Sulphates & hair products FAQs

Bernadette Byrnes, Head of Hair at OSLO, puts on her white coat to talk about sulphates in your shampoos. Should you be concerned?


What are sulphates?
Sulphates are cleansing agents, used in a wide variety of cleaning products, including hair shampoos, toothpaste and facial cleansers. On the ingredients list of your shampoo, they’ll read as sodium laureth sulphate, sodium lauryl sulphate, ammonium laureth sulphate and myreth sulphate.

Why are sulphates added to shampoos?
Sulphates are proven, effective and tested cleansers. They are effective at creating lather, removing residues and excess oils from your hair. Less quality, low cost, supermarket brands use a lot of sulphate as a filler. Therefore creating a lot of foam. Luxury, high-end brands use high concentrates of reconstructing, moisturising and nutritive properties with very low amounts of sulphates which is why they also don’t foam well.

Are sulphates harmful?
Contrary to what some natural beauty advocates would have you believe, no link to cancer has been proven. Sulphate-free has become a talking point but most people don’t know why. Sulphates can dry your scalp and can irritate existing skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. Some people do have a genuine allergy to sulphates, resulting in rashes and irritation. If you have a 12 week blow-dry or a Keratin smoothing treatment in your hair, sulphates in your shampoo will lessen its effectiveness. Shampoos with a high volume of sulphates may cause coloured hair to fade, but not all sulphates are bad. When they are used in conditioners in combination with other molecules, they can actually help make hair smoother, softer, and visibly healthier, so it’s wrong to say they are not good for your hair. Brands like Kérastase use the beneficial ones. They make hair softer and smoother to the touch, and they help dramatically reduce breakage from combing and styling.

Why do some shampoos not contain sulphates?
Select manufacturers have removed sulphates from some or all of their hair products in answer to their consumers' requests for it. The industry understands you want to know what’s in your products and understand how they work and what works best for you and make an informed choice. Sulphate free shampoos can be just as effective but, because there is less lather, you may need to shampoo oily hair twice, or wash your hair more often to remove product residues and create volume. Just because it doesn’t lather doesn’t mean it doesn’t clean—think makeup remover.

How do I know if I am allergic to sulphates?
Firstly, check the ingredients list and look for the ingredients listed above. Test the product on a small area and see if there is any irritation. If your skin, eyes or scalp are always a bit dry and sensitive after washing your hair you might consider changing to sulphate free to see if it improves.

Talk to your stylist if you have any concerns. At OSLO, we stock shampoos with and without sulphates in Kerastase and Kevin Murphy.

My hair is coloured but after trying the sulphate free shampoo and conditioner in Kerastase I found my usual regime with sulphates suited me best. Ultimately make the choice for what works for your hair and scalp, makes it feel healthy and makes it look great. It’s your choice.

What’s next?
Book a consultation with our hair team