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.

Good Shampoo and Conditioner & The haunting of Pantene

I have a personal problem with Pantene. Pantene has been messing with me since my very first salon job as an assistant in a middle class suburb of Detroit. People there thought they were treating themselves by purchasing the most expensive drug store brand they could find. Client after client showed up with their fried out waxy pantene coated hair. I had to clarify every single one of them.

I’ve felt like a parrot with this speech in the salon. I HATE store bought products. Here’s my speech:

Store bought shampoos and conditioners are made by companies that make things such as floor wax and toilet bowl cleaner. Even the herbal, ‘healthy’, and organic ones are not made by people that study hair. Sure they may make your hair feel clean and not tangley. So why not just save your money and use them? Most of what I see in clients that aren’t using a professional salon brand is that they are dry dry dry! And just because your shampoo says professional on it doesn’t mean it is. Store bought shampoos are like detergents. They can be very abrasive and drying.

The major problem with being cheap about your products lays in conditioners. Aside from just plain not being moisturizing enough they use waxes and oils that just coat your hair. That may seem all fine and good when you rinse your hair and it feels slick and easy to comb through. But that doesn’t mean it’s conditioned. What’s happening is you are sealing your hair off from any nutrients and moisture. Over time using these products your hair becomes more dry and brittle. Ever notice when you get in the shower and it takes a few minutes of the water running on it before it really feels wet. Yeah, coated!

So what should you get that won’t break your budget?

Well first of all since you are used to using crappy product you’ve probably been using too much. Professional brands tend to have a thicker richer lather and go a bit further. Be smart about choosing your shampoo. Buy stuff that is for your hair type. (thick, coarse, dry, fine, colored ect) Most brands have something that will fit into any of those combinations. If you are someone that wants organic there are a ton of brands out there that are now that are fantastic. (Kevin Murphy and ABBA are my two favorites right now) If organic doesn’t matter but price does there are some brands that are on the more cost sensitive side. They are not as cheap as store bought but they also won’t leave your hair feeling like tinsel. (Try Redken, Bed Head, or MOP)
If money is no object and you want to be completely spoiled try Kerastase, l’oreal serie, Rene Furterer, or Phytologie.

Remember that advertisements are designed to get you to buy things. I’ve worked on photo shoots and lighting and photo retouching gives hair completely unrealistic expectations. Those people have fantastic advertising teams.

About a month after quiting the pantene infested salon I was at an outdoor festival. Some lovely people were handing out sample bags of Pantene shampoos and conditioner. I politely declined. Later in that day I had run into the best friend of an x-boyfriend. We were having a lovely conversation when just then some stranger thought it would be funny to throw one of those little satin pouched Pantene bombs into the crowd of people and directly into my face. I blinked for a second not knowing what had just happened and glanced at the ground to find…. clenching my fist and shaking them at the heavens I screamed “CURSE YOU PANTENE!” The old acquaintance stepped slowly away from me. I’m sure in fear about my mental stability. To this day every time a client says they “just use pantene” it feels like to me that they just hit me in the face.