The Effects of Sulfates and Silicones on Hair

The Effects of Sulfates and Silicones on Hair

By Natalie Baker

There’s been non-stop buzz in the beauty industry about sulfates and silicones in recent years—mainly, that they’re ingredients we ought to be side-stepping. While they may serve a purpose in some instances, overuse can cause trouble for your tresses. Those with curly, colored, or chemically-treated hair, may be in the habit of scanning beauty store shelves for sulfate- and silicone-free products, but more of us are making the move towards ditching the harsh ingredients in our hair care routines. Wondering if your hair needs to go on a chemical detox? Let’s take a closer look at these ingredients.

Sulfates are responsible for creating the lather in your shampoo. And while foamy suds are effective cleansers for cutting through oil, dirt and styling product residue— they can also be incredibly drying to both your hair and scalp. That’s because sulfates strip the hair’s natural oil to obtain a squeaky clean feeling.

If your hair is dry, damaged or curly, opt for a sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner to avoid depleting your hair of moisture. The same rule applies if you have a chemical treatment such as color, keratin or a Brazilian blowout.

CJ Cassaday, Celebrity Hairstylist and Colorist at Hair Studio 49 in Beverly Hills, says it’s important to do your research when switching up your hair care products, so read the ingredients on the back of the bottle. “Don’t only rely on the label on the front of the product. An educated consumer is the best consumer,” says Cassaday.

Sulfates are usually pretty high up on the ingredient list, but you may also spot them listed as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ASL).

If you make the switch to sulfate-free shampoo, you’ll notice the absence of foamy suds. Unlike traditional shampoos, sulfate-free formulas don’t froth. As milder cleansers, they remove dirt and grime without compromising your hair’s natural moisture levels. According to Cassaday, “Going green can not only save you money, but your hair will thank you in the long run.”

Silicone-based serums that you apply after blow-drying may create brilliant shine and increase hair’s smoothness, making it easier to comb, but they create an impenetrable barrier around hair strands, preventing essential nutrients from entering the cuticle. While silicone-based serums offer a quick fix to glossier-looking hair, they can do more harm than good, advises Cassaday.

“Silicones are processed with chemicals that are purely cosmetic and have no actual benefits to the integrity of your hair. I recommend clients use more natural products  with Argan oil, coconut oil or hemp oil. These products offer healing benefits to the hair, while leaving it feeling healthy and shiny. “ A good example of this is One ‘n Only™ Argan Oil Spray Treatment, which is lightweight and will help protect hair as well as repair it.

Keep in mind that silicones aren’t always labeled as such. Ingredients that end with the suffix -cone or -xane are all variants of the chemical. Silicone-infused hairsprays, serums, sprays and waxes can all build up and leave a residue over time, leaving your hair dull, dry and lackluster. Remedy the problem and use a specially formulated clarifying shampoo every couple of weeks in place of your sulfate-free formula to break through the build-up.

While your hair may take time to get used to different products, you’ll be left with softer, shinier and more nourished hair. In the end, it’s worth the effort to transition to gentler, more natural products.


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