You've probably noticed that more and more hair care brands are advertising sulfate-free formulas. Why is that? Sodium lauryl sulfate, the ingredient that produces that foamy, sudsy, ultra "clean" sensation, is the same ingredient (albeit in a higher concentration) found in engine degreasers, floor cleaners and car wash soaps. Although it has not been proven to be carcinogenic (see the American Cancer Society's stance) it is a proven skin irritant and its use in toothpaste has been linked to the development of canker sores (ew!).
Moreover, stylists suggest that it strips your color, so if you just dropped $100 at the salon, it might be worth it to spend a little extra on a sulfate-free, gentler shampoo this month. However, some allegedly sulfate-free products do contain SLS's chemical relative sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). Same deal? Possibly worse. When SLS is being converted to SLES, it is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen. Obviously, the levels are low, but if you are a health freak, be sure to check the ingredients of your new shampoo thoroughly before buying. Let's review some of the sulfate-free options out there:
L'Oréal's Everpure line: I tried the Everpure Volume Shampoo, and while the scent is manageable and it does produce a fair amount of suds, volume is not the end result. Try dry, lifeless hair. Plus, the packaging is really hard to deal with. Mine is all mangled. But, this product does get points for color retention. After a month of use, my grays were still at bay. Yay! I give it two-and-a-half stars out of five.
Organix Awakening Mocha Espresso Shampoo: I love chocolate and I love espresso and I love waking up, so you got me, Organix. The scent of this is great, but the results are no better than L'Oreal's Everlifeless. In fact, my husband has complained of "scalp" smell after one day, and the conditioner — no matter how much I squeeze out — does not leave my hair feeling silky as promised. Two stars. (I give mega points to Organix for its Nourishing Coconut Milk Instant Repair Treatment, however. Used once a week in place of regular conditioner, my lustrous hair is back!)
Pureology: If I had more money to spend, I would try Pureology's Superstraight Shampoo with Anti-Fade Complex, which retails at $28. Not a trace of a sulfate, it's super luxurious with oat proteins and sunflower and avocado extracts. It does, however, contain two parabens, which have become beauty industry villains (That's a blog entry for another day). Now, I have tried the Superstraight Condition Revitalisant with Anti-Fade Complex, which is really awesome, but it goes for a whopping $29. Kinda hard to justify, but drugstore.com tends to have sales on it. Some people might find the bitter smell a bit off-putting, but trust me, the end result (especially in humid weather) is worth the few minutes you're rinsing it out. Minus two points for price and parabens, so three stars overall.
Needless to say, I am still on the search for the great sulfate-free shampoo. Post comments below with your success stories, please!