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Sulfates and Hair Loss: Should You Avoid This Common Shampoo Ingredient?

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Sulfates have been used for a long time in shampoos, and they act as surfactants to help surround the scalp and hair dirt and oils and rinse them away.

However, more recently, you may have noticed a trend towards highlighting the lack of sulfates in certain hair care items as a benefit of the product.

Of course, when you see something being listed as a positive for not containing something, you may automatically think that there is something damaging or dangerous about that ingredient. But, is this the case for surfactants in shampoo?

Below, we will cover just what sulfates are and why they are often used in shampoos, review if sulfates can cause or worsen hair loss, address just what issues might pop up from using sulfate-containing products, and then let you know what to expect if you are planning on making the switch to non-sulfate shampoos.

Why are sulfates commonly used in shampoos?

Sulfates are commonly used for their actions as a surfactant. Surfactants are surface tension-reducing agents that help the water (your shower) mix with and surround dirt and oils (from your scalp and hair), and easily wash them away.

In addition to surface tension reduction, sulfates also lend other properties to products including foaming, wetting, emulsifying, dispersing, and suspending/stabilizing.

When you use shampoos with sulfates, you may be familiar with the big, foamy, lather that comes with them. This big lathering sensation may help you “feel” more like the shampoo is working, and may give you that squeaky-clean sensation afterward.

Can sulfates cause hair loss or exacerbate existing hair loss issues?

If you are dealing with hair loss, it is understandable that you would want to avoid any ingredients that may contribute to hair loss or worsen the problem. But, have sulfates been connected to hair loss?

Currently, there are not any studies linking sulfates to hair loss.

However, we do know that sulfates may cause some other issues when it comes to general hair and scalp health in some users.

What issues might someone experience from using shampoos with sulfates?

As we mentioned above, sulfates work great to integrate water with dirt and oils and wash these things away. The problem can sometimes come from sulfates working almost too well and stripping off too much of the oils from the hair strands and scalp. 

This can then lead to the hair feeling dry, brittle, and being more prone to breakage. For the scalp, sulfates may cause irritation or dryness as well.

These issues do not happen with everyone using sulfate-containing shampoos, but for people with especially sensitive skin or issues with scalp and hair dryness, sulfates may be problematic.

How do sulfate-free shampoos differ from sulfate-containing shampoos?

If you do try out a sulfate-free shampoo, you may notice a few differences in how it feels and works. But, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t doing a good job cleaning your hair.

Sulfate-free shampoos tend to not lather and work into a fluffy foam like shampoos with sulfates, but you will still work them in gently scrubbing on your scalp like usual. You may also notice less of a “squeaky clean” after the process, due to sulfate-free shampoos being less stripping of the natural scalp oils.

However, once you get used to the little-to-no lathering situation, and adjust to a less-stripped feeling, you may enjoy less dryness and scalp irritation from the switch. If you color your hair, you may also notice your hair dyes lasting longer, which can be a plus.

Sulfates and hair loss: Bottom line

Sulfates are commonly used as the surfactant, or “foaming”, agents used to give you a good lather from a shampoo.

For some people, these ingredients may strip away too many nourishing and protective scalp and hair oils, leaving the hair feeling dry and brittle, and potentially irritating the scalp for some users.

There is not a clear connection between sulfates and hair loss, and it is unlikely that your shampoo is the culprit for any increased shedding you are dealing with. But, if you are concerned about hair dryness, or scalp irritation, it may be a good idea to switch to a sulfate-free shampoo.

Strut Health hair loss medications prescribed online

Here at Strut, we try to provide you with plenty of information on hair loss, including what can cause it, and what probably doesn’t.

If you are having hair loss issues, you are welcome to switch to a sulfate-free shampoo to help improve the moisture content of your hair or reduce an irritated scalp -- but it is unlikely to help with the root cause of hair loss.

The vast majority of hair loss in men and women is due to androgenetic alopecia, also known as male pattern hair loss and female pattern hair loss. Androgenetic alopecia is caused by genetic and hormonal root causes, so it is best treated with medications to help address the hormonal aspect and slow the progression. 

At Strut, we carry many options to help slow the progression of androgenetic alopecia using ingredients like Finasteride, Dutasteride, Minoxidil, Tretinoin, and Spironolactone.

If you are interested in seeing if a prescription option is a good fit for you, you can have a free online questionnaire and image-based telemedicine consultation in about 10-15 minutes today.

If you are a good candidate for treatment, your medication will be shipped to your front door. If you have any questions or need guidance, our staff and doctors are available for free and unlimited follow-ups.

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