Sulfates are a common ingredient in beauty products, which makes sense since they are excellent foaming agents. It’s no big secret that sulfates have been used in shampoos and facial cleansers for decades to cleanse the hair and skin. But do sulfate-based products negatively impact our bodies? Does sulfate residue cause damage?
What are sulfates?
According to Healthline, “A sulfate is a salt that forms when sulfuric acid reacts with another chemical. It’s a broader term for other synthetic sulfate-based chemicals you may be concerned about, such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). These compounds are produced from petroleum and plant sources such as coconut and palm oil. You’ll mostly find them in your cleaning and personal care products.”
Sulfates are mostly found in everyday cleaning products such as shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, toothpaste, dish detergent, etc.
What’s the need for sulfates in beauty products?
As mentioned earlier, sulfates are used in cleansing products. They are mostly found in skin cleansing products and rarely in skincare products. Those skin cleansing products use surfactants because of their amphiphilic properties, which make them grab oil and wash it away. Apart from that, sulfates are the reason our cleanser foams up. Due to this, we think that the product is working.
So, are sulfates bad?
Not really. Sulfates themselves are not harmful to you. However, not everyone should use sulfate-based surfactants. Despite their workhouse demeanor, they might be excessively drying for sensitive skin if they come on too strong. Sulfates bind with grease and oil on the skin to wash it away, yet healthy skin needs some oil. The equilibrium of skin oils is difficult. A sulfate-based cleanser that tears away too many natural oils may actually cause more oil to be produced, starting a vicious cycle where the skin goes from being too dry to being excessively oily and back again.
Removing excess oils and sulfates is also associated with animal cruelty. Since sulfate products for humans frequently undergo animal testing, some believe sulfates are unethical. In an effort to stop utilizing animal products, many businesses have discontinued using this ingredient.
Sulfates have some environmental effects too. Unfortunately, some sulfates found in your favorite items, such as those made from palm oil, are not environmentally friendly. As you may be aware, palm tree plantations are one of the few things keeping the Amazon rainforest from being destroyed at the rate it is, in order to create a place for them.
Additionally, many types of marine creatures may be harmed by the byproducts of sulfates that enter our rivers after being flushed down the toilet. Sulfate particles, which are typically acidic, dissolve into sulfuric acid when combined with water. This sulfuric acid is typically deposited as acid rain or snow, both of which harm a number of ecosystems.
Should you use sulfate-free products?
Sulfates are good cleansers. But there’s a downside too. They can strip off natural oils from your skin and hair too. They can create skin allergies too. However, sulfate’s reaction on the skin depends on the strength, product, and manufacturer. You don’t have to ditch every product just because one of them does not work. Also, to help combat the possibly drying effects of sulfates, you may go for products with compounds like hyaluronic acid and ceramides.
Choosing sulfate-free products is wise for anyone who wishes to support sustainable beauty practices (i.e., items created without the use of palm oil or fossil fuels) and avoid animal testing. The choice is yours to make!
Sulfate is so commonplace in skincare and cosmetics, but that doesn’t mean you should be uninformed. On the contrary, it’s important to research your clean beauty products before purchasing them, to protect yourself from allergies and avoid unnecessary issues in the future!