This is a broad subject and we could spend a lot of time chit-chatting about the do's and don'ts of using sulphates, BUT for the sake of time, let's just try to keep this as short and simple as possible.
Sulphates are commonly found in shampoos and a whole bunch of cleaning and hygiene products. Many of us have been so caught up in the hype of not using sulphates in our shampoos, not realising that many of our common cosmetics, hygiene and household products, that we regularly use, include some kind of sulphate in it.
The question is: What are sulphates? How bad are they? And are they OK to use in our shampoos?
Most sulphates are surfactants. Surfactants break down the surface tension between oil/dirt and water. They are also able to hold oils and dirt in suspension, to allow their removal from our hair. Surfactant molecules are able to act in this way because they contain both a hydrophilic (water loving) head and a hydrophobic (water hating) tail. How does this work in our hair? Well, I'm glad you ask because, the tail attaches itself and holds onto to the oil, dirt and debris in our hair. Once you begin to rinse your hair with water, the dirt, oil and debris are washed away, as a result of the water loving hydrophilic head.
Therefore, sulphates are added to our shampoos to boost its cleaning power and create the foamy sudsy appearance that we the consumers equate with effectiveness.
The most common sulphate used in our 'poos is Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS), which is the sulphate that I want to shed some light on now. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate shouldn't be confused with Sodium Laureth Sulphate, which is known to be harsher, and comes with its own set of controversies.
SLS has been rumoured to be carcinogenic (the potential to cause cancer), but this has been proven not to be the case, so we can all now take a sigh of relief.
If you have particularly sensitive skin, SLS may increase your sensitivity, causing irritation, and if you get SLS containing shampoos in your eyes, boy will it really sting!
In addition to being an irritant, another downside of using SLS is that it can dry your curls out!
I know! I'm not really selling the use of SLS shampoos here, but it is important to give you the whole picture! Despite some of the possible disadvantages of using SLS, the good news is, that it has the ability to break down sebum (natural oil from your scalp), dirt and grease, including any product build up that your mild sulphate free shampers aren't always able to achieve effectively. Don't get me wrong, I am totally in support of sulphate-free shampoos, as they are mild and don't strip your curls of their natural oils, which are already prone to dryness. However, for those of us who use products on our curls that contain non water soluble silicones or use products that can be quite tricky to eliminate from our hair, a shampoo containing SLS can work wonders!
I would not recommend that you use an SLS shampoo regularly, especially those of you who colour your tresses or suffer from extreme dryness of the scalp and hair. However, once every 4-8 weeks should be sufficient, to give your curls and scalp the reboot that they need. A clean scalp is the first step to a healthy scalp.
It should be noted that even if you don't use lots of heavy duty gunky kind of products in your curls, that your favourite shampoo and conditioner can build up their own residue over time, which is why it is recommended that you use a regular clarifying or SLS shampoo for your hair.
For those of you that are allergic to SLS, an alternative would be to use an SLS-free clarifying shampoo which is able to give you the deep clean that you need. Jessicurl offers a great mild SLS-free deep cleaning shampoo called Gentle lather that works wonders.
As mentioned before SLS can be drying to the hair. Therefore, if you are using SLS-containing shampoos for a curly hair deep clean, it's important that you rehydrate your curls with a good conditioner, to get them back in tip-top condition. So to sum up, if used sparingly, SLS doesn't have to be the enemy. It has the ability to cut through the build up on your curls, that can be problematic in the long run to your hair and scalp.