How would you react if the more you lathered your hair with shampoo, the more harm you did to each strand? In fact, how would you feel if the lather itself was damaging your hair?
That sparkly, bubbly foam from nearly every brand-name shampoo is known as “sulfate.” The most common of these—sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, and myreth sulfate—turns into an amazing lather in water, binding with dirt and oil and washing them away in the post-shampoo rinse.
For hair types that produce an excessive amount of sebum (the oil-like secretions that protect skin and hair), damage from sulfate shampoos may not be that obvious or severe, or may not even happen. Straighter, rounder hair shafts (such as Asian and Caucasian hair) allow for sebum to travel quickly from the roots to tips, almost forcing their owners to wash more often and keep extra oils at bay.
For curlier hair types (especially African American hair), it is more difficult for sebum to navigate the flatter, curvy hair shafts. By the time traditional shampoos are applied, there is very little sebum to soak up. Instead, the lather strips the hair itself and causes dryness, thinning, and breakage.
If traditional shampoos have dried your hair out too much, it might be healthier to use a cleanser that does not list a sulfate as an ingredient. This can include “washing” with conditioner only, which preserves the existing hair sebum while adding a boost of moisture.
You can also use “cleansing creams.” This can be a non-lathering blend that is applied like a shampoo without the need for a conditioner.
A few brand-name examples:
Another option is to create your own shampoo with products around your home:
- Organic aloe vera juice
- Organic apple cider vinegar (at most 20% dilution)
- Castile soap (at most 50% dilution)
- Clay – bentonite or Rhassoul
- Baking soda
Search for these products at any health store such as the Vitamin Shoppe, Vitacost, or Lucky Vitamin. You can also visit the organic section of your local grocery store or farmer’s market.
Remember: When creating a shampoo from scratch, always use distilled water in the mix. It contains a lower amount of minerals and will have less chance of interacting negatively with your other ingredients.
Adjusting to a non-sulfate shampoo or a nontraditional alternative can be difficult in the beginning, especially if the expectation of “squeaky-clean” hair is high. Once there is the realization that “squeaky” is not necessarily clean, you can come to understand just how your hair was truly supposed to feel.