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What is sulfate-free hair care?

  • 6 min read

Just as people are becoming more conscious about the ingredients in the products they use on their skin, consumers are rejecting hair care products that are manufactured with unnecessary chemicals. Sulfates are the latest point of contention in the hair care world – discover what role sulfates play in your hair care products and the benefits of making the switch to sulfate-free.

What are sulfates in hair care? 

Sulfates are chemical compounds that contain a sulfate ion as part of their molecular structure. They lower the surface tension between two liquids, a liquid and a solid or a liquid and a gas. Occurring widely in everyday life, sulfates are used in various industrial, commercial, and household applications – as well as in the personal care industry.

In beauty and hair care products, sulfates are often added to create frothy lathers – meaning they are surfactants. One of the most common sulfates used in hair care is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) –  but it is also used widely in household cleaning products such as detergent because of its ability to lather and create a foam. 

What are the environmental impacts of sulfates?

While sulfates do occur naturally in the environment, studies have shown that one third of the sulphur reaching the environment is generated from industrial activities. Sulfates in the environment are capable of causing harm and can damage vegetation, soils, watercourses and building materials.

As well as this, the way in which sulfates are produced and disposed of can also harm the environment. Sulfates can contribute to water pollution and soil degradation when released into the environment in excessive amounts. While each bottle of sulfate or SLS shampoo won’t be releasing sulfates into the environment in excessive amounts, every bit that washes down the drain adds up.

Benefits of sulfate-free hair care

We’ve covered the environmental effects of sulfates, but their impacts don’t stop there – they also impact anyone coming into contact with them through their personal and hair care products. Discover why you should make the switch to sulfate-free hair care.

1. Helps to retain your natural oils

In hair care, sulfates are known to strip away the natural scalp oils that help to keep both the scalp and hair nourished. This often leads to dry, brittle hair that’s crying out for a hit of moisture.

Sulfate-free hair care does not harshly strip the scalp of its oils – while still cleansing the hair and scalp of impurities – and so helps to maintain the balance of these essential natural oils. A moisturized and nourished scalp is a key factor in your hair’s health and appearance, supporting strong, shiny and soft locks.

For more information on how to keep your hair happy and healthy, take a look at our guide to scalp care

2. Gentler for sensitive scalps

When used in both skincare and hair care, sulfates can irritate the skin. This is especially true for anyone suffering with a sensitive scalp, or a skin condition that can flare up. This is because not only does the product wash your hair, but it also comes into contact with your scalp, the edges of your face, your neck and body as it washes out. 

Using sulfate-free hair products means you can get your fix of all the hair care goodies needed to protect your hair and scalp without worrying about potential irritation, redness and itching from using sulfates such as SLS. 

3. Helps to maintain dyed hair

Just as sulfates strip the natural oils from your scalp, they can also strip the colour from dyed hair. This can cause the dye to fade more quickly, which means more trips to the salon. By choosing a sulfate-free shampoo, you can help to preserve both the longevity and the vibrancy of colour-treated hair. 

4. Reduces hair and scalp dryness

Not only do sulfate-free hair care products help to retain the scalp’s natural oils, they also can also help to nourish both the hair and scalp. Adding in a hit of moisture while cleansing the hair of dirt and impurities, sulfate-free shampoos help to reduce the risk of dry and brittle hair.  



Sulfate-free hair care: FAQs

Now that we've been through the basics of sulfate-free hair care, we’ll cover some of our most frequently asked questions about hair care products that don’t include any sulfates. 

Is sulfate-free shampoo good for hair?

Yes – sulfate-free shampoo is a great option for your hair care routine, gently cleansing the hair of dirt and impurities that have built up without stripping the scalp of the natural oils it needs. The best sulfate-free hair products are created using high quality natural ingredients, so don’t presume that all sulfate-free shampoo is created equally. 

Does sulfate free-shampoo cause hair loss?

No, sulfate-free shampoo does not cause hair loss. In fact, shampoos that contain sulfates such as SLS are more likely to cause hair thinning and potentially hair loss due to their harsh cleansing properties. 

Does sulfate free-shampoo make your hair greasy?

Sulfate-free shampoo does not make your hair greasy, but if you’re used to the squeaky-clean feeling after using a shampoo with sulfates, your hair may feel different at first. This is because sulfate-free hair care gently cleanses the hair rather than harshly stripping it of the natural oils.

Transitioning to sulfate-free haircare

When it comes to making the switch from your current haircare to sulfate-free haircare, it’s important to trust in the process.

Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules as to how your hair will adapt to switching to sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner, it all depends on the individual needs of your hair. However, some people find that it takes a few washes and a couple of weeks for their hair to adapt before they see the full benefits.

During this ‘detox’ period, it can feel frustrating – but stick with it! Some people find their scalps feel oilier and that their hair feels different. But after the transition period is over, you can enjoy luscious locks that feel healthier. 

UpCircle’s sulfate-free hair products

If you know anything about UpCircle, you’ll know that our environmental ethics are close to our hearts and reflected in each and every product we produce. Giving a new lease of life to discarded ingredients by upcycling them into skin and hair care products, UpCircle is committed to reducing our environmental impact.

Shampoo Crème with Pink Berry Extract

Our fan-favorite Shampoo Crème with UpCycled Pink Berry Extract is formulated with scalp- and hair-loving ingredients to both cleanse the hair of impurities and nourish the hair. Strictly sulfate-free, our Shampoo Crème uses upcycled pink berry extract to cleanse and strengthen the hair and scalp without stripping it, unlike many chemical shampoos that use surfactants such as sulfates. 



Each and every ingredient in our shampoo is 100% natural and chosen for their hair care benefits. We use upcycled pink berry extract to help improve scalp conditions such as dry and itchy scalps, and source this from local family-owned plantations in Madagascar – here, it is a by-product of natural fragrance ingredient manufacturing.

You’ll also find deeply nourishing coconut oil to nourish the hair as well as prevent frizz and breakages, alongside grapefruit oil to help fight free radical damage. Housed in a glass jar, our shampoo crème has joined the ranks of the refillable, helping to reduce waste. 

Conditioner Crème with Rosemary Oil

Our natural Conditioner Crème delivers intense nourishment through hair-loving ingredients like coconut oil, bamboo extract and upcycled orange peel wax for silky soft hair.



The upcycled orange peel wax we use in this nourishing conditioner is a by-product of the orange juice industry. It contains botanical lipids which act as emollients to protect, soften and moisturize the skin of your scalp and your hair. Rich in vitamin C, orange peel wax can improve hair strength reducing the likelihood of breakage and split ends.

Our conditioner is suitable for all types of hair, including afro or textured hair, colour treated hair, and dry or greasy hair. Better still, it works well in soft and hard water.

Treat your hair to our new Sulfate-Free Haircare Duo for hair and scalp-loving ingredients with an added hit of nourishment.