What are sulphates / sulfates?
Sulfates are mineral salts which occur naturally, but can also be man-made. They can be used as 'surfactants', 'emulsifiers' and 'detergents'; in simple terms, a chemical which helps clean. In fact, they are found in everything from toothpaste to shampoo and scalp treatments, to the industrial products used to clean oil rigs!! Now just because they are used to help clean possibly one of the greasiest places in the world, doesn't inherently make them a bad thing, so this is where we need to dig a little bit deeper...
Basically, when a droplet of water forms, it has something called 'surface-tension', which keeps the droplet intact - that's how raindrops fall from the sky in one drop until they hit the ground! When you wash your hair, the droplets from the shower will stay whole and will simply glide off the hair without washing it, particularly if it's covered in grease and dirt. What shampoos do, particularly effectively when they contain sulfates, is to break this surface-tension and enable the water to stick to the hair, helping remove the dirt and grease. The sulfate in particular makes the shampoo lather up and produce the nice foam that we all too often associate with it's cleaning power.
One key sulfate in many cosmetics and cleaning products is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) which goes by a number of different names. SLS occurs naturally in coconuts, however by the time it reaches the products we use, it has been combined and contaminated with other chemicals like 1,4 dioxane; making the most of the natural properties, but maximising them with additions. It is these chemicals that deepen the problem with sulfates and which have been proven to be carcinogenic. Sulfates are incredibly efficient and cheap, which is the key reason they are used in many cosmetics; other sulfate examples include sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) which is yellow and very foamy, and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS) which is also used for it's foaming properties. All three are classified as 'moderate hazards', safe for use in small quantities.
So should you worry?
While these sound pretty scary, none of the studies have been particularly definitive and nor have they been quantified in terms of how much is actually harmful and what happens when they mix with different chemicals. That said however, a switch to sulfate-free products have the following purported benefits:
Taking all that into account, what negatives can you expect from sulfate-free shampoos & conditioners...?
Now hopefully, this post has given you an insight into the properties of sulphates and why you might want to consider avoiding them. However it'll ultimately be down to you; if you google it, you'll find many more articles on the subject including a number of scientific insights...
Why then SHOULD you use sulphate-free shampoos for your wigs?
This one isn't a hard one...
Unlike natural hair, wigs don't rejuvenate (obviously) so they don't care for themselves by growing, producing natural oils or generally maintaining their own condition. That simply means that chemicals have a significantly more detrimental effect on either a synthetic or human hair wig, than they ever will on natural hair! Without a doubt, you should therefore use sulfate-free products because...
We can't force you to choose sulfate-free, but it's definitely something we encourage to help prolong the life of your wig and improve your experience!
Got an opinion or want to recommend a product you use. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll take a look! In the coming weeks we'll also be putting a number of these products to the test and will be adding the best ones to our online shop the raise money for Alopecia UK!