If you’ve ever taken the time to read the label on your favorite brand of shampoo, you’re probably familiar with the lengthy list of tongue-twisting ingredients from polysorbate and ammonium chloride to sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate. And maybe you’ve heard that it’s actually those sulfates—the ingredients that produce the foam and lather in shampoo—that contribute to the fading of artificial hair color.
But why do sulfates make hair color fade?
“Sulfates are a cleansing agent put in shampoos to help clean the hair; unfortunately, some of these sulfates also act as an abrasive to the hair and have a little too much scrubbing power,” says Don Stacy, celebrity hair stylist and owner of dsparada Color Salon in Raleigh, North Carolina. This causes the outer layer of the hair shaft to open and the color to fade out. “Depending on your hair type (fine, medium fine, or course) this may also lead to dryness in your hair,” he adds.
To keep your hair moisturized and your color rich, Stacy suggests shopping for professional shampoos which often include lesser amounts of sulfates and higher amounts of antioxidants that protect your hair.
You can also opt for a sulfate-free shampoo. “Sulfate-free shampoos are a great alternative,” says Stacy. “They actually hold the color much better and still cleanse the hair the same way.”
Sulfate-free shampoos don’t produce the same lather that you might be accustomed to—the lather-producing ingredient is absent—but Stacy notes that this doesn’t mean that the sulfate-free shampoo isn’t cleansing your hair. “They are actually working better and providing much more nutrients to the hair,” he says.
The best choice is to talk with your hair stylist and discuss the best options available for your hair conditions. “Each individual is different and choices vary based on the type of hair you have,” Stacy says.