Being rather proud of my red hair, I’m always looking for ways to enhance my gingerness, not just through its colour but also its condition.
I didn’t realise that by just looking at the ingredients on my hair product bottles I’m taking a big step towards improving the condition of my red hair. Just one ingredient can make a huge difference: sulphates.
What are sulphates and why are they so bad for your hair?
No matter what shade of hair you have, when you use sulphates on it, your locks become drier. Why, you ask?
Sulphates are foaming agents found in beauty products, most of which are called sodium laurel sulfate (SLS). Your shampoo’s lather is likely down to these sulphates, as is the foam you get when you use your face wash, so it’s found in a lot of beauty products these days. Sure, these sulphates are great at removing dirt – that’s what they’re designed to do – but they’re also extremely drying, compromising the structure and condition of your hair.
Sulphate products also often contain silicones and waxes that can create severe product build-up on your hair follicles. This blocks your pores and even prevents new hairs from growing, leaving you with heavy, flat hair that lacks volume.
The problem is that sulphates can’t tell the difference between excess oil/dirt and natural oils, or what is known as sebum. Sebum is actually good for your hair and skin, and is what gives them their natural shine or glow, so having these stripped out leaves your hair dry, brittle and vulnerable to damage.
Yes, conditioning your hair goes some way to replenishing this moisture, but it’s not the same as keeping the natural sebum in there.
How do sulphates affect red hair?
As red hair strands are more fragile and coarse than other shades, it’s no wonder that any application of sulphates can make ginger locks even more delicate and susceptible to breakage than other hair shades.
Swapping to sulphate-free hair products can help with heaps of other hair niggles you probably didn’t even know you had. Things like scalp irritation and frizz can be alleviated when you switch to sulphate-free hair products. And, because natural oils aren’t being removed unnecessarily, swapping to sulphate-free can leave your hair feeling softer and more conditioned, giving it more life and shine, too.
And, if you have curly hair, well, you shouldn’t touch sulphates with a barge pole. The Curly Girl Method swears by only using sulphate-free products on curly hair, stating on their recommended ingredients list: “How drying a product is depends on more than if it contains sulfates or not, but it’s easiest just to avoid them.”
What happens when you swap to sulphate-free hair products?
…you mean aside from having more moisturised and shiny in your hair?
It’s important to remember that your hair only ever produces the amount of oil that is being demanded of it. So when you switch to sulphate-free hair products, there is a transition period. In the first week or two you may notice a difference in oil production. This is a reaction to the lack of sulphates, meaning your body produces slightly more or slightly less natural oil than before the swap. This transition phase is just temporary while your hair gets used to being sulphate-free.
For around the same length of time, up to a couple of weeks, you may feel like your hair is more matted than normal. This transition reaction is your hair trying to expel the product build-up that the sulphates were creating.
Of course, the biggest change when you go sulphate-free with your hair products is the lack of suds when you lather up your shampoo. This doesn’t mean the products aren’t working, it is simply the lack of sulphates. Don’t let this lure you into applying more shampoo than normal though – it means you just need to work a bit harder at your lathering, as the suds aren’t there to push the product all over your head. This will get easier with time, so if you’re struggling in the beginning, try a double round of shampoo to see if that helps things feel cleaner up there.
Stick with it and it’ll be all worthwhile, and if you can’t handle the weird transition, try phasing out the sulphates by alternating between the two shampoos rather than going cold turkey.
Where can I get sulphate-free hair products?
Thankfully, the beauty world is waking up to life without sulphates. Here are a few of my favourites that I’ve tried so far.
Garnier Ultimate Blends Almond Crush Conditioner
Garnier Ultimate Blends Hair Food Banana 3-In-1 Dry Hair Mask Treatment