All About the Shampoo Free Method
by CurlStylist on Thursday, February 4, 2010
Some of your clients—especially those with textured hair—may have expressed a desire to avoid sulfates, an ingredient common in shampoos, as part of a popular philosophy that suggests sulfates are harmful to the hair, and dangerous to the body and to the environment.
There is much debate as to the legitimacy of this argument, with prominent hair care experts coming down on both sides of the shampoo free debate.
Many prominent hair care experts agree with this philosophy, saying that using shampoos that contain sulfates dries and damages the hair.
“Squeaky clean is a myth,” says Chaz Dean, celebrity stylist and founder of Wen Hair & Body Care products and Chaz Dean Studio in Hollywood, Calif. “People thought squeaky clean meant clean hair, but squeaky clean really equals stripped and dried-out hair.”
How does this happen? Sulfates create a dense lather that strips away sebum, the oily substance secreted by the sebaceous glands that prevent your hair from drying out. You’ll find sulfates in many cleaning products—ranging from car cleaners to laundry and dishwashing detergents to shower gels and toothpaste. And, of course, shampoo.
“By cleansing your scalp [with sulfates] you’re robbing it of all the natural, essential oils and beneficial bacteria; you killed them and washed them down the drain,” says Dean, who launched zero-lather cleansing conditioners in the mid-1990s. “The bad and harmful bacteria replenish at a much more rapid pace than the beneficial ones. So, you open yourself up to a dry, flaky and sensitive scalp and psoriasis because you stripped the beneficial bacteria and left a minefield open for the bad bacteria to have a field day.”
Additionally, sulfates are known to cause gastrointestinal issues in people as well as lung irritation, so runoff from our showers and shampoo bowls possibly entering our environment is not a good thing, say those in the no-sulfates camp.
Many curlyheads have embraced the shampoo free philosophy and avoid hair cleansers that contain any of a number of sulfates, including sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, sodium myreth sulfate and others.
Instead of using products containing these detergents, curlies who embrace the shampoo free method will often cleanse their hair with conditioner only. Some will use a brown-sugar scrub, and others might choose a “shampoo” with less-harsh cleansing ingredients, including coco betaine or sodium cocoyl isethionate.
Most conditioners contain mild surfactants that, paired up with a little manual friction, are capable of lifting off dirt, debris and excess oil from our scalp and hair. If a little extra help is required, an apple cider vinegar rinse can clarify the curls.
If a curly chooses to avoid sulfates, she must also avoid products containing non-water-soluble ingredients such as silicone, as a sulfate is generally required to wash those ingredients out.
This has lead many curlies to avoid products containing silicones, as well as those containing sulfates. As a result, many curly consumers have become very educated about product ingredients.
Several manufacturers have touted the benefits of using sulfate-free products for some time, including DevaConcepts and Wen. And many other manufacturers have more recently recognized the benefits of developing sulfate-free products for their customers.
Still other industry experts say using sulfates in moderation is fine and indeed necessary to thoroughly clean hair.
Shampoo is critical to cleansing the pores of the scalp and allowing the roots of your hair to breathe, according to Ouidad, author of “CurlTalk” and owner of New York’s Ouidad Salon, the Curl Education Center.
Jonathan Torch of Toronto’s Curly Hair Institute agrees: “The word ’sulfate’ has become part of a marketing scare, and there’s a lot of propaganda.”
“You can’t just look at that one ingredient. I would never use anything that would irritate the scalp. When people say they have an itchy scalp, they’re not rinsing out the shampoo properly. You have to spend a lot of time getting the water all the way down to the root. I haven’t found anything better or that remotely comes close to [sulfates].”
“There may be a product with one drop of sulfate and 20 drops of silk amino acids to counteract anything that could happen from that one drop.” Torch says. “Concentration is important. Quality is important. All these things play into it. So, it’s an art and it’s a science.”
Some curlies opt for an in-between method, where they shampoo weekly or every other week, and do a conditioner-only cleaning in between.
The good news is that you and your clients have plenty of options!