Is a Shampoo With Sulfates Ever a Good Choice?

Photo: Stocksy

"Synthetic" has become kind of a dirty word in today's naturally inclined beauty market. Over the past several years, the press has largely steered consumers away from ingredients like artificial fragrances and sulfates and toward formulas that are more "natural" (although, as we've explored before, this word doesn't actually mean much, since there are no industry-wide requirements for what constitutes a "natural" beauty product).

I know dozens of beauty patrons who won't even touch a hair product that contains sulfates. I once heard a beauty editor audibly gasp at the word like you might after hearing someone tell you they use a tanning bed. In fact, some people think they're similarly dangerous: In the late 90s, information began circulating in the media that some of the chemicals found in shampoo, including sulfates and lab-made fragrances, can cause cancer. Since then, many consumers have become especially wary of synthetics in general.

But the difference between, say, sulfates and tanning bed use is that study after study has revealed that subjecting your skin to UV rays heightens your cancer risk (according to the American Academy of Dermatology, using tanning beds before age 35 can increase your likelihood of developing melanoma by 59%). By contrast, most of the cautionary tales we hear about the synthetics found in hair products are actually hearsay.

To clear up the pros, cons, and potential risks of using hair products with sulfates and artificial fragrances once and for all, we consulted a duo of haircare experts, who provided a balanced view. Keep reading to learn the truth about what sulfates are and if they're really that bad for you (plus, the 411 on synthetic haircare ingredients in general).