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Sulfates in Shampoo: Should You Avoid Them?

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and Sodium laureth sulfates (SLES) are ingredients commonly used in producing shampoo, soaps, detergents, toothpaste and a whole lot of personal care products.

SLS and SLES are found in high concentrations in industrial products, including engine degreasers, floor cleaners, and car wash products and used in lower concentrations in household and personal care products such as cleaning products, toothpastes, shampoos, and shaving foams.

The foaming action means that a person can spread the shampoo over a greater area of their head. It may also help any active ingredients in the shampoo work deeper into the hair to remove dirt and excess oil. Of course, this may also mean that the person uses less shampoo. Sodium laurel surfactant, which is a chemical that breaks down surface tension. The result? More effective cleaning and lots of big bubbles. SLS is cheap to produce, and it creates the type of lather that people have been conditioned to think means “clean,” so it’s a staple of conventional personal care. It’s also a staple in industrial cleaning products, so if you have an engine that needs to be degreased it can do that too.

The most common sulfates found in store-bought shampoos include sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, and ammonium laureth sulfate. Other products may contain slight variations of these compounds, as well. These are not true sulfates, but they carry out the same role.