Shampoos with Sulfates

Shampoo with sulfate
Photo: Monika Wisniewska/Shutterstock
Q: I’ve heard shampoos with sulfates in are bad for your hair, so I switched to a non-sulfate shampoo. However, when I use it and airdry my hair, it leaves my hair feeling limp, dull and sticky. It feels like a residue on my hair. The worst sections are the sides of my head and the area near the crown.
At first I thought it was because I didn’t wash it out properly so the next time I washed my hair I spent a good half an hour rinsing it out and it still left my hair feeling like this.
I have long, brown hair and I'm not sure whether it’s thick or thin. It’s kind of in the middle. I’ve tried the body shop shampoo and recently used the L’Oreal Ever Sleek shampoo. What should I do? Does it take time for my hair to get used to a non-sulfate shampoo? How long? Thanks!

A: Okay. So there are folks who are concerned over the presence of sulfates in shampoos because sulfates can cause irritation in skin and can cause health issues for some people. There were even rumors (unfounded and unproven) that sulfates in shampoo cause cancer. But a large percentage of the population has no qualm about sulfates in shampoo.
The amount of time such a product is on the body/scalp is minimal at best. But that’s not what we’re here to debate. You chose to switch to a sulfate-free shampoo because you heard that it is bad for your hair, but you are unhappy with the results of the sulfate-free shampoo. So, let’s answer the specific questions you asked:
You do not need to give your hair “time to get used to the non-sulfate shampoo” because the results you are getting are because the shampoo lacks the lathering and lipophilic surfactant ingredient that removes the oils effectively from the hair. Most people who are pleased with the result of sulfate-free shampoos are those who were plagued by dry and damaged hair and the results they were getting from the shampoo that contained sulfates.
The results you describe are common complaints made by those using sulfate-free shampoos (and many complained that they needed to use LOTS more of the more-expensive sulfate-free formulas as well), and frankly there’s no easy fix. You can keep trying different brands (which are generally more expensive than their sulfate-containing counterparts) or look for other homeopathic hair-cleansing methods. I’ll give you a couple of these home-remedy formulas if you want to try them.
Baking soda & vinegar: Mix several tablespoons of baking soda in one-half cup of lukewarm water and apply it to wet hair and work it through the hair concentrating on the scalp. Then rinse the hair with a solution of one part vinegar to 3 parts warm water. There will be foaming as a result of the vinegar/baking soda reaction. Rinse the hair finally with warm clear water.
Note: some individuals have tried adding a tablespoon of baking soda to a small amount of their sulfate-free shampoo, and using that before the vinegar-water rinse. This is an option you can try as well.
Witch Hazel: Get a bottle of witch hazel solution and use it to rinse through the hair at the scalp after you shampoo. You can combine the witch hazel with warm water in equal parts. Witch hazel is an astringent made from the Hamamelidaceae Virginiana plant. Witch hazel has been around for generations and has been in use as a homeopathic treatment for irritations, skin care and as an all-purpose astringent.
Finally, if you want to boost the effectiveness of your hair-cleansing and minimize your exposure to sulfates, you can do what many people on the natural care blogs have opted to do and simply buy your sulfate-free shampoo and bolster it with a small amount of regular shampoo.
Mix one-part regular shampoo to 10 parts sulfate-free shampoo. You end up with a shampoo that has only 10% of the sulfates found in regular shampoo, but will still give you results that you can live with. The argument offered on the blogs is that at least you are minimizing the exposure.
See also:
How often should I change my shampoo?
Are all organic shampoos and conditioners sulfate free?