Skin Saving Switches: Sulfate to Sulfate-Free Cleansers

What are Sulfates? More importantly, what’s wrong with them?

Sulfates are surfactants, which consists of molecules that can attract both oil and water: One end of the molecule clings to the oily dirt, while the other clings to water. Translation? They can lift the grease and grime off of our skin and hair, dissolve (emulsify) it into solution and then rinse everything down the drain.

These sulfates are aggressive detergents made of sulfur-containing mineral salts. The most common are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). First introduced into modern hair care in the 1930’s, sulfates revolutionized the health and beauty industry. Prior to their introduction, people relied on simple, but not always effective commonly used soaps and other methods to clean their skin and hair. In comparison, sulfates were powerful, inexpensive and very easy to get access to.  They became popular and were responsible for the foaming lather we’ve come to associate with being clean. But now that it’s one of the most common chemicals used in our households, we are beginning to understand that sulfates have an impact on both our health and beauty.

So What’s the Truth About Sulfates?

You know that squeaky clean feeling you get after washing your face? That's due to sodium lauryl sulfate, a common ingredient added to face wash to make it foam. And as it is often said, "You are what you eat.", the same theory holds true for your skin. What you apply to your skin is absorbed directly into your body. Considering that the skin is your body's largest organ, it is crucial to know what you're putting into your system.

The problem with sodium lauryl sulfate is that it strips the skin (and scalp, in the case of shampoo) of natural oils that our skin actually needs for protection. What's more, because it removes the skin's natural, protective oil, the body ends up producing more oil (the very thing you're trying to get rid of) to compensate.

Sulfate compounds (commonly called sulfates) are found in many personal care products such as shampoo, toothpaste, shaving foam, body washes and facial cleansers. In cleansers, they function as surfactants: water- and oil-soluble compounds that, when combined with water, foam and emulsify greasy substances.

Sulfates are synthetic ingredients partially based on sulfur, which is derived from petrolatum or other sources. However, sulfates are not just petrolatum-derived. The largest part of the molecule comes from lauryl alcohol, which is derived from coconut oil or other plants. To make sulfates, lauryl alcohol is reacted with sulfuric acid. Sulfur can be found naturally on earth, but for manufacturing it’s generally produced using petrolatum.


Cleansing is undeniably important. So that means finding the right cleanser is just as important.  

Here are some of our favorite sulfate-free cleansing products that cleanse without stripping the skin of it's natural oils. Our Sulfate-Free All-Over Wash and R$ch Butter All-Over Wash both help moisture to penetrate into the skin deeper. Try it and let us know your thoughts!  

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