Both sulfates and sulfites are chemicals that contain the element sulfur.
Both sulfates and sulfites are chemicals that contain the element sulfur.

The term sulfates refer to a group of chemicals that come in the category of salts that are the derivatives of sulfuric acid. They are called by several names such as sulfurous anhydride, sulfurous oxide, and sulfurous acid anhydride. Sulfates may be found in the air, soil, and water. Sulfate salts in the air can react to form sulfuric acid, which is an irritant for the eyes, skin, and mucus membranes. This can cause itching and watering in the eyes, skin irritation, and breathing difficulties. They may be produced naturally due to the decay of plants and animals or artificially in the industries such as mining, tanneries, textile plants, and steel mills. Synthetic sulfate-based compounds such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium lauryl ethyl sulfate (sodium laureth sulfate or SLES) may be found in several cleaners and body care products including soaps and shampoos. They are added to various products for lather formation during their use.

Are sulfates and sulfites the same?

Both sulfates and sulfites are chemicals that contain the element sulfur. They are, however, different from each other. Sulfates are mineral salts that are derivatives of sulfuric acid. Sulfites are chemically different from sulfates and are often used as food preservatives. Sulfites may cause severe allergic reactions in some people, particularly people who are suffering from asthma.

What are the various sulfate-containing personal care products?

Sulfates may be found in various bath and body care products. These include:

  • Shampoos
  • Face washes
  • Soaps
  • Laundry detergents
  • Bath bombs
  • Liquid soaps
  • Hand washes
  • Dish-washing detergents
  • Toothpastes

Owing to the potential harm to the body and environment, several sulfate-free products are now available for personal care and cleansing in the market. The only concern with sulfate-free products is that they produce little to no lather, which may make cleansing a bit tedious and an unsatisfying task.

Are sulfates bad for you?

Being chemicals, sulfates beyond a particular concentration can harm your health and environment. Chemicals containing sulfates are generally used for various purposes including making bath and personal care products, fertilizers, chemicals, dyes, glass, paper, and textiles. Sulfates in these products may finally find their way in water bodies. Sulfates in excess amounts can make the water get an offensive taste and harm its quality for drinking purposes. Intake of large quantities of sulfates can trigger diarrhea and dehydration, particularly in infants and children. Excess sulfates in the air may react with water vapors to form sulfuric acid that can irritate the eyes, skin, and mucus membranes. Excess sulfates in water bodies and soil can harm the animals also.

Although shampoos containing sulfates are good for cleansing the hair and scalp, they may take away the natural oils from your hair making them rough and dry with repeated use. Long-term use of sulfates can also irritate the skin, eyes, and mucus membranes of the lungs. Products containing sulfates such as shampoos and soaps can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions on repeated usage. Some people are particularly sensitive to sulfate-containing products and may develop skin inflammation (dermatitis) due to these products. 

Due to the growing concerns about the harmful effects of sulfates on health and the environment, it is advisable to use sustainable products such as sulfate-free cleansers and home-made products for bath and personal care purposes.


What percentage of the human body is water? See Answer

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 11/25/2020