Whenever the term “sulfate” is mentioned for hair care, it’s usually in a highly negative way. With more and more hair products claiming to be “sulfate-free” and “clean,” it’s scary to see that many of your favorite products seem to contain sulfate, more specifically, behentrimonium methosulfate. Is methosulfate really bad for hair? Why do products contain methosulfate if it's bad for hair? As always, we should look at the scientific facts before jumping to the conclusion that methosulfate is bad for hair.
What are sulfates and how do they affect hair?
Before we get too far into the details, let’s address the question: Is methosulfate bad for hair? The short and sweet answer is no, methosulfates are not bad for hair. In fact, behentrimonium methosulfate is not even in the same category as the sulfates that are deemed bad in the hair industry. Furthermore, methosulfate can actually be beneficial for hair. If methosulfate is not bad for hair, what makes sulfates different and how do they affect hair?
How are SLS and SLES different from methosulfate?
The two most common sulfates under fire in the cosmetics industry are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). They are both surfactants which are the components of a shampoo or soap that make them bubble and lather. It’s what gives you that clean feeling after washing your hair. Both SLS and SLES are infamous for being harsh, drying, and even carcinogenic. They’ve gotten such a bad reputation that any ingredient with the word “sulfate” in its name has received negative attention further fueling the question “Is methosulfate bad for hair?”
Though there are a few studies on SLS and SLES that confirm some of their harsher characteristics, just like with anything in science, the context of these studies are important to fully understanding their properties. As we’ve gone over in previous articles, it's difficult to make overarching generalizations about these ingredients because science does not determine designations for toxicity and danger based on “good” or “bad.” Things like concentration and how the ingredient is meant to be used (i.e. is it a wash-off product or is it staying on the skin?) are all factors that contribute heavily to how “dangerous” an ingredient really is. This is all a long winded way of saying that there’s no imminent danger in using SLS and SLES nor is methosulfate bad for hair. If anything, SLS and SLES may be a little drying for some individuals, but this is not so alarming that all sulfates should be banned in all products.
Even the term “sulfate” is a little misleading. All three ingredients we’ve mentioned so far - SLS, SLES, and methosulfate - have “sulfate” in the name which can make you think they are very similar in their chemical properties. However in the chemistry world, the term sulfate is simply used to define a specific portion of chemical structure: SO42-.
Methosulfate’s chemical properties are different from SLS and SLES. Without going into too much chemistry detail, it’s not as strong of a surfactant making it gentler. Not only is methosulfate not bad for hair, (not to say SLS and SLES are inherently bad either) there are some great benefits to using products containing methosulfate. The most common household hair care product that uses methosulfate is conditioner, and its properties listed below should tell you why.
Properties of Methosulfate for Hair
So, if methosulfate is not bad for hair, what is its role in hair care products? What exactly does it do for your hair?
Antistatic Property of Methosulfate for Hair
One great use for methosulfate is as an antistatic. Methosulfate is a cation (pronounced cat-ion) meaning that it’s positively charged. It binds to hair cuticles and can help stop static from causing flyaways and make hair more manageable overall.
Conditioning Property of Methosulfate for Hair
Conditioner gets its name from, well, conditioning the hair. Methosulfate can reduce friction between the hair shaft giving hair a sleek and soft feeling. When you use a conditioner in the shower, that slippery feeling your hair gets as you rinse it off is from methosulfate. Reducing friction not only makes your hair feel silkier, but it can also help reduce damage and breakage, especially when hair is wet. If you’ve tried running your hand through wet hair, you know how difficult it is to get tangles out. But if you use a conditioner, that task becomes infinitely easier. We can thank behentrimonium methosulfate for that.
Methosulfate Improves Product and Hair Texture
Not only does methosulfate improve the texture of your hair, but it also can improve the texture of the product itself. It acts as an emulsifier meaning it helps bring two ingredients together that normally have a difficult time mixing. This is important in the formulating process because it helps spreadability of the product and ensures that it has a pleasant texture.
Concluding thoughts on methosulfate for hair
So, we’ve answered the question of “ Is methosulfate bad for hair?” but we’ve also gone through why sulfates aren’t inherently dangerous. There is a ton of contradicting information on hair care ingredients on the internet and it can be difficult to figure out what’s real or not. This article’s goal is not to convince you to use products that contain these ingredients, but to simply inform you on facts and misinformation surrounding these ingredients. However, at the end of the day it’s your decision on whether or not you want to use sulfates of methosulfate containing products. And if you’re unsure, the best person to consult is your doctor or dermatologist. Is methosulfate bad for hair? No, but questioning the ingredients that you put on your body is not a bad thing either. The more you stay informed, the better health decisions you can make.