Sulfate Free Dandruff Shampoos are Preferred Due to These 3 Reasons

By Urbanaveed
13 Min Read

Sulfate free dandruff shampoos are making their way to general stores in a slow and steady manner. Most shampoos, the majority of people utilize, contain sulfates. Sulfates, such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) are the essential ingredient of routine shampoos. Other than routine shampoos, sulfates are also a part of medicated, anti-lice, and dandruff shampoos. Sulfate-free dandruff shampoos are not a widely recognized category of dandruff shampoos. But, they offer fewer side effects even for long-term uses. Shampoos containing sulfates can intervene in the natural development of hair follicles due to 3 main reasons.

Must Ingredients of Dandruff Shampoos

Besides the fundamental ingredients of any routine shampoo, the following are the must ingredients of any dandruff shampoo. In the next heading, we will discuss the common causes of dandruff. In that section, the reasons for the addition of these ingredients in dandruff shampoos will be understood.

The following chemical compounds are the ground ingredients of dandruff shampoos. Whether the dandruff shampoos are sulfate-free or not, they must contain any of the following ingredients.

  • Selenium Sulfide
  • Pyrithione Zinc
  • Ketoconazole
  • Sulfur
  • Sodium Sulfacetamide

These are antifungal agents, while some are both antifungal and antibacterial. Fungi overgrowth is the most common cause of dandruff in the majority of the population. Any dandruff shampoo must contain any of the above antifungal agents to cover the cause. Sulfur, selenium sulfide, and sodium sulfacetamide are the sulfur-containing compounds in dandruff shampoos. Sulfur compounds are most effective in dandruff shampoos due to their ability to wreck the cells of bacteria and fungi.

Sulfates are also sulfur-containing compounds, but they do not have any direct role in targeting dandruff agents. The role of sulfates is general as in other routine shampoos.

Sulfates are not the essential ingredients of dandruff shampoos. So, the sulfate free dandruff shampoos are as effective as sulfate-containing dandruff shampoos.

sulfate free dandruff shampoos offer healthy hair  without dandruff and  fragile hair.
Lively hair makes a woman lively.

What are the Common Causes of Dandruff?

Malassezia is the common cause of dandruff. Malassezia belongs to the genus of yeast-like fungi. It’s two or more species are the common inhabitants of human skin surfaces. Their occurrence is most favorable on high sebum-producing surfaces. Scalp, facial deep regions, etc. have oily surfaces and provide a good environment for fungal survival. Malassezia is not a problem-causing fungal agent when present in balance with the environment.

Some factors, which can be clear or can be miscellaneous, cause the overgrowth of malassezia on the scalp. Hormonal changes, stress, diet, environmental exposure, allergens, etc. can affect the population of malassezia on the scalp. As the scalp is a hidden post due to the dense hair network, excess sebum production, and a warm environment, it provides a home feeling for the fungal and bacterial overgrowth. Excess sebum production occurs in poor hygiene or inefficient shampooing.

Besides malassezia, the accumulation of dead skin cells in the oily barrier of the scalp causes flakiness and itching. Rigorous washing or cleaning of the scalp damages the lipid barrier and causes dryness. Dryness also leads to flakiness, itching, irritation, and ultimately dandruff. The reason for dandruff varies on an individual basis. Skin sensitivity and psychological reasons matter in this aspect.

Role of Sulfates and Other Sulphur-Containing Compounds in Dandruff Shampoos

Although both sulfates and other sulfur-containing compounds such as selenium sulfide and sodium sulfacetamide are sulfur derivatives, their roles are entirely different. Following is a brief overview of their distinct roles in dandruff shampoos.

Role of Sulfates

Sulfates, such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), are the conjugate bases of sulfuric acid. Sulfates (SO2−4) are the artificial cleansers in shampoos and other cleansing products. They produce foam and lather for cleansing and spreading purposes. It is the foam that makes the shampoo shampooing. Sulfates act as traditional components in any shampoo. They have no concern with antifungal and antibacterial purposes. Neither, do they relieve dryness, inflammation, or irritation. The only thing sulfates do is oil and dirt removal from the scalp and hair follicles. Sulfate free dandruff shampoos are just not efficient enough to produce enough lather and foam.

Sulfates in shampoos produce lather
Photo by cottonbro studio: Pexels

Sulfates in shampoos produce necessary foam and lather to mean the shampooing purposes.

Roles of Sulfur and Other Sulfur-containing Compounds

On the contrary, sulfur itself and other sulfur-containing compounds are the significant ingredients in dandruff shampoos. They penetrate the cell membranes of microorganisms, damaging their protein and lipid content. Enzymes, and genetic material, all are proteins in nature. When these compounds disrupt the genetic material and metabolism of fungi and bacteria, they relieve the symptoms of dandruff. In short, sulfur-containing compounds other than sulfates are what make dandruff shampoos functional. So, sulfate free dandruff shampoos would do the same as sulfate-containing dandruff shampoos apart from the damages which the latter can cause.

3 Reasons Sulfate Free Dandruff Shampoos Should be Preferable

The following 3 reasons will explain how sulfate free dandruff shampoos are more beneficial.

1. Sulfates Damage Natural Scalp Oils

Sulfates, such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), disturb the oil membrane of the scalp. Sebaceous glands under the scalp produce sebum that provides an oily barrier to the scalp. This lipid barrier is in the form of a bilayer with hydrophobic tails on the inside and hydrophilic heads on the outside of the layer. Hydrophobic tails are reluctant to water while hydrophilic heads are water-loving. Sulfates have a similar structure. They also have hydrophilic heads and hydrophobic tails inside. In their realm, like dissolves the like.

Hydrophobic tails of sulfates interact with the hydrophobic tails of lipids. Their interaction disorientates the smooth structure of the lipid bilayer. Actually, this is the purpose of sulfates. Sulfates have cleansing roles and they do so by breaking the lipid membrane to remove oil and accumulated dirt, skin cells, and debris with it. Sebum on the scalp also contains pollens, bacteria, other microorganisms, dirt, and debris. Sulfates break off the lipid layer and solubilize lipids in water. Sulfates do this due to their amphiphilic properties. Amphiphilic means being hydrophobic and hydrophilic at the same time.

Yet, sulfates sound like a hero in the picture because they clean the scalp in an efficient way. No doubt, they are the hero. But, not for everyone and not all the time. Sebum is nutritious for the scalp as it provides protection and nourishment to the scalp  (skin) cells. Excessive use of sulfates in shampoo causes itching, inflammation, and dryness as the protective layer is gone.

In the case of sulfate free dandruff shampoos, one has to use shampoo in a repetitive manner. Dandruff shampoos are not like to be used once or twice a week. They have to be used repetitively for effective results. For such purposes, sulfate free dandruff shampoos are beneficial.

The presence of sulfates in routine shampoos is noteworthy for their foaming and cleansing properties. But, in the question of dandruff shampoos, our purpose is to target the dandruff agents and sulfates are not anti-dandruff agents.

2. Sulfates Can Further Enhance the Dandruff Symptoms

Dandruff occurs due to the overgrowth of malassezia and bacteria most commonly. Such microorganisms need a warm, humid, and alkaline environment for their thrival. Normally, the pH of the scalp is acidic, between 4.5 to 5.5. Natural oils on the scalp help to maintain the acidity of the scalp due to fatty acids. When sulfates remove this layer of natural oils, the acidic nature of the scalp also vanishes. Acidity protects the scalp in many aspects.

It prevents the microorganisms such as malassezia from growing unchecked. Acidity does not provide a homely environment for fungi and bacteria for their accumulation. However, excessive use of sulfate-containing shampoos can alter the pH of the scalp and make it alkaline due to the alkaline nature of sulfates. In this way, sulfate free dandruff shampoos serve more benefits than sulfate-containing dandruff shampoos.

3. Sulfates Can Cause More Flakiness of Dead Scalp Cells

Sulfates do not directly cause flaking of scalp cells but can enhance its chances. Scalp cells are keratinized cells that make up the hair follicles, scalp, and their outer layers. Dandruff shampoos contain some keratolytic agents such as salicylic acid. Keratolytic agents lyse keratin in the hair shafts and scalp. This addition has some benefits in the aspect of removing dandruff. These agents remove excess dead scalp cells that are creating discomfort, and itching in the scalp. Dead scalp cell accumulation triggers dandruff symptoms.

Sulfates, by providing more coverage by creating lather and removing excess oils, let these agents do their work effectively. But the problem arises when these keratolytic agents lose too many keratin cells which leads to weakness of hair and scalp. Proteins are what make the hair strong and tensile. Keratin is the essential protein in hair and its excessive removal harms the hair’s health than causing benefits.

Some Renown Examples of Sulfate Free Dandruff Shampoos

The following are some renown examples of sulfate free dandruff shampoos. You can also check the detailed list of medicated or effective sulfate free dandruff shampoos.

  1. Free & Clear Medicated Anti-Dandruff Shampoo: This shampoo is sulfate-free and contains 2% zinc pyrithione as the active ingredient to effectively control dandruff without harsh chemicals.
  2. Jason Dandruff Relief Treatment Shampoo: Formulated with sulfur and salicylic acid, this sulfate-free shampoo helps to control dandruff, soothe scalp irritation, and promote healthy hair and scalp.
  3. Maple Holistics Sage Shampoo for Anti-Dandruff: This sulfate-free shampoo contains sage oil, tea tree oil, and rosemary oil to help combat dandruff, soothe scalp irritation, and maintain a healthy scalp environment.
  4. Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo: While not explicitly marketed as a dandruff shampoo, this sulfate-free formula contains charcoal and coconut oil to detoxify and hydrate the scalp, helping to alleviate dandruff and flakiness.
  5. ArtNaturals Scalp 18 Coal Tar Anti-Dandruff Shampoo: This sulfate-free shampoo contains coal tar as the active ingredient to control dandruff and scalp psoriasis, while also soothing irritation and promoting scalp health.

These sulfate-free dandruff shampoos are designed to effectively manage dandruff symptoms while being gentle on the scalp and hair, making them suitable for individuals with sensitive skin or specific hair care preferences.

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Student of BSc MLT at NUMS, and Content Writer in Health, Medicine, and Wellness. Finding soothe in writing and spreading knowledge.
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