These days just a quick trip down any beauty aisle and you will notice ‘sulfate-free’ mentioned on plenty of beauty products. But what are sulfates? Where are they found? And why should we avoid using them?
‘Sulfates’ refer to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), and Ammonium Laurel Sulfate (ALS) a common, inexpensive ingredient in cosmetics.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is the nastiest and the most common. Found in most shampoos, cleansers, liquid soaps and body wash to give the product the ability to foam up. It’s in an overwhelming amount of common products, yet it’s one of the most highly irritating ingredients for the skin. It can cause many types of inflammatory skin reactions including dermatitis, eczema, itchy scalp and eye irritations.
According to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, SLS is a “moderate hazard” that has been linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, organ toxicity, skin irritation and endocrine disruption. Scary!
Shockingly, sulfates like SLS can actually penetrate through the skin and after time, can trigger various auto-immune responses on the skin. They also wipe out any good , infection fighting bacteria found on the skins surface. And it’s not just on our skin that sulfates can have an impact on the body, because they are absorbed through the skin, they can also impact our gut health. “Environmental toxins such as those in many common skincare products can effect our microbiome detrimentally” says Kara Landau nutritionist and dietitian.
On the upside, these days it’s pretty easy to make the switch to natural, sulfate-free products. Products like moisturiser and make-up don’t contain any sulfates . They are only found in things that foam- Shampoo, cleanser, hand soap, and body wash.
Surely we aren’t that addicted to bubbles to ignore such a nasty ingredient! Given all the reasons to avoid sulfates, I can definitely handle a few less bubbles….
So how is a sulfate-free product different? It simply won’t foam as much.
Take shampoo for instance, a sulfate-free shampoo won’t foam as much and it won’t leave you feeling as “squeaky” clean. Sulfate-free shampoo might be different at first, but trust me after 2-3 or three washes you won’t notice a thing. In fact you’ll never go back to a regular shampoo.
After a recent outbreak of dermatitis I started some research into to what could be causing it. I’ve never been allergic to anything, so when I saw that ‘overuse of cosmetic products’ was the most common cause of dermatitis, I knew that had to be it.
Unfortunately, simply stopping using sulfates isn’t a quick fix to get rid of my dermatitis. Because I’ve been using products with sulfates for so long, it will take time to get my skin back to normal. The toxins my skin absorbed over time have triggered an auto-immune response which manifested on my skin as dermatitis.
When I realised my skin was having an auto-immune response to the cosmetics I was putting on it, it really impacted me. What I was applying to my skin was upsetting my body so much my immune system started to rebel. Given the complex nature and extreme importance of the auto immune system, I knew then it was time to clean up my beauty routine. And not just mine- my husbands, and my kids too. I’d hate to think that their auto-immune system might be compromised as a result of the products I was giving them to use on their skin.
The first products to go were shampoo, cleanser, hand and body washes. Literally everything that foamed was binned. However, they were pretty easy to replace. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of sulfate-free alternatives available at the supermarket.
Funnily enough while trying to fix one problem I accidentally cured another. I’ve always suffered from an unbearably itchy scalp, and I thought I was just born that way. For as long as I could remember I’d had a dry scalp. After using sulfate-free shampoo for a month, my scalp miraculously settled down. No itch at all! It turns out my scalp hated sulfates too!!!
It’s funny that I knew all of this information, I’ve known it for years but did nothing about it because I couldn’t physically see any toxic impact to my health. I didn’t really think it was effecting me. Out of site, out of mind right? That was until I had a reaction (an angry red itchy dermatitis outbreak on my face) and consequently made the switch to sulfate-free.
It took my own body having an auto-immune response to really bring the message home. And now that I’ve eliminated sulfates not just from my beauty routine, but from the whole households I could never ever go back!
As consumers we don’t care enough about what products we are using on ourselves and our kids. We’re sold on the price, the brand or the packaging, but the real selling point should be the ingredients list. Everything I use now I check the ingredients list first, if I see Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), or Ammonium Laurel Sulfate (ALS) it an absolute no-go for me.
Here some great sulfate-free beauty options that work wonders!
Palmers Coconut Shampoo $6.99 available at Coles, Woolworths Priceline and Kmart.
Original Mineral Hydrate and Conquer Shampoo $32.95 available online HERE.
The Australian Natural Soap Company Cinnamon & Spearmint liquid soap $39.95 500ml available online HERE