There is so much talk about sulfates and silicones and parabens these days that is is easy to get lost in the shuffle. Looking at the science of these ingredients can REALLY HELP clarify what is happening here ~
So, silicones - they are found in most mainstream conditioners and styling products (sometimes they are in shampoos as well) and they are what creates that "slip" on the hair, that smooth, velvety swingy hair that looks and feels slippery. Silicones are coating the hair, creating a barrier and creating the temporary illusion of shiny, healthy hair. Unfortunately, they are not water-soluble, and it takes some very specific detergents to get them to dissolve. Enter sulfates. Sulfates are able to break down silicones and remove silicone build-up from the hair. Silicones will quickly build up on the hair if not washed out by sulfates. Natural shampoos without sulfates simply cannot break down silicones.
If you are trying to use natural shampoo that does not have sulfates, but you are still using any products (conditioner, styling creams, etc) that have silicones, your hair will start to build up silicone residue. This is why your natural shampoo often doesn't feel like its working. Over time the silicones you are using build up and the hair no longer feels clean after washing.
Unfortunately for all of us, silicones are probably the only thing that is going to give you hair that Pantene pro-v ad level of swing and slip, unless you are really good to your hair from the very start or are just blessed. So why are silicones are sulfates bad? Why make the switch away from them?
Silicones have not been scientifically proven to do anything really bad to our health. However, they are bio-accumulative and don't break down for hundreds of years, meaning they are contributing to the sludge pollution in our oceans and waterways. So, that isn't great. Also, silicones are not actually hydrating your hair, they are just creating a coating - and anything you put on after silicones to hydrate the hair cannot actually penetrate the hair shaft. This leads to dryness. Because silicones quickly build up, they encourage frequent washing, leading to drier hair and scalps over time. The hair becomes drier and more brittle, creating more need for that silicone coating to create the illusion of healthy hair. (Silicones can also create build-up on the scalp leading to more hair loss.)
Sulfates are generally just irritants to the skin, eyes, scalp, etc. Using these on the delicate microbiome of our scalp is too harsh, drying and disruptive to the hair and skin.If you want to make the switch to natural hair care, you must end the silicone/sulfate cycle as the two are interdependent. First, wash your hair with shampoo WITH sulfates (I recommend two or three times to really get rid of any silicone build up) but without any silicones. Then use a silicone-free conditioner. Once you have made the switch, if at any time you use a product that has silicones or someone uses one on you at the salon, etc., you must use a shampoo with sulfates to clarify the hair if you want to switch back to a natural routine. For this I recommend Neutrogena Anti-Residue Shampoo. It has very few ingredients, mostly sodium laurel sulfate and castor oil, and is is very affordable at your local grocery store.
How to identify Sulfates and similar harsh detergents : The most common sulfate is Sodium Laurel Sulfate. There are many variations that are cousins of sulfates that are good to stay away from :
Alkylbenzene sulfonates, Alkyl Benzene Sulfonate, Ammonium laureth sulfate, Ammonium lauryl sulfate, Ammonium Xylenesulfonate, Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate, Sodium cocoyl sarcosinate, Sodium laureth sulfate, Sodium lauryl sulfate, Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, Sodium myreth sulfate, Sodium Xylenesulfonate, TEA-dodecylbenzenesulfonate, Ethyl PEG-15 cocamine sulfate, Dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate -
Note : there are some water soluble silicones such asDimethicone Copolyol Lauryl Methicone Copolyol, and any silicone with PEG as a prefix. However, these can alter the surface tension of the skin and allow ingredients to penetrate deeper into the skin. PEG’s also have been found in studies to often have impurities in them that have been linked to cancer.
PS – Parabens are preservatives. Stay away from them because they are endocrine disruptors, for humans and animals, which they reach through the waterways.
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