What are sulphate-free hair products, and should you be using them?

Image: supplied.

It’s no secret that the past few years have seen a growing demand for natural and organic products, but the fancy foreign phrases thrown around can be confusing and overwhelming to say the least.

When it comes to hair, this movement has played out in a shift towards sulphate-free products. But what exactly does this mean and what benefits (if any) does it have?

According to Annabelle Personeni, botanical chemist for hair brand Al’chemy, sulphates are a commonly used surfactant (a mix of molecules that attract water and oil)  that creates the cleansing and foaming effect you see in most shampoos.

RELATED: The best shampoos for every shade of coloured hair

An artificial chemical derived from petrochemicals, you may have seen it in the ingredients list as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES).

They work by separating grime, dirt and oil from your hair, while allowing it all to be rinsed off with water.

Although commonly used in shampoos for this reason (they’re also one of the cheapest cleansing ingredients to use for mass production) they can cause problems in some individuals.

“They can actually strip away moisture and cause irritation to the scalp,” explains Personeni. (Post continues after gallery.)

While sulphate-free shampoos have long been an obvious alternative for people with sensitive skin, The Blonde Room‘s founder George Giavis says more and more clients are asking for these products for a different reason.

“I think my customers are generally now more informed when it comes to ingredients and chemicals in products, and I am certainly seeing an increased demand for sulphate-free shampoos,” he says.

RELATED: 14 things hair experts would really like you to stop doing to your hair


Because the shampoos are less processed, they’re gentle on the skin and are said to create less irritation.

According to Patrick Fitzpatrick, Schwarzkopf Professional Colour Technician, sulphate-free shampoos are also a great option for people with dyed hair. (Post continues after gallery.)

“Because they reduce the chances of your scalp becoming inflamed and irritated, it increases moisture retention and improves the ability of your hair to retain natural oils. When your hair is dyed, this means your hair will be able to retain its colour and vibrancy for longer,” he explains.

I made the switch to sulphate-free shampoos just over a month ago, after having my hair dyed for the first time. A long-time frizz sufferer, I’ve found that not only has it helped colour retention, it’s also done wonders for keeping my hair shinier and reducing the coarse and dry feeling my hair usually has.

RELATED: How to “air dry” your hair so it looks styled. (Goodbye, frizz.)

However while opting for natural haircare definitely has its benefits, it doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.

“If you’re someone who has greasy hair, you may need a sulphate shampoo to give your strands a good wash – it all depends on your hair type,” says Fitzpatrick.

You also have to ready yourself to say goodbye to the lather.

"A sulphate-free shampoo will not lather and foam to the same level that a normal one would, as a naturally created alternative can simply not achieve the same effects that a chemically derived cleanser will do," explains Personeni.

"But lathering power is not a true reflection of cleansing power - it is only a 'trick' to signal cleansing."

Have you noticed a difference since switching to sulphate-free shampoos?