What is the difference between regular shampoo and sulfate-free shampoo?

Sulfates are cleaning and foaming agents found in most rinse-off products such as shampoos and skin cleansers. You'll see them identified on labels as sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate or ammonium lauryl sulfate.  Also referred to as "SLS" and/or "ALS" for short. These compounds are produced from petroleum and plant sources such as coconut and palm oil. When sulfuric acid reacts with another chemical it forms a salt called a sulfate. The main use for sulfates in products is to create a rich lather, giving a stronger impression of cleaning power. This does not actually mean your hair is cleaner, it just feels that way because we are use to things being squeeky clean. Sulfate-free shampoos are better for your hair and skin as sulfates are only considered safe when used briefly, followed by thoroughly rinsing the skin they touched. Beware the ingredient Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate can be even more drying than a sulfate.

Where are Sulfates found?

Sulfates are most commonly found in personal products and cleaning agents such as:

  • shampoos

  • Shaving cream

  • bath bombs

  • laundry detergent

  • dish detergent

  • toothpaste

  • liquid soap

Other Sulfates are found in water treatment , fertilizers, fungicides, and pesticides. chemicals, dyes, glass, paper, soaps, textiles, fungicides, insecticides, astringents, wood pulp, metal and plating industries, and in leather processing. There is no way of avoiding using petroleum in the production of SLES. Products that say sulfate-free may not necessarily be petroleum-free. It is always best to do your own research.

Sulfate-Free List of Ingredients to use.

Many of the ingredients in sulfate-free shampoo are derived from coconut oil and fruit sugars, and will gently clean your skin and hair. Below are some names you'll find on shampoo and soap labels:

  • Ammonium cocoyl isethionate

  • Caprylyl capryl glucoside

  • Cocamidopropyl betaine*

  • Coco glucoside

  • Decyl glucoside

  • Disodium cocoyl glutamate

  • Disodium laureth sulfosuccinate

  • Lauryl glucoside

  • Sodium cocoamphoacetate

  • Sodium cocoyl glutamate

  • Sodium cocoyl isethionate

  • Sodium lauryl glucose carboxylate

  • Sodium lauroyl lactylate

  • Sodium methyl cocoyl taurate

  • Sodium methyl oleoyl taurate

* The most common sulfate-free surfactant, however, but also the most harsh. Best for people with oily hair who don't have sensitivities.

Top 3 issues from using Sulfates.


If you have sensitive skin, sulfates may clog your pores and cause acne. You will have a higher risk of irritation the longer the product stays in contact with your skin or eyes. Rinsing off the product immediately after you apply it will help to reduce the risk of irritation.

Scalp Irritation

Sulfates strip your scalp's outermost protective layer of oil. Without that oil barrier it is very easy for harmful bacteria to get in and moisture to get out. As a result your scalp can become sensitive and dry, and lead to itching.

Dry Split Ends

The SLS gets rid of oil so well that your hair can end up lacking moisture and shine. This can lead to tangling, flyaways and split ends.