Should I Avoid Sulfates in Skincare Products?
If you have a beauty product that creates a foamy lather, then it almost certainly contains sulfates. We see it most commonly in shampoo, face cleanser, and toothpaste, but it can also show up in non-foaming beauty products too. Yet, many brands also proudly tout that their products are sulfate-free, so should we avoid it? Here’s what experts have to say.
Sulfates are detergents, or surfactants, and the most common types are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth ether sulfate (SLES). “In the past, there was a lot of concern about the actual safety of sulfates, those concerns have since been disproven,” says Manhattan Beach, CA dermatologist Nina Desai, MD.
The biggest concern with sulfates is they can potentially cause skin and eye irritation. “They can be drying for your skin and also impact artificial hair color causing it to fade,” says cosmetic product developer Ginger King.
In some cases, sensitivity to sulfates can lead to breakouts and clogged pores, says esthetician and formulator Bella Schneider.
But whether or not it causes irritation depends on the formula. “SLS for example is way less irritating when paired with other surfactants like cocamidopropyl betaine,” says cosmetic formulator Annalisa Branca. “A good rule of thumb is too look for products that combine several surfactants. In fact, surfactant blends are generally milder.”
Additionally, if sulfates are paired with moisturizing ingredients they are generally fine, says Redondo Beach, CA dermatologist Annie Chiu, MD.
The verdict? Sulfates aren’t necessarily bad, but there are plenty of effective products out there that are sulfate-free if you do choose to avoid them.