Tales from the Hair Chair
Sulfates and Parabens: What the heck are they?!

I’m sure you’ve all heard the new big claims in hair care “Sulfate and Paraben Free!” and you think well that sounds good because those are scary words! But what are they? And if they are so terrible why have we been using them?


The word sulfate is a general term for a family of ingredients. They are used in cleansers across the entire beauty market. The reason they are used is because they richly lather which makes you feel like you’re getting squeaky clean. You can feel those oils just being sucked away from your scalp… the problem is… it is. Sulfates are so effective at cleansing that they can dry out your sebaceous glands. Where as, on one hand you may be thinking, ‘great, my hair gets too oily”, those natural oils are imperative for a healthy scalp and hair. No oils = no moisture = dry scalp and hair. ick! Prolonged use of sulfates can also damage your folicles itself causing hair loss. AND if that’s not enough they are such supercharged beasts at cleansing that they fade color.

So why are companies using them? Because they ARE so very effective at cleansing. But that’s not as scary as Parabens.


Plainly put, Parabens are a preservative. They are put in beauty products to prevent bacteria. Which seems fine, right? WELL,…… sigh. Parabens can be tricky because they can also be found in plants. So you’re “Organic” stuff may still contain them. Parabens can absorb and build up in the body acting like estrogen. When absorbed in large amounts your body will store it in fat and tissues and has been found in breast cancer tumors. The scary thing is that companies they are using ingredients that are paraben preserved don’t have to list it in their ingredients. It’s considered and “incidental ingredient”

So now that I’ve sufficiently terrified you what can you do? Well, I always say to my clients “I don’t care what you use, as long as it’s a professional brand.” This doesn’t include products you get at the Drug stores that just say “Professional” on it. I don’t know a hair stylist in their right mind that would use those. Most professional lines are hearing the cries either already have or are in the process of coming out with sulfate and paraben Free products.

Some companies that have always been free of these are also holding hands down the “No animal testing” road as well. (My favorites are Kevin Murphy, ABBA, Arbonne, and Alterna)

Keep in mind these chemicals are not only in hair care. Check your soaps, body wash, skin care, deodorant and toothpaste.