Hair is becoming our second skin — well, at least in the way we take care of it. No one bats an eye when it comes to a five-step skin-care routine. And, hair maintenance has started to get just as involved. For example, scalp facials, anti-aging hair treatments, and BB Creams for hair have all emerged on the beauty scene this year. So, if investing time into caring for our hair is the new thing, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate shampoo.
Can old-school shampoos stocked with sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) — the detergent and known skin irritant — really damage our hair? Yes and no. According to Washington, DC-based dermatologist Ella Toombs, “You can irritate the skin, but you can’t irritate the hair.”
While they may not hurt your strands themselves, traditional SLS shampoos can inflame the scalp. And, while it’s important to cleanse the scalp — Toombs reminds us, “You have a million hair follicles on the scalp, each is connected to secreting gland” — gentler cleansers may be the best way to go for some, especially those with eczema or sensitive skin. “People with eczema tend to experience more irritancy with a lot of skin products with the skin being dry. For those individuals, suds-free, sulfate-free hair cleansers would be beneficial,” Toombs says, adding that it’s possible to get eczema flare-ups on the scalp.
For those who relax, straighten, dye, and overprocess their hair, SLS shampoos can also be extra-drying. Says Toombs, “The more suds, the more detergent activity. And, the more detergent activity, the more it is drying to the actual skin and/or hair shaft. So, you want to use a shampoo that can rid the scalp of oil and dirt, but not so much that it dries out the hair and the skin excessively.”