Sulfate vs. Sulfate-free: Information to Make a Choice

Entering into a new market segment is not necessarily an easy task, and the decision to do so must be based on sound realities and facts. In the present article, the author examines the sulfate-free segment and discusses questions that R&D must ask about sulfates, as well as facts about them, to assist in making the choice of whether or not to enter this market segment.
To begin, it may be helpful to consider why consumers are interested in sulfate-free products in the first place. As most formulators know, questionable science often spurs misleading information that produces media hype and confuses consumers. Following is just a sampling of claims that Web sites have made about sulfates, including cautions against using personal cleansers containing sodium/ammonium lauryl/laureth sulfates:
1. Sodium/ammonium lauryl and laureth sulfate are harsh detergents that are used in garage cleaners, car washes and engine degreasers and, as such, they should not be used in personal cleansing products. This claim is obviously not based on sound science; the fact that an ingredient is used in engine degreaser does not mean it should not be used in a personal care product. While sulfates have occasionally been linked to irritation potential, formulas can be designed to safely maximize on their benefits. A wide variety of surfactants and other ingredients are used both in the personal care and detergent industries. For example, cocamidopropyl betaine is used in dishwashing liquids, shampoos and body washes. Betaines can also be used in car wash soaps because of their high-foaming, viscosity-building and foam stabilization properties. Many amphoteric and nonionic surfactants such as amphoacetates and alcohol ethoxylates are used in personal care products as well as industrial and institutional (I&I) cleaners.
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