Sulfates, Parabens and Silicones.

Sulfates, Parabens and Silicones.

What are Sulfates, Parabens and Silicones and why should I care if they are in my Shampoo?



Sulfates (alt spelling is sulphate) are the salts of sulfur. In haircare sulfates are used as surfactants, which means they cleanse, and emulsify (bubble). The most common sulfates in haircare are Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate (SLES).
SLS and SLES are getting a bit of a bad rap at the moment for ‘stripping your hair of it’s natural oils’. The thing is, your hair doesn’t actually produce oils, your scalp does, and most of the reason we wash our hair is to remove the fact that it is oily.

While some people are definitely allergic to SLS and SLES, (both are considered irritants in large amounts), in high quality shampoos the amount is very limited, this is why when swapping to professional shampoos quite often people are surprised by less bubbles. High quality shampoos are also very concentrated, meaning less product, less bubbles and less irritation. You are more likely to be allergic to the fragrance in a product.

Most of the time Sulfates are replaced with MEAs and DEAs which can also considered ‘dangerous chemicals’. This allows brands to call their product ‘Sulfate Free’. Sometimes SLS and SLES are replaced with Sodium Coco Sulfate which is very similar, but as it doesn’t contain Lauric acid it is able to be labled ‘SLS free’.



Parabens are preservatives. They are used primarily for their bactericidal and fungicidal properties. That’s all. A few years ago a study was done that linked Parabens to breast cancer, but it was considered flawed and inconclusive. The hype about Parabens has mainly come from a mass circulated email stating they were carcinogens, caused breast cancer and early puberty. None of these claims have been proven, and at this stage Parabens are considered safe in the cosmetic industry.
Quite often ‘paraben free’ products will contain alternative preservatives labeled with titles such as Grapeseed extract, which has also been found to contain artificial preservatives.
Some people can be allergic to parabens, in the form of contact allergic dermatitis.



Silicon is an abundant element that is found in over 90% of minerals that make up the earth’s crust. Silicone in hair products is used as a conditioner, it creates impoved feel, softness, shine and less frizz. There are no known health risks of silicone.

So why don’t people like silicone? Because cheaper silicones can ‘build up’ meaning if they are not washed away, they coat the hair, and then build upon their own coating, sometimes leaving the hair feeling heavy, weighed down and feeling like it has a waxy coating. Silicones can also block pores.

Higher grade silicones are more water soluble meaning the ability to build up is lessoned. Some shampoos also contain silicones, and some cheap shampoos contain high levels of low grade silicones, which make the hair feel nicer, but can stop the shampoo having the ability to truly cleanse the hair.


Should I be using Sulfate, Paraben and Silicone free products?

This one is really and truly up to you! If you don’t have an allergy to them, there is no health reason to remove these from your life.

If you have typically oily or fine hair or use a lot of styling products, shampoo containing sulfates can be your best friend.
In saying that, if your hair has had a Keratin treatment, going SLS and SLES free can be beneficial and is recommended as these surfactants could strip the keratin coating away faster. If your hair is highly coloured, or prone to colour fading, SLS and SLES free could also be beneficial as using less surfactants can also help with colour retention.

In terms of parabens, I think this is just a bit of a buzz word at the moment and have no real feeling toward them either way. I prefer my shampoo not to grow fungus, so as long as it has some preservative in it I’m happy!

I like quality Silicone. You just shouldn’t put it on your scalp, or rinse your hair over your face if you are able to avoid it. If you are able to find a true silicone free shampoo and conditioner in NZ I’d love to hear your experience!
Sometimes it feels the more I research, the less answers I have!

Happy shampooing 🙂 Laurie


Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top