Is Sulfate & Paraben-Free Truly Worth It?

March 9, 2023

You might have heard the terms 'sulfate-free' and 'paraben-free' before, as they have become major buzzwords in the beauty industry since concerns over the use of chemicals in beauty products have been steadily rising over the last few years. With the rising popularity of 'natural' beauty products and many beauty brands lining store shelves with their 'free-from' formulas to meet this demand, you have to wonder if 'free-from' is truly the best for our hair and skin or is it just another marketing scheme to sell more products? Keep reading to find the answer to these burning questions and if 'free-from' truly is better for your health.

What Are Sulfates?

Sulfates are a popular ingredient in a majority of hair and cosmetic products, but are commonly found in household cleaning products such as dish soap, due to its effective cleaning capabilities to remove dirt and oil. When an individual works up a thick lather when using shampoo, it is the result of the sodium lauryl sulfate, a detergent and crystalline salt of sulfated lauryl alcohol. Sodium lauryl sulfate is a surfactant, which is a product that reduces surface tension between a liquid and solid. This reduction is seen when shampoo or other cleansers produce a rich lather. Once this tension is removed, the barrier between the hair and shampoo is eliminated, allowing sodium lauryl sulfate to rid the hair of oil and dirt.

Shampoos or conditioners containing sulfates usually only have a concentration of approximately fifteen percent, as regulated by cosmetic industry standards. Individuals who want to avoid sulfates in their cosmetic and hygiene products should look for ingredients such as decyl glucoside, cocamidopropyl betaine, and ocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, which are free of residual sulfates and effectively clean the hair.

What Are Parabens?

A paraben is a preservative often used in many beauty products as it prevents the growth of bacteria and fungus in shampoos, conditions, and some makeup. They are water-soluble chemicals that are the most utilized preservative packaged in cosmetic products. The different types of parabens include butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, and isobutylparaben. They can also be tricker to notice compared to sulfates when it comes to reading labels, as some parabens can have alternative names without the word 'paraben' in it, such as Alkyl parahydroxybenzoates. Generally, a product will contain as little as 0.15 to 0.3 percent of a paraben by weight.

The use of parabens in cosmetics has been used for approximately seventy years. However, scientists have recently begun to question their safety and effects on human health, as it is believed parabens might be a carcinogen, but further research is needed to prove this theory.

The Effects It Has On Your Hair & Skin

What exactly are the effects sulfates and parabens can have on an individual’s hair and skin? Due to the harsh chemical they are, sulfates can result in dry hair and scalp, cause scalp irritations, fade colored hair faster, cause hair loss in some cases, and can create unnecessary hair frizziness for some individuals, especially if they have naturally curly or wavy hair. Beyond irritation, sulfates can also worsen eczema in some cases and are known to cause an uncomfortable stinging sensation if it gets in the eyes. Sulfates may have the ability to rid the hair and skin of oil and dirt, however with recent findings of sulfates as toxic and carcinogenic, it also has been found to be a significant culprit of hair loss and thinning, as it destroys hair follicles and inhibits hair growth.

Parabens can also cause irritation and can cause allergic reactions, as well as exacerbate specific skin conditions, such as eczema, similar to sulfates.

Sulfates & Parabens: Possible Carcinogens?

Some studies have shown parabens can mimic the activity of the hormone estrogen within the body’s cells, and considering estrogenic activity has been linked to specific forms of breast cancer in some tissue samples, it has also been found in breast tumors. Sulfates are also a cause of concern as they were discovered to break down proteins, which can lead to further complications such as a degenerative effect on the cell membranes. Sulfates also can leave residue in the heart, lungs, and brain. However, it should be noted there is no scientific proof that links parabens found in cosmetics to cancer, and industry standards recommend sulfates are safe up to a maximum concentration of fifty percent, especially if they are properly rinsed off of the skin.

The Benefits Of Going 'Free-From'

There are various reasons why going sulfate and paraben-free can greatly benefit your hair, skin, and overall health. For instance, by reading labels and purchasing beauty products without heavy and harsh sulfates and parabens, an individual will instantly notice their hair will feel less dry, brittle and frizzy, and their skin will not feel as oily or dry. Some of the notable benefits include a decrease in hair loss and thinning and noticeable hair growth, decreasing the risk of developing cancers, specifically breast, associated with sulfates and parabens, as well as a decrease in skin and scalp irritation, inflammation, and allergic reactions in some cases.

Shampoos and conditions that are sulfate and paraben-free genuinely keep the hair moisturized, and moisturized hair is less prone to breakage and split ends, and will look and feel healthy. Ridding your beauty products of these active ingredients can also improve and retain your hair’s natural oils, retain dyed hair for an extended period, and prevents the scalp from absorbing harmful chemicals. If you are trying to actively avoid parabens and sulfates, opt for alternative ingredients such as ethylhexylglycerin, which is plant-derived, or phenoxyethanol, which is naturally derived ether alcohol.

You don’t have to make these changes overnight or give your vanity or shower a complete overhaul, but being aware of what is in your beauty products is the first step to making more conscious and healthy choices when deciding between beauty products. Remember, always read the label next time you’re in the beauty aisle!

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