Modern Witch Hunt: Are Sulfates & Silicones Actually Bad for Your Hair?

I’m often torn between my desire for “all-natural” and non-toxic cosmetic products and the fact that the standard “synthetic” products are less expensive and produce better results.

It’s become “common knowledge” in the beauty community, especially if you have curly hair that sulfates and silicones are BAD! Silicones are supposedly bad because they coat the hair and give it a smooth, shiny appearance that is “fake” and masks damage. They can also build up on the hair if not removed with sulfates. And sulfates are bad because they can dry out the hair.

But is this really even true?

To be honest, I don’t think it is. For one thing, silicones can be removed with ingredients besides sulfates such as cocamidopropyl betaine.  And, to be perfectly honest, my hair likes silicones and I don’t think it ever had a real problem with sulfates because I wash my hair once or twice a week. The problem with this ingredient witch hunt is that it stops us from listening to our own hair and its needs. Sometimes we just blindly accept what everyone else is saying without stopping to think about what actually works for us and we ignore our own experiences in favor of group consensus.

I’ve been reconsidering my stance on silicones. I often oscillate back and forth between wanting to be silicone-free and use only the most natural products or just using regular shampoos and conditioners. I know not everyone is on board with the whole “all-natural” product thing but personally, I am. If you were running around 60 years ago telling people that Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder contained asbestos that would cause ovarian cancer, people would have thought you were nuts. But lo and behold, that actually did happen and there was a class-action lawsuit.

So it’s better to be safe than sorry. But ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate (a sulfate) and amodimethicone (a silicone) both have EWG Skin Deep ratings of 1-2 so it’s not like they’re unsafe ingredients.

I think silicones are what my hair needs, at least for now. Because I’m transitioning from my chemically straightened hair back to my curly hair, my hair needs the slip provided by silicones for easier detangling. Without silicones, it’s so much harder to detangle my multi-textured hair and I can tell that I get much more breakage when combing and brushing. I can literally hear my hair breaking. It’s so cringe-inducing.

Also, I was thinking to myself that this whole notion that we shouldn’t use silicones because they coat the hair and give it an unnaturally smooth texture and “false” shine is a big load of BS. Like no duh, silicones give your hair a “better,” unnatural texture and make it shiny. That’s the whole point of silicones in a hair product, it’s why they’re there.

Saying we shouldn’t use silicones because they mask the true appearance of the hair and you need sulfates to remove them is like saying we should never use makeup or foundation because they mask the true appearance of the skin and you need makeup remover/cleanser to remove them. Again, no duh that’s the point of makeup, it gives a different or “better” finish to the skin. And that’s how makeup works- you put it on, you take it off, you put it on, you take it off, etc.

That’s exactly how silicones work too. You put them on, you take them off, you put them on, you take them off. Just like you’re supposed to take off your makeup every night to avoid clogging your pores and causing breakouts even though you may just be putting more makeup on in the morning, you need to remove the silicones from your hair every so often so that your hair and scalp don’t accumulate too much build-up which leads to a whole host of problems like hair loss, dry hair, and scalp irritation.

There is nothing wrong with this cycle. We do it with makeup so why is it so bad when it comes to our hair?

Sure you can opt-out of wearing makeup or using sulfates and not continue the cycle- that’s your choice and maybe that works for you. But there’s nothing wrong with the cycle itself. You can opt-in or out at any time, all you have to do is remove the silicones (or makeup).

While makeup should be removed every day, you probably don’t need to be using a clarifying shampoo every single time you wash your hair. It totally depends on your washing schedule. Maybe you need to clarify once a week or once a month or twice a month or every other month or every 3 months. Go by how your hair feels and what works for you.

If you notice your hair isn’t looking or feeling how it once was, or your products aren’t working like they used to or your hair isn’t absorbing product, then chances are it’s time to clarify, or chelate if you have hard water. And by the time this happens, there’s probably enough mineral or product build-up on your hair that the clarifying shampoo will be stripping all of that stuff away, not the moisture in your hair shaft. Also, clarifying does not have to mean sulfates. There are plenty of clarifying and chelating shampoos that are sulfate-free and will still work just as well.

For a list of ingredients that remove silicones, check out my favorite haircare blog:

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