The Science of Shampoos – Sulfates

This is the science of shampoos. But why care? Because ingredients matter: What goes onto your head can make your scalp dry, and itchy, and sensitive—intolerably irritating. Ever told yourself to stop scratching your head? Don’t worry. You can skip these bad hair days—with just a little help from science! So let’s begin with sulfates.

There are two types of sulfates used in shampoos.

(1)    Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)
(2)   Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

You may think of them as (1) Laurie and his friend (2) Lauren.

(1)    Sodium Lauryl Sulfate—“Laurie”

Laurie’s the older one; he’s been around longer. He’s real fun too, because he easily makes frothy bubbles in whatever kind of water—hard or soft. This is important. Before Laurie came along, many rural regions, without access to soft water, were using soaps that didn’t perform very well in the hard water they could only use. No problem for Laurie. And before long, he could be found in soaps for washing yourself, doing the laundry, and cleaning household items. Today, he’s still found in many products including toothpastes and carpet cleaning solutions.

There’s just one problem: he’s too aggressive, overzealous—even a little feisty. Our skin and hair are delicate things; they must be gently cared for. But Laurie doesn’t just remove grease and grime. He also destroys the natural, protective layer of lipids (fats) found in our scalp. This causes the scalp to feel dry and itchy. If you keep using shampoos containing Laurie, then that layer diminishes. And you get unprotected, sensitive skin.

(2)    Sodium Laureth Sulfate—“Lauren”

The scientists got back to work, to find a new chemical that cleans just as well as Laurie, but without the negative effects of removing our skin’s protective layer of lipids. The answer: Lauren. She’s just as hardworking, but also gentle and kind. Lauren is like Laurie, but with two or three moles of ethylene oxide added. This larger molecule penetrates less into the fat layer of our skin.

But watch out. This creates a carcinogenic by-product called 1,4 dioxane. So before Lauren can be added into soap, manufacturers must subject this chemical through a purification process. This process reduces the levels of 1,4 dioxane. Responsible personal care product companies work closely with reliable suppliers, ensuring these harmful by-products are not found in soaps and shampoos.

Sulfates are a useful component in shampoos, but only if it exists in the right form and are refined to the right levels. At Clynn by Nature, we source for the best ingredients to ensure what you apply to your body is effective in the short term and safe in the long run.