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When a Sulfate Isn't a Sulfate Pt III

When a Sulfate Isn't a Sulfate Pt III

Posted by Michele Zagorski on 30th Jul 2015

Last week, we talked about surfactants, which help to remove non-soluble oil and dirt, and the idea that some are found in nature, as in the soapwort plant, some are made from coconut or vegetable oils, and some are petroleum-based.  Being combined with sulfer(AKA sulfate) does not make them unsafe, but the average consumer has been mislead by a marketing tactic.  (Read Part I and Part II first)

Let me introduce you to the ingredients that started this whole 'SULFATE-FREE' mess: SLS & SLES

This is where the rubber, or rather the haz-mat suit, hits the road.

Even though the surfactants SLS & SLES originate from coconuts, they are contaminated by 1,4 dioxane, and Ethylene oxide, both carcinogens that studies have linked to:

  • Irritation of the skin and eyes
  • Organ toxicity
  • Developmental/reproductive toxicity
  • Neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, ecotoxicology, and biochemical or cellular changes
  • Possible mutations and cancer

SLS and SLES are also much harsher than many other surfactants used in body care products and can strip your skin and hair of oils, or cause irritation. Most women who get their hair colored are warned to avoid shampoos made with these products as they may even remove permanent hair color. Hence, 'color-safe' shampoos.

The real reasons to avoid certain, but not all, surfactants, some of which may also be sulfates, are: 

1.) their harshness, 

2.) whether they are created with petroleum products, and/or 

3.) if they are contaminated with more dangerous chemicals

Not because they were created with sulphur (AKA sulfur), which bestows them with the chemical label of sulfate, or just because they are a surfactant.

In fact, sulfer is an element of the earth that is essential to life, and the eighth most abundant mineral in your body with the greatest concentration in hair, skin, and nails. It even helps to chelate and remove heavy metals and toxins from the body. (Think again to epsom salts AKA magnesium sulfate...both magnesium and sulfer help to detox).

Are you beginning to see that the word 'sulfate' has been unfairly vilified?  Remember, there are dozens of sulfates naturally in the human body!  I hope right about now you are questioning what you thought you knew about sulfates.  

Sulfate = Bad, right?

Only sometimes.  

There are many safe, gentle, non-contaminated (even ECO-CERT certified) ingredients(even surfactants), including some created with sulfur, or sulfates.  It's not the sulfer or the surfactant aspect that makes some ingredients's what they are made from or what they are contaminated with.  It just happened that two contaminated, harsh, unsafe ingredients have the word 'sulfate' in them, and the health and beauty industry ran with it.  It was so much easier to put 'SULFATE-FREE' on a label than explain the real concerns or reasons for avoiding only certain ingredients, rather than stereotyping a whole class of chemical compounds.  

Instead of 'sulfate-free' the honest practice would've been to put 'SLS and SLES FREE', or, 'FREE FROM HARMFUL CHEMICALS' ('CHEMICAL-FREE' is also not truthful, as everything is made up of chemicals...water is a chemical. That's why I say 'NO HARMFUL CHEMICALS', because it's a more accurate, and more honest statement).

Misleading, but oh, so easy, marketing has caused the average consumer to accept as gospel truth that sulfates are always bad.  Honestly, if you had to choose between two bottles of shampoo, and one had 'sulfate-free' on the front label, and the other didn't, which one would you choose? I bet even after you've read this whole series, you'd be inclined to automatically reach for the 'sulfate-free' bottle.  

We've been duped. The marketing has paid off, but at what price?  There is one, you know.  And it may be more dangerous than SLS and SLES.

Sadly, the 'sulfate-free' marketing cart has gotten away from the horse, so to speak, with unnecessary, and harmful consequences for all of us.  The American public has been had.

I'll delve into how and why in next week's final post in this series!