Saturday, September 10, 2011

Is your shampoo causing you to lose your hair?

It is possible. Many people are not able to tolerate the sulfates contained in some shampoos. The internet is buzzing with discussions about products containing sulfates versus those that are sulfate-free. Sulfates are basically detergents or soaps and they are in just about everything that lathers because they offer “cheap suds.” The most common surfactants in shampoos are sodium lauryl sulfate or ammonium lauryl sulfate.

Surfactants (or soaps) do the main work of cleansing the hair by removing sebum from the hair shaft. Sebum is the natural oily coating on our hair shaft that can collect dirt, hair flakes, styling products, etc. Without getting too technical here, the type and the amount of surfactants present in your shampoo determines how gently or how harshly it cleanses. The amount of lather produced is primarily determined by the type and concentration of surfactants used in the product formulation. (I was shocked to learn that the toothpaste I was using contained the sulfate, sodium laurel sulfate! I quickly changed to a new brand.) In some instances, shampoos heavy with sulfates have been found to contribute to thinning, balding, and stripping the hair of oils and hair coloring.

Remember that sulfates are just one type of cleansing agent. There are other types of cleansing products or soaps that can be used in shampoo without creating some of the negative risks to your hair that exist with sulfates. These risks are more prevalent with afro hair. Since afro hair is naturally coily, oils produced in the scalp can’t travel as easily down the hair shaft, which causes our hair to be more prone to dryness. If the hair becomes too dry, the greater the chance for breakage. So, it’s important to choose a shampoo that is gentle enough to remove dirt and excess oils left by maintenance products while not completely stripping the hair of needed oils.

Let me reiterate here that the presence of soap in your shampoo, in and of itself is not the enemy. In fact, you need to have soap to cleanse your hair. Many hair forums discuss co-washing as an alternative to using shampoo. This method is basically using conditioner to wash your hair instead of shampoo. Although some people swear by this method as a way to “clean” the hair without shampoo, I personally consider it an outrage. When I take a shower, I don’t rub lotion all over my body in the shower and say I am clean! So using anything other than a product containing soap to wash my hair is really not an option.

So, yes your shampoo could indeed be causing you to lose your hair. Excessive lather is one of the causes of hair dryness which results in breakage. The best choice in a good shampoo for afro hair should be one that is sulfate-free. This will provide the gentle cleansing your hair needs without stripping all the oils to prevent dryness and breakage.

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