More and more consumers are interested in what ingredients are in their beauty products, as almost 60% of adult women “read beauty product ingredients prior to purchase.” Women with textured hair are particularly on the lookout for sulfates, whether they follow the Curly Girl method or not. We are lucky that there are so many products available now that are, “sulfate free,” but what about sulfate alternatives? Here’s what you need to know about a common sulfate alternative ingredient found in cleansers, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate.
What is Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate?
NaturallyCurly asked Aisha Crump, a chemical engineer and the founder and CEO of Honey Baby Naturals, to draw on her expertise from many years in the beauty business to help us understand Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate. She says, “Consumers are always reading labels and looking for things we know aren't good for our hair such as parabens and surfactants. We see [that] a product is sulfate free per the marketing, but then you spot an ingredient that sounds like a sulfate, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate.” Without a deep knowledge of ingredients, it can be very hard to tell, but while Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate may sound like a sulfate, it is not.
According to Crump, DLS “is a cleansing agent also known as a surfactant but [it] is not considered a sulfate. It is a common chemical found in many ‘greener’ or more natural formulas that is used to replace the harsher sulfates because of its non-irritating yet effective properties. It is found in many shampoo and cleansing formulas and is used for its degreasing, foaming, and emulsifying benefits. It is known to be extremely gentle to the skin and hair even at higher concentrations.”
Should I avoid this ingredient?
Now that we know that DLS isn’t a sulfate, how do we know if we should steer clear of this ingredient or not? Crump says that, “Shampoos are so important for textured hair because they remove build up and keep the scalp clean to promote growth.” Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate will cleanse the hair, but “will not strip the moisture from hair the way harsh sulfates do.”
If you want to understand the science behind why DLS is a gentler alternative to sulfates, Crump offers this explanation: “Sulfates are harsh and irritating in part because they are small molecules that penetrate into the skin while Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate is a large molecule that can't penetrate into the scalp and skin.” Going a little deeper, she says, “It is considered an anionic surfactant, meaning it has a negative charge. The safety and mildness of this surfactant is due to the removal of the sulfate ion and replacing it with a sulfonated ester. The result is an effective cleanser that is safer and less irritating to the skin, hair, and scalp.”
In short, Aisha Crump believes, “You can use your favorite Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate/ "sulfate free" shampoo with confidence and enjoy the results.”
What products include it and what products don’t?
If you still like to have a little lather in your sulfate free cleansers, there are many products that contain Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate. A good choice for fine or fragile hair is Kevin Murphy Angel Wash. Ouidad Color Sense Color Preserving Shampoo is a great cleanser for color-treated hair. Finally, Briogeo Rosarco Reparative Shampoo uses a coconut derived version of DLS bolstered by rosehip, argan, and coconut oil to nourish hair.
There are many great sulfate free cleansing options that don’t contain Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, but I’ll highlight three that were Naturally Curly 2016 Editor’s Choice winners. Honey Baby Naturals Honeychild Moisture & Scalp Balance Gentle Shampoo uses two “green” surfactants to replace sulfates. I have used it to cleanse my nine-year-old sister’s 4c hair, but also find it to be an excellent option for my 3b hair. Alikay Naturals Moisturizing Black Soap shampoo is another option with a unique pointed nozzle to distribute the product directly to the scalp. Lastly, DevaCurl’s No-Poo Decadence Zero Lather Ultra Moisturizing Milk Cleanser was also a Best of the Best 2016 Winner, and is a personal favorite when I need an extra moisturizing cleanser.