Best Alternatives to Sulfates for Removing Dirt and Oil from Hair


With so many companies promoting their new sulfate-free products, or remaining eerily silent on the subject, it can be hard to know where your needs fall. Should you keep using products with sulfates? Or do you want to make the switch because you’re worried they might be causing your skin or hair to dry out?


And now the question of sulfate-free shampoo and hair loss is surfacing. In order to understand whether sulfate-free shampoo causes hair loss or not, it’s first important to understand what sulfates are, and why exactly they’re included in so many of your products.

What Are Sulfates and Why Are They in My Shampoo?

Sulfates are salts formed from sulfuric acid
and can be found as a component of many cleaning and personal products because they create the suds and lather, which give the automatic impression of increased cleaning power. When we’re talking hair cleansing, sulfates are commonly part of the surfactant systems responsible for washing away dirt and excess oils from your hair and scalp. These molecules are able to bind to both water and oil on the surface of hair and scalp, which is then rinsed off with water. However, it is important to remember that just like makeup remover, a lack of suds and foam doesn’t mean you’re not getting clean.


Besides hair cleansing, sulfates can also be found as components of conditioning and strengthening agents that do not function as surfactants. They can also be found in toothpaste, soap, detergents and bath bombs. Besides your hair-care products, sulfates are also commonly found in toothpaste, soap, detergents and bath bombs because they are cheaper to manufacturedespite the fact that they don’t compound the cleaning power whatsoever.


Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), and ammonium laureth sulfate (ALS) are the most common sulfates used in soaps, shampoos and cosmetic products. Of the three, sodium lauryl sulfate, depending on the formulation, can be by far the harshest.

Do I Want Sulfates in my Shampoo?

Every person’s hair and needs are unique, so when it comes to deciding which shampoo is right for you, we’ve compiled some of the most common pros and cons.


In general, people prefer shampoos with sulfates because they create a nice lather and remove oils and other particles accumulated from the environment. Often, this leads them to believe they’re getting a ‘deeper clean’ than shampoos that do not foam. 


When using a product that contains sulfates, it is important to note that not all sulfates and formulas containing sulfates are created equal, and some can be much harsher than others. Formulation design is an important factor in the product’s overall performance and feel.


When it comes down to cleaning surfactants such as SLS and SLES, sulfates are not linked to development issues, cancer or infertility. What a buildup of sulfates can do is cause irritation around your eyes and on your skin, and may lead to clogged pores and increased acne.


Sulfate-based surfactants not only strip your hair of detrimental oils, but they strip your hair of all oils, including the beneficial ones. This can leave your hair feeling rough and brittle. This then often leads your scalp to overproduce oils in order to compensate for its dryness. Having a degree of natural oils, or sebum, on your scalp and hair is actually a good thing because oils are what protect your hair from toxins and other environmental particles.


If the sulfates in your shampoo are too harsh, they can actually weaken your hair cuticle by stripping your hair of proteins, which is what makes it brittle. 


In order to bounce back from any prior sulfate damage, we recommend shampooing with our Second Chance Repairing Shampoo for Dry or Damaged Hair and using our Superpower Fortifying Hair & Scalp Serum until your natural oils are replenished. 


Never tried out a hair serum? We’ve got you covered.

So Does Sulfate-Free Shampoo Cause Hair Loss?

The answer? Generally, no.


In fact, when it comes down to the ingredients in your products, the overuse of sulfates is much more likely to result in hair loss. This is because harsh sulfates can irritate the skin on your scalp, which can decrease your hair’s protein content and result in a breakdown of your hair’s cuticle and shaft. However, it is important to note that not everyone will suffer hair loss or hair damage due to sulfates.


A few things that can put you at risk of losing hair because of sulfate use include sensitive or dry skin or hair, menopause, color-treated hair, curly or kinky hair, and aging hair. This is because these conditions typically weaken the hair cuticle. Which is exactly why all of Better Not Younger’s hair-care products are made without SLS and SLESespecially our Silver Lining Purple Brightening Shampoo for Grey & White Hair, made specifically for aging and menopausal women.


If you need or prefer to use hair products that contain sulfates for one reason or another, it is very important that you use an intensely hydrating conditioner to restore moisture to your locks.

Are All Sulfate-Free Shampoos the Same?

No. Just like anything else, it depends on the other ingredients in the shampoo and what exactly is in your hair. Because one of the most common complaints of those who have grabbed a sulfate-free shampoo off the shelf without asking any other questions is: greasy hair.


This is because without including an alternative for sulfates, some shampoos can lose their effective dirt-and-oil-removing properties. Or, more likely, those who are new to the sulfate-free shampoo world aren’t used to having to use some effort and elbow grease to really work the shampoo into your scalp. 


If that sounds like you, the answer might be as simple as rubbing the shampoo between your hands to evenly distribute it and begin building a lather before running it through your hair. Despite the increased physical effort, sulfate-free shampoos can decrease frizzing, preserve your color-treated hair, and reduce scalp itching and irritation. At Better Not Younger, all of our products are free from SLS and SLES, meaning they’re gentler and safe for color-treated and chemically treated hair.


Alternatives to Sulfates in Shampoo to Remove Dirt and Oil from Your Hair 


A good alternative to sulfates in shampoo is decyl glucoside, a plant-derived mild cleansing agent often included in products for those with sensitive skin. Decyl glucoside’s main job is to act as a mild foaming agent to help disperse the shampoo across your scalp to remove dirt and unwanted oils. It is typically non-toxic, non-irritating and non-allergenic.



Another alternative to sulfates in shampoo is sodium C14-C16 alpha olefin sulfonate. Like decyl glucoside, sodium C14-C16 is a surfactant that suspends dirt and pollutants away from your scalp so that they can be removed when you rinse your hair. It is also important to note that sodium C14-C16 is not quite as mild as decyl glucoside, and could be drying if used in excess.


Despite its name, sodium sulfonate is not a sulfate. Although similar, they have different chemical compounds.


“By working with decyl glucoside and sodium C14-C16 alpha olefin sulfonate as alternatives to SLS and SLES, we are able to design formulas with the cleansing properties you need in a shampoo without drying out your hair or irritating the scalp, while also managing frizz,” says Dr. Debra Lin, Chief Scientific Officer at Better Not Younger.

Do you have a sulfate-free transformation story?
We’d love to hear about it. Share in the comments below!

Reach out to us on Facebook and Instagram if you have any questions about our products or how they can help you bring life, and beneficial oils, back into your hair. Better Not Younger has everything you need to help you repair your hair and keep it looking its absolute best. Don’t forget to check out our blog for more hair-care information as well!