How to Use Sulfate Free Shampoo + Benefits of Switching

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We know that the process of switching to a sulfate-free shampoo can feel intimidating. So many people refuse to give it a shot because of bad experiences with other sulfate free formulas which are often the result of user error and/or not giving the transition process enough time.

User error is the #1 reason that people struggle with sulfate free shampoos. And we're here to arm you with the know-how to start your sulfate free transition smoothly OR troubleshoot if you're currently having trouble.

We want to make your transition to sulfate free shampoo as easy and painless as possible. By the end of this blog post you'll understand:

Let's get into it.

The Downside of Shampoos with Sulfates

If you're like most people, you've probably been using sulfate-based products for years. They're cheap and available everywhere - you'll find them in most mass produced shampoo and body wash. They're very strong cleaning agents, and your scalp has become accustomed to overproducing natural oils to keep up with your habit of stripping them.

Sulfates (and even some non-sulfate cleaning agents that foam) strip your hair of the majority of its natural moisture. We have been trained to associate a complete lack of oils as being "clean," but ultimately that's not how our hair, scalp, or skin work.

Our scalp and skin need natural oils to be their healthiest. Oils lubricate the skin, help it maintain its normal barrier function, and keep it glowing, healthy, and resilient. Your scalp is skin after all, and healthy hair requires a healthy scalp. Stripping all of your scalp's oils is not doing your hair any favors.

When strip our skin and scalp of all oil, we can cause a host of problems.

  • Dandruff. Those with drier skin/scalp types will find that stripping moisture makes their dryness even worse. Using a sulfate free shampoo for dandruff is a great idea because it allows your built-in lubrication system to do its thing, unimpeded.
  • Excessive oiliness. Those with oilier skin/scalp types will find that stripping moisture can make their oiliness even worse (side note: yes, sulfates can cause both dandruff and oiliness, depending on the person). When we overstrip moisture, our oil glands go into overdrive to make up for our stripping habit. You're definitely overstripping moisture if:
    • you feel like you "have to" wash your hair everyday
    • you have an oily scalp but dry ends of your hair
  • Weaker hair. Again, our natural oils are pretty miraculous. If we strip our scalp of all of our oils, we're setting up our hair to be more brittle. It might not look that way because most people that use sulfate free shampoos use conditioners with silicones which give the appearance of shiny, healthy hair, but don't actually promote hair health.
  • Not safe for color treated hair. Because of the way hair color and shampoo works, using sulfates on color-treated hair will cause your color to fade or change tone. Professionals recommend that people with color treated hair use sulfate free shampoo.

At this point, you might be thinking, "Ok sure but I can't stand feeling even a little bit oily." It's hard to dismantle the fallacy of "lack of oil means I'm clean," we get it.

Often times the psychological part of transitioning and not having a sudsing product is a big challenge. But trust me: you will feel clean when you use sulfate-free shampoo properly. You will have an appropriate amount of natural oils on your scalp.

PS - all of this above advice also applies to people who use the "no-poo" method of baking soda and apple cider vinegar rinse. To read more about why the no-poo method is actually a no-go, read more here.

The Benefits of Sulfate Free Shampoo

Sulfate free shampoo will get you feeling clean, but not stripped of moisture. The results?

  • A healthier scalp with balanced oil production. Dry scalp types will find that their scalp is more moisturized (not oily), and oilier scalp types will find that their excessive oil production will be reduced over time. 
  • Softer, frizz-free hair that needs less conditioner. When you're not stripping your scalp's moisture, your hair will get better moisture from the original source - your oil glands! That means you might not need to use as much conditioner. When it comes to our sulfate-free shampoos, we find that some people with fine hair don't need conditioner at all. And yes, that even applies for people with wavy, curly, and coily textures.
  • Shinier and stronger hair. When your scalp is happy and balanced with just the right amount of oil, that means your hair is happier overall. You'll notice more natural shine and luster, and your hair will be less prone to damage from color, heat styling, and more.
  • Safe for color-treated hair. No need to worry about washing out or distorting your color treatment. 

Setting Expectations

If you've been used to using a sudsing shampoo with sulfates (OR if you've been using the no-poo method of baking soda and apple cider vinegar) it usually takes 2-4 weeks for your scalp and hair to adjust. This "detox" period is normal and expected.

It's very important to set your expectations from the beginning - the adjustment will not happen overnight, but you will adjust! Knowing what to expect will reduce frustration and make it easier to stick with the transition.

While all hair types can successfully adjust to sulfate free shampoos with the right product, method, and time, some people adjust more quickly than others. 

  • In general, people with dry scalps tend to adjust faster
  • In general, people with naturally curly hair textures tend to adjust faster

Some people will adjust more slowly than others.

  • In general, people with oily scalps tend to adjust more slowly
  • Finer hair textures tend to adjust more slowly
  • People who wash their hair everyday tend to adjust more slowly

User error is common, and many people get frustrated and give up too soon. The trick? Give it enough time, and apply using our methods described below in our "How to Use" section. Your hair and scalp will thank you.

How to Use Sulfate Free Shampoo

  1. Completely saturate your hair with water before washing. Our sulfate free shampoos don't suds like their sulfate-containing counterparts, so plenty of water is essential to apply and evenly distribute your shampoo!
  2. Put 2-5 pumps of shampoo into your palms and evenly distribute it. Go for a thin layer of product on your palms and fingers to ensure an even application across your whole scalp.
  3. Massage shampoo into your scalp for 1 minute or so. Take your time - give yourself a nice scalp massage! IMPORTANT NOTE: apply shampoo to your scalp and roots only, that's what needs cleaning.
  4. Let sit for 1-2 minutes. This allows our milder cleaning agents to do their job a bit better.
  5. Rinse completely and thoroughly. Give yourself a minute to remove any traces of shampoo.
  6. Apply sulfate and silicone-free conditioner to the ends of hair only. Just like with the shampoo, pump conditioner into your palms and evenly distribute it - go for a thin layer of product on palms and fingers. Finger-comb your hands through ends of hair OR squeeze ends of hair in sections.
  7. Rinse conditioner thoroughly. If you are prone to very dry hair, you can play with leaving some conditioner in. If your hair is easily weighed down, it's best to wash out your conditioner completely.

Note: You'll notice that our sulfate free shampoos (and most other sulfate free options) doesn't suds and foam like the sulfate-based stuff. This is by design! While bubbles are fun, they're usually a sign that you're stripping moisture. You'll find that you'll be able to get a bit more lather by adding a little extra water as you massage your scalp.

A key tip: do not go back to a sulfate-based formula while your hair is transitioning. You're helping your hair break a years-old habit of over producing oil. Like breaking any bad habit, this process might take a little patience! It can be tempting to wash with your old standbys but this will reset the clock on your sulfate-free transition.

We recommend washing your hair up to every other day, and if you can go longer than that between wash days, even better!

Troubleshooting

My scalp is oily and it doesn't look like my hair is getting clean

My hair looks heavy and weighed down

I'm running through product really quickly

I don't know how often I should be washing my hair


...

My scalp is oily and it doesn't look like my hair is getting clean.

  • If you've just started the transition process and you're noticing oily roots, don't fret. Give it some more time.
  • If you've been using the product for several weeks and are still having this issue, make sure you are:
    • Completely saturating your hair and scalp with water before washing. Our sulfate free shampoos don't suds like their sulfate-containing counterparts, so plenty of water is essential to apply and evenly distribute your shampoo!
    • Put 2-5 pumps of shampoo into your palms and rub together to evenly distribute the product. Go for a thin layer of product on your palms and fingers to ensure an even application across your whole scalp.
    • Use less product. Overusing is a very common mistake with sulfate free shampoos. Even though it's not sudsing, you're still getting clean! Rather than adding more product, first ensure that it is evenly distributed across your scalp, then add more water.
    • Let sit for 1-2 minutes. This allows our milder cleaning agents to do their job a bit better and clean excess oils (but not strip moisture).
    • Rinse completely and thoroughly. Give yourself a minute to remove any traces of shampoo.
  • If it's been several weeks and you're using the above techniques, try washing your hair twice in one shower routine.

My hair looks heavy and weighed down.

  • If you've just started the transition process and you're noticing oily roots, don't fret. Give it some more time.
  • Try all the recommendations under "My scalp is oily and it doesn't look like my hair is getting clean."
  • Use sulfate and silicone-free conditioner only on the very ends of your hair, do not apply near your scalp.
  • Wash out your sulfate and silicone-free conditioner completely if you've been experimenting with leaving some in.
  • If you have fine hair, consider omitting conditioner entirely. Often times our customers find that our sulfate free shampoos will give them the clean and the moisture they're looking for.

I'm running through product really quickly.

  • Use less product. Overusing is a very common mistake with sulfate free shampoos. Even though it's not sudsing, you're still getting clean! Rather than adding more product, first ensure that it is evenly distributed across your scalp (it's helpful to pump into your palms then rub hands together thoroughly), then add more water. Always add more water before adding more product.

I don't know how often I should be washing my hair.

  • We recommend washing your hair up to every other day, and if you can go longer than that between wash days, even better! Remember: if you started off as a daily user of sulfate-based shampoos, your transition will take longer and you'll likely need to start off with daily washing using a sulfate free formula. Once you've adjusted to sulfate free shampoo, then you can work on decreasing your wash frequency.

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