If you’ve been on the anti-sulfate train, popular skin care brand The Ordinary is hoping to get you off it. On February 22, the brand is expanding its hair care line by launching products that are made with — you guessed it — sulfates.
“Scalp care is often an overlooked step in managing and improving overall hair health,” Nicola Kilner, CEO and co-founder of The Ordinary, tells Bustle over email. “The message we want to drive home with The Ordinary Hair Care is that the scalp requires the same skin care needs, adequate cleansing, and moisturization to ensure it’s functioning in a healthy manner.”
The brand is taking a three-step approach to hair care with its Sulphate 4% Cleanser for Body and Hair to gently remove dirt and buildup, the Behentrimonium Chloride 2% Conditioner to provide lightweight hydration, and the Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA for Scalp that moisturizes the scalp and protects your skin barrier. For the best results, you start with the shampoo and conditioner and end with the scalp treatment — all of the products are below $15.
But why highlight the fact that the shampoo contains sulfates, an ingredient that many beauty consumers shun? The brains behind the brand say that sulfates are absolutely necessary to effectively clean hair. “I think that the anti-sulphates messaging can be attributed to marketing strategies, sharing of misinformation, and maybe even misunderstandings regarding the safety and environmental impact of these incredibly effective ingredients,” says Prudvi Kaka, The Ordinary’s chief scientific officer. “As a result, the impact of this can be seen across the board, with consumers fearing or entirely avoiding the use of products containing sulphates.”
Sulfates (alternatively spelled sulphates) are surfactants that remove dirt and breakdown buildup. You can find them in products like household cleaning products, toothpaste, cleansers, and shampoos. “Think of [using sulfates] as using detergent on your hair,” says cosmetic chemist and founder of Fan Love Beauty Ginger King. “[They] are strong cleansers and with high concentration, they can dry out hair and strip off hair color.”
Studies have also shown that sulfates can cause adverse reactions such as dermatitis and irritation to your eyes, but these cases are rare. To make sure that the shampoo is able to clean without causing damage, that the cleanser for body and hair uses sulfates (SLES-2) at a 4% concentration.
“One of the primary concerns – that the Sulphate Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) has potential for being irritating to the eyes and skin – can be easily addressed by proper formula development and appropriate irritation testing performed by the product manufacturers, which is what we have done,” says Kaka.
A formula with only 4% sulfates is fairly low compared to the 10-15% concentration you would find in traditional sulfate shampoos. But while a 4% concentration can provide a better foaming experience and poses no harm to non-color-treated hair, King says it is not known whether it is low enough to be color-treated hair safe. (A rep from the brand confirmed the cleanser has been tested and is approved safe for color-treated hair without stripping the color.) Also, a formula containing a low concentration of sulfates without any other surfactant might not be the best choice if your strands need a super deep cleanse.
In addition to its pro-sulfate stance, the brand hopes to clear up the misconception that all chemicals are bad via its Everything Is Chemicals campaign.“Clean isn't defined by any industry bodies so there isn't an agreed definition of what clean is,” says Kilner. “When brands claim 'clean' and 'non-toxic,' it can imply that everything else is, which isn't the case. We feel it is our responsibility to offer unbiased evidence on the use of chemicals in cosmetics, and aid consumers confused around the topic with meaningful, backed resources.”
The team is embarking on a quest to shed light on fear tactics that are often used to purposely mislead consumers. “We're attempting to bridge the gap by providing science-backed reliable information,” adds Kaka. “We want to replace the unknown with reliable information such that fear behind unknown ingredients cannot be used as a form of marketing.”
You can shop The Ordinary’s new hair care products on February 22 at deciem.com.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated with details regarding color-treated hair.