As a curlygirl or curlyguy there are some things you just know. You know your hair won’t turn out the same way twice, you know your hair loves water and you know that sulphates and silicones are bad for your hair. (If you don’t, well now you do). But what does it even mean to buy sulphate-free and silicone-free products? Why are these ingredients the devil? What should you use instead? Well, let me educate you. I like to think I am somewhat qualified to answer this since I am on a course formulating organic hair care products and having to learn a lot about natural ingredients. So what are silicones and sulphates and why are they bad?
What are Sulphates in Shampoos?
Sulphates are added to cleaning products to make them foam. Not only does it foam, but it also combines with water to emulsify grease, dispersing it into the water so that it can be washed away. These are known as anionic surfactants. It is essentially added to hair products to wash away the dirt. A typical shampoo is 15% sulphates. Though sulphate-based shampoos do effectively clean the hair, they can also strip the hair of essential oils as well as irritate the skin. The reason sulphates are used in traditional shampoos and conditioners is because they are cheap and effective. Since straight hair is the norm and not particularly impacted by the drying effects of sulphates, there hasn’t been a need for mainstream brands to use gentler (but more expensive) ingredients.
Why Sulphates Are Bad
The issue for curly hair is that their hair tends to be drier. This is because the sebum which is produced from the scalp cant travel down curls as easily as it can travel through straight hair. Sulphate free shampoos that strip the natural oils from curly hair can, therefore, make it drier causing damage and breakage. This can also cause an issue for colour treated hair since the sulphates can also remove the colour as well.
What Is the Alternative to Sulphates?
The alternative to anionic surfactants are cationic or non-ionic surfactants which are gentler for all hair types. Instead of purchasing shampoos that contain sulphates you can use sulphate-free shampoos, no-poo shampoos or even clays such as green clay which has great cleansing properties. These do not contain sulphates, however as a result, they have less foaming abilities but this doesn’t mean they aren’t cleaning the hair. For many people, it is just not what they are used to seeing but there is a tonne of great alternatives out there.
What Are Silicones in Conditioners?
Silicones are often used in conditioners, and styling products to help give hair the slip needed to detangle and to give hair added shine. Silicones are also used as heat protectants. Most silicones end in -cone and so are easy to spot on the back of a bottle label. Silicones are a type of polymer that work by covering hair with a thin hydrophobic (waterproof) layer. This coating reduces the porosity of the hair and also reduces moisture loss as a result so your hair will look less frizzy.
Why Are Silicones Bad For Your Hair?
The issue with silicones is that they create a film around your hair that stops moisture from entering the hair cuticle. The film also attracts dirt and causes product to build up. so your hair will need to be washed out more frequently. However, since silicones are water resistant it means it will need to be washed with a strong shampoo to strip out the product. This cycle of a harsh wash and product build up will cause your hair to become dry and brittle since no actual moisture is making its way into the hair.
What Is the Alternative to Silicones?
While some silicones are less water resistant than others I would recommend turning to silicone free conditioners that are out there. These typically use oils instead of polymers to coat and moisturise the hair. Some products use silicone esters which are similar to your traditional silicone but cause less product build up. These are more necessary in heat protectants as oils can cause hair to burn.
So hopefully this all makes a bit more sense to you now. Sulphates strip moisture from your hair and silicones don’t allow moisture into the hair instead they cause product build up. Both aren’t great but I guess its all about moderation. Sometimes I pick up a sulphate shampoo in the bathroom and I use styling products that contain silicones, its not the end of the world. Just be mindful of what you use and how it can be impacting your hair.
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– Paris x