Wednesday, 4 June 2014


My interest in all things SLS has recently been pipped again after I noticed my current shampoo (Mark Hill 'Big It Up') was making a fairly alarming amount of my hair fall out, and what was left behind was feeling very dry and straw like (review in brief: bottle of shite, will not repurchase). On a whole, the antithesis of everything one looks for in a shampoo. I've used SLS free shampoos in the past in an effort to maintain red hair with good results. But why bother? What's the bloody point?!

The defendant: Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Looks a bit like an angry ionic dragon.

Let's start by addressing just a couple of points. SLS DOES NOT CAUSE CANCER AND FOR THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE, SLS AND OTHER SULPHATES ARE NO PROBLEM WHATSOEVER. Don't feel any need to rush out and go SLS free if your current shampoo is working for you! The issues with the sulphates affect a minority of people.

But wait. What are the issues?

In a nutshell, SLS is a surfactant; it surrounds molecules of oil and allows them to mix more readily with water, in turn making the oil much easier to wash away. Hooray! Squeaky clean hair! But maybe a little too clean? In addition to ridding you of the grime your hair might have accumulated over the days, SLS can sometimes go a little further and strip the natural oils which keep your hair and scalp healthy - stripping these can leave a scalp dry, flaky and itchy, something which is particularly problematic if, like me, your skin doesn't retain moisture properly anyway due to conditions such as eczema. The results will also vary between shampoos though, depending on which sulphate it contains (the laureth sulphates are generally somewhat more gentle than the lauryl sulphates), and the concentration of sulphate. 

It's no secret that SLS is known to be an irritant to the skin and eyes, but it's important to consider the amount of time it actually spends in contact with your skin. Studies have shown that a 2% concentration of SLS on the skin for 1 hour is sufficient to cause irritation, but come on - who leaves their shampoo on for an hour?! Get real, gang. Although it's very difficult to find data regarding the % of sulphates in shampoos (seriously Google, help me out here), the fact that it is only in contact with the scalp for a relatively short period makes it well tolerated by most - but do be sure to rinse your hair thoroughly!

In short, if you're suffering with a dry scalp and hair, SLS/sulphate free shampoos might be worth a shot. Those of you with coloured hair might also benefit, as in addition to stripping moisture, sulphates can have the same effect on colour. But most importantly, sulphates are not the devil. I get sick to my back teeth reading sensationalist posts across the net about how dreadful this ingredient is ("people clean ENGINES with it! HOW IS THAT SAFE ON YOUR HAIR?!"), and people should know that if their sulphate containing shampoo is working for them - that's just fine! But in the same breath, every scalp is different, and if yours is suffering then maybe SLS or other sulphates aren't for you.

As a side note, despite the focus here being on haircare, SLS does crop up in a multitude of other products, including shower gel and toothpaste. SLS free shower gels can benefit skin in the same way SLS free shampoos can for hair - I personally like the Dr Organics range at Holland and Barrett for their shampoos/conditioners/shower gels/all sorts of other interesting products - the range is huge, so have a browse! With regards to toothpastes however, some studies have suggested that SLS may be involved in recurrent mouth ulcers - the evidence isn't solid, but if it's something that effects you then there would be no harm in trialling an SLS free alternative (again, Dr Organics offer them, along with Euthymol and some of the Sensodyne range).

Wordy post OUT. And here's a man who looks after his locks.

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