Not that long ago I posted about a company advertising that its shampoo was “low-sulfate” when in fact sulfates were way up there on the ingredient list.

The article ends with a very strange anecdote: A “mousy blonde” (as described by the writer) walks into a salon thinking that she needs a dye job, when really all she needs are some sulfates—and pop goes her color! This feels beyond absurd to us: You can clean your hair without sulfates everybody, and our hair challenge proved it.

Or you can not clean it at all like some weirdos (me!), but I’m curious: Can you live without the foam? Have you gone sulfate-free?

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21 Responses to “Are You Sulfate-free?”
  1. Marie says:

    I recently switched to J.R. Liggett’s old fashioned bar shampoo. It uses only natural oils to make the bar, no sulfates in sight. I also like that it comes in a plain paper wrapper rather than a big plastic bottle. I’ve been using it for a full month now, and I’m quite pleased with the results. I wash my hair every other day, and it’s quite clean, though i do need to make sure I use enough of it, it’s easier to miss a spot or two. I don’t even have to use conditioner, though I can’t run my fingers through it until it’s dry-ish.

    It’s not no-foam, there are still bubbles, it’s just low-foam because the bubbles are just what you get when you rub it between your hands like your average bar of natural soap. I’m fine without the foam, though I do occasionally get a twinge of missing the herbal essences I used to use. Lucky for me, I guess, that they reformulated their whole line so now it smells fake and nasty and doesn’t make my hair feel wonderful like it used to anyway, so it’s even easier to make the switch to all natural without the urge to go back.

  2. Dorinda says:

    I’ve been using sulfate free shampoo for about 3 months now and can definitely tell a difference in the way my hair looks and feels. I’ve tried rinsing with baking soda too and really like that. My hair doesn’t seem to be quite as oily, making it easier to skip shampoos.

  3. Michelle says:

    I’ve been sulfate-free for about a year (I think – it was still a non-organic hair wash and some of those chemical names can be deceptive), and my hair is fantastic. After reading the book, though, I’m in process of switching to an organic system. The transition is rough – the organic wash seems to strip my hair more than the prior chemical stuff, but it still feels soft and my scalp feels a lot better. So we’ll see. I can’t quit the wash cold turkey – my job is too exposed to go through the transition period.

  4. ComaGirl says:

    I recently switched over to non-sulfates, but still have one bottle of my old shampoo left. Interestingly enough, no ingredients are listed on the label. That can’t be good.

  5. arscharfen21 says:

    I have been sulfate free for 3 years now, originally by mistake. I was totally impressed at the quality of my hair and attributed it to moving to a new city after getting a higher quality hair cut for a new job. I was suckered into buying some of the products they used on me, but boy oh boy!!! Aveda sure knows how to make some great hair products.

    I am sulfate free with all my beauty and cleaning products now due to realizing that I was highly reactant to that ingredient. If you ever switch back to the chemical laden products you will notice immediately. I had such a severe reaction (three days ago from using a friend’s shower products during a visit) to what I thought was SLS free shampoo, but it included the new version, Sodium Myreth Sulfate, which is being used at more and more organic companies (cough… JASON). I spent what was supposed to be a fun visit itching like there was no tomorrow. I cut the visit short to rush home to take a shower. I am still slightly itchy three days later since the Sulfate family are skin penetrators that take time to get out of your system.

    So… long story short, read the labels so you don’t end up miserably itchy like me.

  6. Andreína (andre) says:

    The other pickle I have is the following: Not only are SLS’s bad for you, but also, all these major companies obtaining this Palm Oil derivate are asking for it in such HIGH demand, they’re killing all kinds of habitats around them to obtain it. There we go with the Orangutans, which are the most threatened species from this outcome (not that they are in danger of extinction -yet-, so how far are those corporations willing to go for $$$?!). Ridiculous.

    Also, I’m concerned with other SLS’s cousins, or uncles… name them how you will, could you please help me identify the whole family? I’ve been using a “sulfate free” “no-poo” called deva-curl for 3 years now and it’s always claimed to be SLS free, but I think it might have some of its cousins… it does not lather at all, but it has fragance (bah!) and some other ingredients I’m not too happy about (will definitely switch as soon as I run out of it!)…

    I’ll have to re-read the list of the dirty ingredients in the book.

  7. katie says:

    I condition first with Aubrey and then (without rinsing) use rose-scented Dr. Bronner’s bar soap. The oils in the Aubrey conditioner and the soap work together to keep my hair moisturized, clean, and touchable while wet. Plus, it’s cheap and they both smell delicious!

  8. Karen says:

    I’ve been sulfate-free for about four years now. I developed a horrible allergy to sulfates, and sulfur, and have had to find alternatives to just about everything. Add in an allergy to coconuts, and it’s been a nightmare trying to find healthy, eco-conscious products. Now I use the baking soda rinse and the apple cider vinegar rinse from y’all’s book and it’s working very well! No hives, no swelling, and happy, shiny hair at a ridiculously cheap price! Yay! :)

  9. Annie says:

    I’ve been sulfate-free for about a month now. Been shampooing with Dr. Bronner’s or baking soda. It’s wonderful when I wear my hair wavy, but when I blow dry it or straighten it, it is really oily. I just got a boar’s hair brush to try to distribute the natural oil to the end, but I’m at a lost about what else to do. Should I condition first like Katie above me?

  10. lucia says:

    …I use organic /naturall shampoos & cosmetics for about 3 years husband is a big fan too..
    …EXCEPT his dandruff shapoo–Head & Shoulders….I explained him about all the carciogens in it ,but still can not convince him to use other shampoo.He thinks that this is best product to fight dandruffs.
    (I now that zinc & coconut oil are great to fight dandruffs)

    My question is : is there any REALLY GOOD organic/naturall anti-dandruff shampoo that really works ??
    looking forward to your reply :)

  11. katie says:


    I had a similar problem at first too, which was not good because I’ve got a very oily scalp. It’s really important to rinse well. I cup my hands against my scalp to make little pools of water. Then I squeeze the water through the hair near my scalp. This seems to help a lot. Also, I think since I switched to conditioning first, I haven’t had as much of a problem with oiliness when I blow dry, but I’m not really sure why that is. Good luck. :)

  12. Marie says:

    I switched to Burt’s Bees shampoo and my hair loves it- but I only wash it every other day. I’ve been sulfate-free almost a year now and the diffrence is incredible. A couple months ago I went to my usual place to get my hair cut (they wash and condition it before hand) and then styled my hair with toxic products after. OMG. My poor scalp was in full-out rebellion from the get-go. Literally after five minutes of getting my hair washed, it started burning….and itching. I couldn’t get home fast enough to wash it out. Now, I just go in, tell them I washed my hair already and they spray it wet and cut it. Nothing else.
    I’ve also used baking soda and apple cider vinegar to “strip” it and usually olive oil to condition it. When I want to dye it, I was Rainbow Henna in Medium Brown- my hair looks amazing and rich after I use it.
    Also, for everyone looking for natural, safe products: I stumbled across a site called They are amazing!!!! Type in anything and they will most likely have it- JUST MAKE SURE TO READ THE INGREDIANTS!!!

  13. Leia says:

    John Master’s Organics is the very best! It’s a little price-y, but worth every penny. I used to use Bumble and Bumble, but I saw immediate improvement in my dry coarse hair a couple days after I switched to John Master’s. Plus it smells amazing (I use the Lavender Rosemary shampoo and the Lavender Avocado conditioner)

  14. Andreína (andre) says:

    he’s getting dandruff from other substances he has in his shampoo.
    I’m pretty sure that, once he stops using such, and goes with another one or simply “bare”, his dandruff will end.

  15. Kate says:

    I started going sulfate free about two months ago. I noticed the biggest difference in the skin on my arms and legs by refraining from using soap on anything other than the stinky parts… I have had keratosis pilaris since I was 12 and nothing has ever helped it. Dozens of trips to the dermatologist have only made it worse and plagued me with dry skin for weeks afterward (at which point moisturizing only made it even worse). Since keeping away from foaming products my skin looks better than ever. Even on my face – I switched to a cleansing oil – my skin seems a bit calmer (still have that lovely adult acne though)…

  16. Michelle says:

    Andreína – after reading the book I checked out my Deva Curl No Poo, and it has laureth-4 in it, among other questionables. The label says it’s SLS and paraben free, which I suppose it is, but there are all kinds of other chemicals in it that scare me. I have a HUGE bottle of it left, but I think I’m calling it quits and making the clean change.

  17. Jackie says:

    Thanks for the information about why sulfates are bad! I’ve just recently started looking at the ingredient list to my shampoos & conditioners. Scary stuff! My roommate keeps talking about using sulfate free shampoos & conditioners and I didn’t know the difference, thanks for the update!


  18. Katie says:

    I’ve recently tried several times off and on to use sulfate free shampoo and and having trouble. I have fine hair that gets oily rather quickly and i feel like when i use the sulfate free shampoo my roots still feel and look oily almost more oily then before i washed it. Also i feel like the back of my head has a film to it. I have read a couple places that maybe by scalp is adjusting? I just wonder how long that usually takes? or maybe I am using the products wrong?

  19. mangomadness says:


    I use Shea Moisture Organic Raw Shea Butter Shampoo or a homemade shampoo made with African black soap. Both are sulfate-free, gentle and foam up quite a bit. They work well for my hair–cleansing my scalp without stripping my all of my hair’s moisture.

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