From a young age, we learn to associate bubbles with cleanliness, but do you actually know why? Rather than doing any cleaning, bubbles mostly just create a nice lathering effect which can actually be detrimental to skin and hair health. We explore the dangers of bubbles, the chemicals to watch out for, and how to make the switch to healthier skincare products.
BUBBLES: THE MISCONCEPTION
The age-old shampoo ad involves a beautiful woman showering, lathering shampoo into her bubble-covered hair. It’s one of the reasons we associate this foamy concoction with cleanliness, whether we’re using cleaning products for our hair, our skin, our dishes or our laundry. The thing is, the soap that actually does the cleaning in these scenarios doesn’t create any bubbles – the bubbles are often there just for looks. One of the biggest creators of bubbles are sulfates, a cheap chemical that lathers up easily and that doubles as a problematic, overly powerful cleaning agent.
WHAT ARE SULFATES?
If you’ve ever tried to mix oil and water together, you’ll know that water and fats tend not to mix. It’s why we use detergent to remove grease from pans, and shampoos to remove oil from our hair. These products that lather up into big bubbles contain surfactants, a compound that lowers the tension between the oil and the water so that the ‘dirt’ can be stripped away. Unfortunately, the most common surfactant is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, also known as Sodium Laurilsulfate or Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate. SLS, as it’s commonly referred to, can be derived synthetically or naturally, however it is often created by reacting lauryl alcohol with petroleum…not something we particularly like the sound of rubbing into our scalp or skin!
THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF SULFATES
We say unfortunately sulfates are the most commonly used surfactant because they actually irritate and inflame skin, and can also cause long-term damage to your skin and hair. In fact, if you’ve ever felt that unpleasant ‘burning’ feeling on your skin after trying a new product, sulfates were probably the cause! This is because when you use a shampoo or cleanser with sulfates, it does such an effective job of stripping away oils that it takes away all the good bacteria with it. This bacteria is naturally produced by our body to protect our skin and hair from irritants and bad bacteria, and when it is repeatedly removed, we are more prone to skin and scalp irritation and itchiness.
More than that though, when used in shampoo sulfates can lift the cuticle of the hair and leave a negative charge – the same charge which draws the water and oil to each other. This charge then attracts unwanted residues, like the calcium, iron, copper and lead found in tap water, leaving hair damaged, dry and dull. If you color your hair this becomes especially a problem as it prevents color from lasting or just plainly strips it all away along with everything else. All in all, if you want to use skin care products to nourish and protect your skin and hair, sulfates should definitely be avoided.
WHAT TO USE INSTEAD
While it might take a while to adjust to the idea that your soap and shampoo no longer make those big shiny bubbles you’ve come to love, there are plenty of sulfate-free products that will leave your skin and hair both clean and healthy. As consumers begin questioning what’s in their products, makers listen. The recent push towards natural, chemical-free products means you’ll likely find a range of options in a store near you, and of course Leaf Juice is very proud to be sulfate free! As always though, you should learn to read your labels (link to Read Your Labels blog), but a few things to keep an eye out for are moisturizing Vitamin E, products with antiseptic ingredients like lavender-based soaps, hydrolyzed wheat which is high in nourishing amino acids, and benzoic acid which will help regulate oily skin or hair.
Whether you recognize the sensation of burning skin whenever you wash your hair or you prefer to avoid the oil-stripping that occurs when using products containing sulfates, it’s clear that bubbles in cosmetic products are best avoided. The easiest way to do this – keep an eye out for sulfate-free products and take your health into your own hands!
Shop our range of sulfate-free products here.