Why put a harsh driveway cleansing agent on your skin?
Sulphates are a common ingredient in many cosmetic products, particularly in shampoos, body washes, and facial cleansers. They are surfactants that create a thick -and sometimes excessive amount of- lather. They are responsible for removing dirt and oil from the skin and hair. However, there is growing concern among scientists and consumers about the potential harmful effects of sulphates on human health. In this article, we’ll explore the scientific evidence behind the harmful aspects of sulphates in cosmetic products.
Behind the science: What are sulphates?
Sulphates are a class of compounds that contain the sulfate ion (SO4 2-) and a cation, which can be sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), or ammonium (NH4+). The most common sulphates used in cosmetic products are sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES). SLS is a strong detergent that is used to create a rich lather, while SLES is a milder version of SLS that is often used in products marketed as “gentle” or “natural.” Unfortunately, this does not take away the fact that when used in high concentrations, it still can cause serious damage to our skin’s health.
What are the potential harmful effects of sulphates?
1. Skin irritation and inflammation
Sulphates are known irritants and can cause skin irritation and inflammation. This is particularly true for people with sensitive skin or skin conditions such as eczema. Sulphates can strip the skin of its natural oils, leaving it dry, itchy, and irritated. In some cases, prolonged use of sulphate-containing products can lead to chronic skin inflammation.
2. Hair damage
Sulphates can also cause damage to the hair. They can strip the hair of its natural oils, leading to dryness, brittleness, and breakage. This can be particularly problematic for people with curly or textured hair, which is more prone to dryness and breakage. Sulphates can also cause colour-treated hair to fade more quickly, making it necessary to colour the hair more frequently.
3. Environmental concerns
Sulphates are not biodegradable and can persist in the environment for a long time. They can also be toxic to aquatic organisms, which can have a negative impact on the environment. The production and disposal of sulphate-containing products also contribute to the environmental footprint of the cosmetic industry.
4. Cancer risk
There is some evidence to suggest that sulphates may be linked to an increased risk of cancer. Studies have shown that SLS and SLES can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen. While the levels of 1,4-dioxane in cosmetic products are typically low, there is still concern about the potential long-term health effects of exposure to this chemical.
4. Hormone disruption
Sulphates have also been shown to disrupt the endocrine system, which is responsible for regulating hormones in the body. They can mimic the effects of estrogen, leading to hormonal imbalances that can have a range of negative health effects. This is particularly concerning for pregnant women and children, who may be more vulnerable to the effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals.
What are the alternatives to sulphates?
Fortunately, there are many alternatives to sulphates that can be used in cosmetic products. These include:
- Cocamidopropyl betaine: a mild surfactant derived from coconut oil.
- Coco-glucoside: a gentle surfactant made from renewable plant sources.
- Sodium cocoyl isethionate: a mild surfactant derived from coconut oil that is often used in baby products.
- Sodium lauroyl sarcosinate: a gentle surfactant that is derived from sarcosine, an amino acid found in beets.
These alternatives to sulphates are just as effective at removing dirt and oil from the skin and hair, but without the potential harmful effects. They are also more environmentally friendly and biodegradable, making them a better choice for those who are concerned about the impact of cosmetic products on the environment.
while sulphates may be effective at removing dirt and oil from the skin and hair, they also have potential harmful effects that cannot be ignored. Skin irritation, hair damage, environmental concerns, cancer risk, and hormone disruption are all concerns associated with the use of sulphates in cosmetic products. As consumers become more aware of these potential risks, there is a growing demand for alternative, safer ingredients in cosmetic products. The use of alternative surfactants, such as cocamidopropyl betaine, decyl glucoside, sodium cocoyl isethionate, sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, and many more, can provide an effective and safe alternative to sulphates in cosmetic products. As always, it’s important to read ingredient labels and choose products that are free from harmful chemicals to ensure the health and safety of yourself and the environment.