You'll mostly find sulfates in your cleaning and personal care products. Shampoo, toothpaste, body washes, facial cleansers—you name it.

The question is what are sulfates and what do they do for your skin?

More importantly: Is it safe to use them?

Here's what you need to know about sulfates.

What Are Sulfates?

Sulfates pertain to the large group of ingredients used as cleansing agents. That means they do the heavy lifting in personal care products meant to clean the skin and hair.

In fact, sulfates were first introduced in modern hair care in the 1930s. These synthetic cleansing agents revolutionized personal care products.

They clean our skin and hair by lifting oil and dirt and letting us rinse everything down the drain. Often, you can tell a product has sulfates when they create a foaming lather.

The most common sulfates you'll find are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES).

Are Sulfates Safe To Use?

How Sulfates Work - Face Wash

Perhaps you've heard that sulfates, SLS specifically, are carcinogenic or systematically toxic. But let me tell you straight up that those claims are not true.

As the American Cleaning Institute explained, those claims come from an internet hoax. Since their introduction in the 1930s, sulfates have been used safely in lots of formulation.

So, that's that out of the way.

Now, on to sulfates in skin care because safe doesn't directly mean good for your skin, especially if you're acne-prone.

For products meant for your body, sulfates are perfectly fine. The amount of sulfates used in body products work fine. Some may be drying, but that depends on your individual situation anyway.

However, products meant for our face, namely face cleansers, are a different case.

Cleansing agents are a must for our cleansers to work. But when these agents are too harsh, they irritate the skin, making it itchy and even trigger small inflamed bumps on the skin.

Plus, harsh cleansing agents are the primary reason some cleansers strip skin of natural oils. And that's bad news if you have active acne or are simply acne-prone.

Continuous use of harsh cleansers can damage your skin's protective barrier, leading to more damage on your skin.

And sadly, sulfates can be harsh cleansing agents for acne-prone skin. Dermatological studies even use SLS as a primary irritant because of how good it is in irritating the skin.

Meanwhile, SLES is considered the more gentle counterpart of SLS. In sulfates overall, SLES is in the middle when it comes to mildness.

But that doesn't mean SLES is a-okay in your facial wash. In you body wash? Sure, go ahead. Facial wash? Nope, you're better off with a cleanser with no SLS or SLES. 

That's also why it's a safer route to go sulfate-free when you have acne-prone or sensitive skin.

Sulfate-free? Check again!

Sulfates are damaging my skin! Oh shit!

Although most cosmetic products rely on sulfates to get the desired foaming effect, I am happy to see more and more brands stating their products are 'sulfate-free' or 'non-sulfate'.

However...

Some brands rely on chemicals that are only an atom or two away from a true sulfate.

This means that the product can be called 'sulfate-free' even though it contains substances close to the sulfates' nature - the so called sul-fakes.

Those are:

❌ Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate
❌ Sodium Lauroyl Isoethionate
❌ Sodium Lauroyl Taurate
❌ Sodium Cocoyl Isoethionat
❌ Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isoethionate
❌ Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate
❌ Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate

Final Thoughts

When it comes to skin care, sometimes less is more. So less foam could lead to more benefits and less damage to your skin.

Keep an eye out for sulfates and carefully choose your face wash. Remember, gentle cleansers won't be leaving you squeaky clean!

Thank you for reading my blog. Hope this post was helpful!

And hope to hear from you in the comments. What's your opinion on the matter?

Stay tuned and take skin care 🙂

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