"Sulfate-free," is a fairly new term coined in the beauty industry to describe products that don't contain certain lathering/foaming agents called sulfates. While not particularly harmful to one's health, sulfates have been found to be somewhat "harmful" to hair, causing strands to dry out and be stripped of natural, beneficial oils.
Where are sulfates generally found? In most cosmetics and skincare which foam and lather, like toothpaste, hand soap, body wash, and shampoo. Sulfates like sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, and ammonium lauryl sulfate are relatively cheap ingredients often found as the second ingredient (second to water in most cases) in shampoos. They create big, foamy lather that a lot have people have come to expect when using a shampoo and associate it with having thoroughly clean hair.
Recently, there's been a lot of buzz in the beauty community about shampoos that are sulfate-free. These shampoos are becoming more and more popular because their lack of stripping ingredients treats hair gently, preserves color, and prevents hair from drying out and becoming brittle. It's no surprise that when these trends start in salon or high end brands, they trickle down to drugstore and readily accessible brands, like Herbal Essences.
With the rebirth of their Smooth and Shine collections, Herbal Essences is marketing their shampoos and conditioners as being better-than-ever. The brand-new TV commercial featuring brand model and singer Nicole Scherzinger claims that the collections are "sulfate and silicone free." Sounds great, right?
Well, hold on a second before you rush out to your local drugstore. The only items that are sulfate-free in the Smooth and Shine collections are the conditioners. While that may sound nice, most conditioners never contain sulfates anyway. Sulfates are lathering agents and most conditioners do not lather. Check the ingredient list of the shampoos, on the other hand, and you'll find a hefty dose of sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate.
It's basically useless and completely ordinary that the conditioners are sulfate-free. It's like saying Crest toothpaste is free of bacon. It's already a given.
The second part of this new marketing tactic involves labeling the shampoos as silicone-free. This is all fine and dandy, except that those who are typically avoiding silicones usually avoid sulfates, too. And in that case, they would need to skip over these new offerings anyway.
Does Herbal Essences not consider their customers to be educated? Perhaps they think the eye-catching labels will fool shoppers into thinking they're getting something pure, natural, and "herbal." Alas, it's just another marketing ploy to inject into a sexy television commercial.