What You Need to Know About the Salt in Your Shampoo

As a curly girl, you may already be fluent in the language of product labels. Early in our curly journeys we start to learn the scientific names of a whole range of obscure additives, but you may be surprised to learn of this common ingredient: salt.

Otherwise known as sodium chloride, common table salt is actually added to many shampoos as a cost saving thickening agent. To shed some light on this practice we spoke with AG’s Co-Founder John Davis, who leads the brand’s product formulations. When he founded AG as a hair stylist with his wife in 1989, Davis saw firsthand how many bags of salt were being poured into third-party manufactured products, and decided he wanted to experiment and manufacture his own salt-free alternatives.

Davis explained that while we all love the feel of a thick, rich shampoo, it is an expensive texture to produce from a manufacturer’s standpoint. “There is a trick,” says Davis, “you can add salt, or sodium chloride, to a water-thin product and make it nice and thick. This is very common in drugstore shampoos and far more common in other shampoos than you might think.”

How does sodium chloride affect hair, and specifically textured hair?

“Moisture in the hair is important as it helps keep hair healthy and improves tensile strength (the ability of the hair to stretch without breakage”>. Anything that removes or reduces the amount of moisture in the hair is potentially damaging and this is particularly true with curly hair. Sodium chloride can reduce levels of moisture in the hair leaving it feeling dry and brittle, and therefore much more prone to damage through combing, brushing etc. This affects all hair types of course, but particularly curly hair, which may be particularly prone to damage through moisture loss. Hair looks and feels best when it is properly conditioned and moisturized. That’s why all AG shampoos are formulated without added sodium chloride to minimize moisture loss in the hair. Sodium chloride has no benefit other than cost savings to the manufacturer.”

Is sodium chloride typically found in shampoos that have sodium lauryl sulfate (an ingredient curlies often watch out for”>?

“Shampoos containing sodium lauryl and sodium laureth sulfate are more common and more cost effective than sulfate-free shampoos, and they often are thickened with sodium chloride. It’s not a guarantee when purchasing sulfate-free shampoos that it’s not thickened with sodium chloride. We recommend reading the label when purchasing any shampoo to care for your hair.”

What You Need to Know About the Salt in Your Shampoo

You’re launching a new line, Curl Fresh, and in addition to excluding sodium chloride you also chose to leave out other thickening agents like MEA/TEA, and dispersing agents like propylene glycol. What ingredients did AG choose to use instead and why?

“Cocamide MEA helps provide viscosity (thickness”> to certain shampoos when combined with sodium chloride and TEA is used to adjust the pH of personal care products, while butylene and propylene glycols are generally used as moisturizing agents. In terms of viscosity build in our shampoos, firstly we use less water, so our products are naturally thicker, and we also use a naturally derived xantham gum for additional viscosity and product stability. Depending on the product, we use differing ingredients to achieve moisture, but propanediol is one example among many. While we do not use propylene glycol in AG products we may use butylene glycol, which is considered a safe ingredient in cosmetics, for its moisturizing benefits and has a score of 1 (negligible”> on the EWG (Environmental Working Group”> toxicity scale.”

What You Need to Know About the Salt in Your Shampoo

“Our Plant-Based Essentials line started with our continuing search for improvement looking for naturally sourced ingredients that are milder and gentler on the hair. We started with a shampoo and conditioner, Balance and Boost, which contains over 98% plant-based and naturally-derived ingredients. Based on the success of those two products we expanded the line considerably over the last few years and a move towards plant-based curl products was simply the next step in this collection’s growth. A few years ago we developed one of our best selling products for curly hair, Re:Coil, with feedback and input from the Curlies in NaturallyCurly’s CurlTalk forum, so it is particularly exciting for us to have you be the first to test and try our newest plant-based curl collection and get your honest and important feedback.”

What You Need to Know About the Salt in Your Shampoo

As a NaturallyCurly reader you may be familiar with Re:Coil, because not only was it formulated based on reader input, but it was also the first product ever sold in our e-commerce shop, back when it was called CurlMart and was run out of NaturallyCurly Co-Founder Gretchen Heber’s garage. We know how you feel about Holy Grails Re:Coil and Fast Food, and now we’re excited to hear what you think about the new Curl Fresh line. You can find out more about the Curl Fresh Shampoo, Conditioner, and Definer at aghair.com.

Now that you’re well versed in sodium chloride, take a look at a few of the shampoo labels next time you’re at the drugstore. You may be surprised how often you find salt.

This post is sponsored by AG.


NaturallyCurly has been on a mission to educate, empower, entertain and inspire women to have healthy discussions about hair and beauty since 1998. We explore everything from self-acceptance to finding the best hair care products for all textures.

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