Article by: Perry Romanowski
Somewhere along the line surfactants which contain the name “sulfate” got a bad name. It’s difficult to say exactly how this negative reputation was developed but I suspect it was the result of a clever salon shampoo marketer who was looking for a way to make their higher priced brands stand out from the more popular store brands. Since they couldn’t compete in terms of formulation performance or advertising, highlighting the negative aspects of the competition was a logical strategy.
Nothing moves alternative products like fear of conventional ones.
Anyway, this idea was spread to salon stylists (who get commissions from the sale of salon brands) which then spread to consumers. Now, it’s pretty firmly established in a high percentage of people’s minds that sulfate containing surfactants are harsh, more color stripping and bad for your hair. There’s little evidence for this but it persists. So, cosmetic formulators have to learn how to formulate sulfate free.
The challenge of formulating sulfate free
The reason we traditionally use sulfate surfactants is because they are effective, inexpensive, easy to formulate and easy to thicken. Sulfate free alternatives lack many of these characteristics. Realize that you are going to have a greater challenge to make formulas that foam the same way, clean, and meet cost goals. It’s likely that you’ll need an additional thickening system as salt doesn’t thicken many of these alternative surfactants.
Options for sulfate free
There are a number of options for making a sulfate free shampoo. Here are some strategies various companies have used.
1. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate free – since SLS is the big objection one simple solution is to use Magnesium Laurel Sulfate and then advertise your product as Sodium Lauryl free. This is technically true and might be appealing to some consumers. However, it still contains the term ‘sulfate’ so this won’t be effective for most people.
2. Sodium something else – Some alternatives to SLS include
Sodium Lauryl Sarcosinate
Sodium Cocoyl Glycinate
Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate
Sodium Lauryl Methyl Isethionate
Sodium Lauroyl Taurate
3. Try a non-sodium name – If you want to get rid of the sodium from your label completely, there are some other options.
PEG 40 Glyceryl Cocoate
Potassium Laureth Phosphate
4. Alternative detergent systems – One other option is to offer a dry shampoo based on starch. You can easily call these formulas sulfate free.
While science may not agree with the notion that sulfates are inherently bad for people’s hair, you have to make products that both your marketing department and ultimately, your consumer wants. Sometimes this means ditching the traditional surfactants for other options. To be a complete cosmetic chemist you need to know these options.