Why Are Sulfates Bad for Your Hair?


Sulfates do a great job of helping shampoos remove sweat, oil and grime from your hair. Yet, your hair and scalp need to retain some of their natural oils and moisture to remain healthy. 

When sulfate shampoos strip away too much moisture, your hair becomes dry and brittle. Mix this with the effects of menopause, and you have a recipe for frizzy, unmanageable and thinning hair! 

Switching to a sulfate-free shampoo can help, especially if it’s a product with ingredients designed to address aging hair challenges.

What Are Sulfates?

Sulfates help your toothpaste, shampoo and soaps create the bubbling, foamy action many people associate with cleaning power. If your shampoo lathers easily, there is a decent chance that it contains sulfates.

Sulfates are chemical substances found in many cleansing agents we use around the house. Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) are the two main types used in shampoo. Others may include the following variations:

  • Sodium myreth sulfate (SMS)
  • TEA lauryl sulfate (TEA)
  • Ammonia laureth sulfate (ALS)

Sulfates are chemical compounds comprised of surface action (surfactant) molecules that lower the tension between air bubbles and water. 

Without surfactants, water’s surface tension will immediately pop the air bubbles created when you mix soap and water. When sulfates reduce this tension, more bubbles can form, producing a sudsy lather.

In addition to making foam, sulfates are great at pulling in and washing away the natural lipids and oils on your hair and scalp. Over time, this can lead to brittle hair and a dry scalp, especially for those of us experiencing hormone fluctuations.

Why Should I Avoid Sulfates?

Sulfates are highly effective at removing oil and dirt from your hair; the problem is that they may be too intense for some people. 

Sulfates were once thought to damage your health directly and even have cancer-causing agents; however, further scientific studies debunked these claims. Sulfates are widely considered harmless when used at low concentrations. 

Yet, they can cause inflammation and irritation if you have sensitive skin or allergies to these chemical types. They can also create problems for those of us with aging scalps and hair.

How Sulfates Can Affect My Aging Scalp

Healthy, luxurious hair starts with a well-balanced scalp. The skin on our heads is more sensitive than the skin on the rest of our bodies. Cleansing your scalp and hair with sulfate shampoos can typically create more problems than it solves—primarily when they're used regularly.

Though high dihydrotestosterone (DHT) levels can trigger female pattern hair loss, sulfates aren't directly linked to this condition in women. Yet, other skin irritations related to sulfates can cause temporary or permanent hair loss. 

Situated at the base of your follicles are your sebaceous glands, which produce an oil called sebum. Sebum protects from disease-carrying pathogens and helps seal in moisture. 

As we age, menopause-related hormone fluctuations slow sebum production. Additionally, using sulfate shampoos too often will remove the sebum and natural lipids required for a healthy scalp, leaving your skin vulnerable to inflammation. The outcome is frequently itching, dryness, brittle strands, flaking and even hair loss.

How Sulfates Can Cause Problems for My Aging Hair

Sulfates can be problematic for anyone's hair, but more so if it is aging. Aging changes triggered by menopause can lead to decreased vitamin and protein absorption, a drop in melanin production, shrinking follicles and hair loss. 

As your hair matures, the protective outer cuticle layer grows weaker. Sulfate shampoos further weaken the cuticle cells by pushing through their overlapping structure. 

This makes them buckle and lift, leaving your strand’s inner layers exposed to moisture or damaging heat. Your once-smooth tresses turn dull, frizzy and become prone to breakage. 

Plus, when sulfates repeatedly lift and damage your cuticles, water freely enters your cortex and washes away dye molecules, accelerating color fade. Sulfate-free shampoos are formulated to cleanse impurities from your hair without damaging your cuticles, protecting your color and allowing you to go longer between touch ups.

Sulfate-Free Shampoos by Better Not Younger 

Better Not Younger's line of sulfate-free shampoos was formulated to tackle the underlying physiology of maturing hair and counter the effects of environmental damage. Second Chance Repairing Shampoo for Dry or Damaged Hair and Wake Up Call Volumizing Shampoo incorporates mild surfactants to gently cleanse away dirt, grease and product buildup. They do this while also maintaining cuticle health, leaving your locks clean, healthy and protected.

Second Chance Repairing Shampoo for Dry or Damaged Hair

Menopausal changes can lead to dry hair, while high-heat styling tools and chemical treatments cause further injury. Second Chance Repairing Shampoo for Dry or Damaged Hair with its new and improved formula provides rich, luxurious hydration with ingredients including:

  • Birch bark extract (Betula alba): Birch bark enhances metabolic activity and is abundant in vitamins B1, B2, A, C and E. These micronutrients are crucial for creating collagen, reducing oxidative stress and helping your sebaceous glands thrive.
  • Argan oil (Argania spinosa): Argan oil supports follicle fitness and is rich in natural phenols. It can improve your scalp texture and prevent your strands from drying out.
  • Rice bran oil: Rice bran oil strengthens your hair against environmental stress and adds body to your mane. Protein and amino acids shield it from oxidative stress and boost strand tensile strength.

Wake Up Call Volumizing Shampoo is a feather-light formula that hydrates your hair while improving body and texture. It is perfect for fine and thinning hair, spreading easily across your scalp while washing away trace-free. Wake Up Call’s healthy ingredients include gentle cleansers to protect your delicate cuticles, natural astringents to unblock your follicles, and nourishing nutrients to fortify your hair. 

  • Hops (Humulus lupulus): Hops serve as a natural conditioner providing abundant antioxidant-rich oils and natural moisturizers to nourish your smooth and thicken your hair.
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis): Sage is used as a natural cleansing astringent included to unclog your hair follicles and balance your scalp’s oil production. 
  • Burdock root (Arctium lappa): Burdock root is loaded with iron, vitamin A and potassium to nourish your hair while delivering body and strength. 

Choose Better Not Younger Non-Sulfate Shampoos for Your Hair

Your hair biology has changed, leaving your strands vulnerable to the damaging effects of sulfate surfactants, mainly when they are used too often. By switching to Better Not Younger’s Second Chance and Wake Up Call sulfate-free shampoos, you can expect stunning results over time. 

Achieve balanced, hydrated and less breakage-prone hair every day. Check out our blog for additional hair-care information. Also, be sure to come by our Shop page to look at our full line of paraben-, cruelty-, and sulfate-free products.