Today, we are all making healthier choices– choosing more organic foods and natural products. And that’s a good thing. But in our rush to embrace everything natural, it’s easy to mistake hype and opinion for facts— especially when it comes to sulfates in shampoos.
Sulfates: The Facts v. Fiction
As Lisa Bonner.com posted in 2010, “Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is surrounded by some of the greatest confusion and misinformation in the industry. It has become more vilified than any other chemical, while those that are much more problematic pass freely beneath the radar.” Sulfates are still the subject of rumors and urban legends. We’ve compiled a list of facts that separate the clear facts about sulfates from the murky fiction to help you choose the right shampoo for you.
Fact #1: The first sulfate scare was faked.
A fake email in 1998 claimed that sulfates caused cancer. The rumor spread like wildfire and took hold in consumers’ minds, despite assurances from “three governmental agencies, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Toxicology Program (NTP), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) all rating SLS as non-carcinogenic,” posted on the rumor-busting Snopes.com site in 1998.
Fact #2: Sulfates are safe ingredients.
“Health Canada, the European Union and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider sulfates, including Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) to be safe ingredients, as does The Cosmetic Ingredient Review, an independent U.S. organization that assesses the safety of ingredients in cosmetics,” reported Best Health Magazine.com
Fact #3: Sulfates aren’t demons—just detergents.
“Sulfates are detergents and they’re extremely good at what they do, cleansing [hair and the scalp] by cutting through dirt and grime,” says Ni’Kita Wilson, a cosmetic chemist in New Jersey,” quoted in Womens Health Magazine.com. That’s why sulfates are still used in 90% of personal care products–from shampoo to toothpaste, bath washes and shaving creams, just as they have been since 1930, as xovain.com reported, when Procter & Gamble created the first shampoo with a sulfate base.
Fact#4: Sulfates don’t damage hair or fade color. Really.
Sulfates are said to damage hair and fade color. Not true, says ChemistsCorner.com. “Somewhere along the line…“sulfates” got a bad name. Now it’s pretty firmly established in a high percentage of people’s minds that sulfates are harsh, more color stripping and bad for your hair. There’s little evidence for this but it persists.” HairMomentum.com confirms that sulfates don’t damage hair. However, improperly rinsed hair can become brittle and prone to breakage over time. On color loss, HairMomentum.com says, “Sulfates are not the primary cause for color loss. Water alone is enough to cause the dyes to diffuse from the hair.”
Fact #5: Sulfates are key to cleansing rituals.
Sulfates create that just-washed feeling we all love in our shampoos, toothpaste and body washes–and the rich foamy lather that defines the ritual of shampooing our hair. No other ingredient lathers up while cleansing—making it virtually impossible to create a sulfate-free version of a shampoo that is exactly like a traditional shampoo.
Fact#6: Lose the sulfates, lose the lather.
Because sulfate-free shampoos don’t lather, they are difficult to use. The entire shampoo experience is very different. HairRomance.com explains, “Sulfate-free shampoos can take some getting used to. They’re not quite the same as a regular shampoo. You won’t get that real squeaky clean feeling but that’s not a bad thing.” The site posts tips on using sulfate-free shampoos.
Fact #7: Sulfate-free shampoos cost more to make—and use.
Sulfate-free shampoos generally cost about 30% more to make. BestHealthMagazine.com explains, “other surfactants are more costly (than sulfates) and lead to pricier formulations in general.” HairRomance.com points out, “Without the foaming action, it’s harder to remove the dirt and oil from your hair,” and recommends shampooing twice with sulfate-free shampoos. Which means you’ll use more sulfate-free shampoo, run out more frequently—and stock up more often.
Fact #8: Sulfate substitutes aren’t always better.
“The term sulfate-free has become associated with being “healthier” and “organic” even when that is not the case,” says InnerSenseOrganicBeauty.com, advising consumers to look for “sulfate-free shampoos derived from gentler plant-extracts and amino acids, and seed oils such as palm or coconut oil” and “avoid chemical sulfate substitutes like Cocamide DEA, Cocamide MEA, PEG, Propylene Glycol, Cocamidopropyl Betaine and Hydroxysultaine Vbc that are stronger and harsher than sulfates themselves.” Harsh surfactant substitutes our chemists avoid are Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate, Alkyl Benzene Sulfonate, Castille Soap (like Dr. Bronner), Sodium Alkyl Sulfonate and Sarcosinates.
Fact #9: Sulfate-free shampoos might be right for you.
Chemists say that sulfate-free or not, the key to a great shampoo a formula with the perfect balance of ingredients. For those of us non-chemists who might have trouble finding the ideal formula for us, WomensHealthMagazine.com offers simple guidelines to help us choose the right shampoo for our hair.
- Is your hair fine or dry hair?
- Is your hair prone to frizz?
- Is your scalp sensitive?
- Is your hair color-treated?
If so, you may want to try a sulfate-free shampoo which are formulated with milder surfactants and gentler on fine, dry, frizzy and color-treated hair. If you are very active, have thick or oily hair, or use a lot of styling products, you may prefer the stronger cleansing power and economy of traditional formulas, especially if you wash your hair several times a week.
Fact #10: It’s your hair, your shampoo—and your choice.
Choosing a sulfate-free shampoo is like shopping for vegetables. You may prefer organically grown vegetables from local farmers markets. But that doesn’t mean the vegetables in the supermarket are harmful. Equally, you may prefer organic personal care products—until the yoga class when you discover your crystal deodorant just isn’t strong enough—and you switch back. It’s your choice.
We believe in the beauty of choice. Because when we understand the pros and cons of all our options—be it about broccoli, shampoo or crystal deodorant—we naturally make better choices for ourselves, our families and our world.
Shiny glossy hair is a glorious sign of beauty—we all want it. That’s a fact. According to GCI Magazine, 95% of women in a Beauty Wish List 2015 study said they want hair products for stronger, healthier hair. Ionic blow dryers repeatedly promise shiny silky hair –and faster drying. So they must be the perfect styling tool for today’s women, right? Not so fast.
Fact 1: Promises or Overpromises?
Buying a blow dryer today is an emotional and financial investment. The right one really can get you out of the door faster, looking and feeling better. But how do you find “the one”? Like players on dating sites, product websites are typically given to overblown promises, hype and double-talk—all of which sound sincere and factual. Not us. We give you straight talk and keep our promises.
Fact 2: Hype, Hoopla and Hysteria.
Ionic hair dryer claims are so overblown they seem modeled on Silicon Valley hype, where as SFGate points out, “new apps, software, sites and gadgets are marketed as if they will replace the very fabric of humanity.” That’s why we don’t take anything at face value. Take a look at this ionic dryer review on Allure.com: “Hair dries so fast that it not only doesn’t sustain damage (like a roughed-up cuticle or dried-out cortex), it’s also left in better shape than if you had never turned on the dryer.” Really?
Fact 3: More Pseudo Than Science.
Suspicion about the “slim or nonexistent” science behind ionic hair dryers has circulated for years on scientific blogs like physicsforum.com, scienceline.ucsb.edu, madsci.org and ExploreCurioCity.org, excerpted below:
Aug 24, 2008 #5 Moonbear Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Gold Member: I still don’t understand how ions are supposed to help dry hair faster or make it shinier (other than if it looks shinier because it’s smoother and not sticking up with static).
Layman321: I have also been unable to find much satisfying information on these hair dryers on the internet.
Jul 31, 2010 #7 MarionD: A lot is written about ionic hair dryers but the real scientific background indeed is slim.
physicsforum.com: I’ve been trying to find out what this ‘ionic’ really means, but haven’t been able to find a satisfactory explanation. Sure, the companies have plenty of dodgy quasi-physics explanations, but I do wonder though if these products actually emit ‘ions’ as they claim.
Scienceline.ucsb.edu: It sounds as if ‘ionic’ hair dryers are the same for your hair as ordinary hair dryers.
Fact 4: No Science. None.
Unfortunately, the doubts about ionic hair dryer science didn’t—and still haven’t–reached many beauty consumers, beyond savvy professionals, like Linda, a hairdresser educator, who wrote MadSci.org in 2006:
Linda: I have heard that ionic hair dryers are faster as they break water down faster and also that it forces water into the hair shaft creating more moisture. Is this the truth? David Akerman, Staff, R&D Scientist, Clear Edge: I can’t find any scientific evidence to support the idea that these hairdryers are superior to traditional hairdryers. The explanation of their effect is only described by websites trying to sell them, or by other hair-care sites…with dubious claims, (such as) ” Through restructuring the ion cluster of water, (the Ionic Hair Dryer) IHR allows water molecules to penetrate into the core of each hair.” This doesn’t happen – water is ionic enough that any additional “negative ions” supplied by a hairdryer (if they even exist) will have no effect.
Fact 5: Ionic Dryers Debunked.
This same “water penetrating the hair core” claim is still used. But today there are new beauty science blogs that routinely debunk beauty biz myths and hype. The Brightest Bulb in the Box called Ionic Hairdryers: Beauty Bullsh*t. After saying she doubts the existence of negative ions, this blogger, Robyn, like Akerman, explains that ions in the air are more likely to transfer their extra electrons to the ions in the water on your hair, not your hair strands. Robyn concludes “The chemical implausibility combined with the complete absence of any scientific information whatsoever suggests that, when it comes to hairdryers, “ionic technology” is, well, a load of hot air.”
Fact 6: Not An Ion of Proof.
As bloggers over the years have pointed out—there is not an iota of proof that ionic technology does anything for your hair. The one independent product test still referenced today, done by the Good Housekeeping Institute in 2006 found that ionic dryers are virtually no faster than traditional dryers.
Fact 7: Hyped-Up Claims.
Why is ionic dryer hype so overblown? Why not just stick with the facts? To be honest, hair dryer technology isn’t as sophisticated as marketers would have us believe. The benefits of the best dryers are simple—they are lightweight, powerful, balanced, comfortable to use—and made with the high quality long-lasting components (though not necessarily complicated).
Fact 8: Double-Talk Sells.
Straight talk isn’t catchy or memorable—or different from anything competitors are saying. Without an industry regulatory board, marketers are relatively free to make pseudoscientific claims about “ion water clusters” that are pure unadulterated Water Cluster Quackery.
Fact 9: The Ion Circus.
How can companies get away with far-fetched claims with no proof whatsoever? Frankly, there is no regulatory board to oversee hair styling tools. That means companies don’t have to validate marketing claims with proven results. So as Ackerman explains on MadSci.org, “There is no science here, nor any scientific evidence, only anecdotes and consumer satisfaction surveys. These are notorious for being unreliable in the extreme. Proper scientific efficacy could only be established with randomized double-blind trials and I can’t find any trace of these.” Why don’t manufacturers conduct their own scientific tests? Testing is expensive and without a regulatory board to demand proof, manufacturers don’t—and probably won’t—test on their own nickel.
Fact 10: Consumers’ Word Only.
As CurioCity.org points out, ionic dryer claims and “advertised benefits rely on anecdotal evidence (i.e. information not based on facts or careful study). In other words, positive reviews by consumers like those on folica.com, epions.com and amazon.com are unverified, thus unreliable. They are also extremely influential, with a powerful “placebo effect.” Business2community.com reveals,“88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.”
Fact 11: Our Take on Ions.
Flat out, ionic styling tool technology is a marketing ploy. Most manufacturers know that ionic “technology” doesn’t do much. But it’s widely accepted by consumers and doesn’t cost much to add (so why are these dryers more expensive). In any case, most companies include ionic “technology” rather than fight marketing peer pressure. We don’t—and won’t—do that. Instead, we developed our AirShine™ proprietary technology that actually works—and we can explain why.
Fact 12: Our Technologies Work.
All our technology works—we won’t deliver anything that doesn’t. Instead of spending our money on marketing spin, we put our resources into innovative technologies that make your hair look and feel better. We source the highest quality materials, creating high-performance professional products that are beautiful and bespoke. You’ll see the difference—in our products and your hair. That’s our promise.
Fact 13: Shhh–Our Secret.
Here’s a secret–your reward for reading all the way to the end: shine comes from heat. That’s it. No ionic technology or high-tech complex needed. (We know you’ve read otherwise by so-called “specialists.”) The higher the heat, the more shine you’ll get. Just remember that high heat can damage your hair with daily use. But with heat protection and proper conditioning, you can use higher heat in moderation…and shhhine.
The shelves are filled with hair products that claim to “heal” your hair. There’s no doubt that these products can improve the appearance of your hair, but can they really heal it? We took a deeper dive to find out if the marketing meets the facts.
FACT #1: HAIR ISN’T ALIVE
Much like your fingernails, your hair is made mainly from a type of protein called keratin. The only part of your hair that is actually living is found in the follicle. The part of your hair that is visible is called the hair shaft, and it is considered dead.1 Unlike skin, the hair shaft can’t regenerate or heal. So there’s no “ointment” available that’s going to heal your hair.2
FACT #2: DAMAGE IS PERMANENT
When you break a nail, you have to wait for the new one to grow back, the same is true for hair. Once the damage is done, it’s done. Hair is made of three layers, the inner fiber is called the medulla, the middle layer is called the cortex and the outer layer is called the cuticle.3 When you damage your hair it raises and chips the cuticle revealing the cortex and the medulla. If you looked at damaged hair under a microscope it would look like splintered wood with many jagged edges.4 That’s why damaged hair appears dull. A smoother, flat cuticle that hasn’t been damaged appears to shine. Eventually damaged hair will start to split and create two strands creating the dreaded “split end.”
FACT #3: DAMAGE COMES FROM A NUMBER OF SOURCES
Your hair never gets a break. Weather, sunlight, pool water, salt water, coloring, and bleaching all contribute to the damage your hair suffers. There’s a layer of protective lipids, a type of fat, that keeps your hair hydrated and prevents some damage.5 When this layer of oil is removed by harsh chemicals or aggressive treatment, your hair is left exposed and at risk for damage.
FACT #4: PRODUCTS CAN CONCEAL, NOT HEAL
Most products that claim to heal damaged hair are most likely helping the hair look smoother and shinier. In a 2015 blog post, Josh Rosebrook said, “You can use oils, conditioners, or hydrolyzed proteins to disguise the issues temporarily, but it’s akin to using make-up, products improve the appearance but they will wash out and you are back to the original problem.”3 According to Hairmomentum.com hair products that claim to “heal” use polymers that fill the gaps in damaged hair to give it a smooth surface that feels repaired and looks great, but it’s not actually healed.6
FACT #5: SPLIT ENDS CAN’T BE REPAIRED
There is one product on the market that can fix split ends and it’s called scissors. Trimming your hair to remove split ends prevents the entire shaft of hair from splitting and will help your hair look healthier longer. Treating your hair with products like hair butters or oils can conceal split ends and help your hair to look great, but they won’t permanently fix them. A regular trim is the best way to stay on top of split ends.7
FACT #6: CONDITIONERS PROTECT HAIR
You may not be able to “heal” your hair, but the good news is you can treat damaged hair and return its shine and resilience. Washing your hair with gentle shampoos and conditioning it daily will help your hair remain hydrated. High quality conditioners and treatments contain oils that will reduce the friction and tangles that can cause damage to occur and will maximize shine.
FACT #7: CURLING IRONS OR FLAT IRONS ON WET HAIR MEANS TROUBLE
According to www.racked.com when you heat wet hair with a curling iron or flat iron, the moisture is literally boiled out of the hair and causes the cuticle to bubble and buckle.4 So before you curl or straighten your hair, make sure it’s dry, and always use high-quality irons that offer temperature control. Different hair types need require different settings for the best results. No product is going to “heal” your hair, it’s a false claim. In fact it’s against the law in Australia to claim that a hair care product will “heal” it. But there is hope for damaged hair. Choosing high-quality hair products that nourish your hair and protect it from further damage will make it look radiant again. High-quality tools such as flat irons and curlers that offer temperature control will also give you the best results for your hair type, while avoiding damage. If you keep a routine that protects your hair and treats damage, your hair can, and will, look gorgeous again.