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09-22-09 | Posted by


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Photo Credit: L’Oreal USA

By Guest Bag Lady Dorene Kaplan

After reading Beauty in the Bag Lady MWC’s endorsement, I figured it was time to give my colored locks a sodium laurel sulfate break as well. But first, a little investigation was in order. By most accounts, this far reaching trend began roughly 10 years ago with Pureology’s 100% vegan shampoos and conditioners. Once the province of high priced salon and niche brands, today, sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners number in the multitudes and are available at all prices.

In fact, the market leaders include two drug-store brands:

L’Oreal EverPure: a color-care system available in moisturizing, smoothing and volumizing formulas, priced from $6.99 to $8.99. Scented with a delicious rosemary juniper blend.

SamyPure: a natural-positioned line in color treated, dry and volumizing varieties, priced at $6.49 for shampoos and conditioners. Samy Fat Hair volumizing shampoo, priced at $7.99, is also sulfate-free.

Other leading brands are sold at specialty retailers and salons:

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Photo Credit: Frederic Fekkai

Fekkai Au Naturel: a shampoo, conditioner and styling gel, priced at $23.00 each. Scented with natural citrus, lavender, ginger, vanilla and tonka bean and packaged in bottles made with 40% recycled materials.

No Frizz: a silicone-free, frizz-fighting line that also eschews sulfates. Includes shampoo and conditioner and six styling products, $24.00 each. Formulated for all-hair types.

Pureology: the sulfate-free granddaddy offers seven formulations including an anti-dandruff and detoxifying variety, $25.00 to $30.00. Each boasts its own unique aromatherapeutic blend, such as the hydrating shampoo’s ylang ylang, bergamot, anise and patchouli scent.

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Dr. Marder’s Total Relief Shampoo & Conditioner: formulated especially for those suffering from dry scalp and dandruff, this natural formula contains a Soothing Botanical Complex as well as maximum strength cortisone to sooth itchy scalp, $39.99 each.

Most organic and natural brands, such as Burt’s Bees, are sulfate free by definition; the same for many color care lines. As I set out to make sense of the seemingly endless supply, I stumbled upon a curious conundrum. Brands claiming to be sodium-laurel-sulfate free often contain the similar sounding sodium lauryl sulfoacetate. Turns out, the two aren’t related at all.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate: a chemical detergent cleansing agent known to strip color from hair, irritate skin and possibly contribute to hair loss. Irritating, but not carcinogenic.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate: a mild and non-irritating foaming agent derived from coconut and palm oils.

SLS is a cheap ingredient, hence its ubiquitous use, and creates a big lather. And lather, while not technically necessary for cleaning, is what we all expect from our shampoos. Thankfully, there are gentler alternatives.

“We found that sulfate free shampoos leave a little bit of the natural emollient on the hair,” said Thia Spearing, director of technical development for Matrix. The new colortherapie Delicate Care line from Biolage (a Matrix brand), priced from $18.00 to $24.00, soothes the hair cuticle, tames frizzies and offers a remedy for locks suffering from “heated-tool abuse,” she said.

My friend, Irina Notes, a colorist and Brazilian straightening specialist at Le Salon Chinois in New York City, agrees with the benefits for chemically or heat-treated hair. She sends all of her hair-straightening clients home with an SLS-free shampoo.

Interestingly, research from Aveda, which markets four SLS-free shampoos ($12.00 to $24.00) including one for men, found that improved texture may be the key benefit of SLS alternatives. “In clinical studies, shampoos that contained sulfates did not strip or fade [the hair of] participants any differently than those shampoos without sulfates,” an Aveda spokesperson said. All the same, Aveda remains committed to SLS-alternatives, using derivatives of the babassu nut found in Northeastern Brazil as a foaming agent in hair and body cleansing products.

Yet, not everyone is a fan. Critics posit that SLS-free shampoos, such as the Wen brand, don’t clean well. Some claim the shampoos over-clean, leaving hair in a tangled mess. Of the one-half dozen brands I personally tested, nearly all lived up to their claims. I gravitated toward the hydrating formulas for my dry, wavy hair. They cleaned with a soft lather that left my hair feeling less squeaky clean than usual – a good thing for my moisture challenged mane. Volumizing or repair varieties tended to be more drying, but good for oilier locks.

As you can see, the options are many. Even brands that don’t brandish “sulfate-free” may be. Here are a few more to consider.

AG, Alterna, Bed Head, Brocato, CHI, Deva, Dr. Organic, Enjoy, Eufora, Jessicurl, John Masters, Jonathan, Kenra, Lanza, Ole Henrickson, Osmo, Pravana, Sexy Hair, Suki, Treasured Locks, Zerran.

Not all shampoos from these lines will be SLS-free. Check the ingredient label.

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