The Psychology Of Suds

A while back, I sent some product to my beloved friend Nick to try.  I asked him for some feedback and he says, “It doesn’t really lather up, so I don’t feel it is cleansing and doing the job.”  I tell him that we have been trained to think that a soap only works when it lathers up due to an added ingredient known as sulfate.  This fluffy lather has been created  to evoke “cleanliness”. Sulfates are a foaming agent that strip all oils, leaving surfaces barren and dehydrated, which explains why there is a huge need for conditioners and moisturizers.  Genius marketing?  Maybe.

“Oh!  Then I will continue with this product.  I never knew this.  You should really post about this psychology of clean.  This topic is more interesting and enlightening for your readers.”

So, here it is.


Squeaky clean?  More like squeaky, stripped, and pushing you to the point of no return.  Sulfates are the agent ADDED to create foam and lather to products.  Besides creating a foam party, what else do sulfates and their “gentler” clones do?

  • cause unnatural hair loss
  • damage follicles
  • irritate skin (dermatitis)
  • potentially create carcinogens through contact with other ingredients
  • fade color treated hair
  • strip essential oils
  • damage the immune system
  • may impair brain, heart, and eye function

So the next time you encounter lavish foam, check the label for sulfates.  Squeaky clean is not naturally occurring. Naturally we wouldn’t think otherwise because we have never known anything other than the “lather means it is cleansing” model.



Where can you find these so-called sulfates and “gentler” clones?

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Facial cleanser
  • Body Wash
  • Liquid Hand Soap
  • Shaving Cream
  • Bubble Bath/Bath Oil/Bath Salts
  • Toothpaste
  • Hair Color and Hair Bleach
  • Baby Products

The good news: There are lots of great performing sulfate-free products (that may lather naturally) in the marketplace to replace those sulfate-ridden products, which makes the transition nothing to lose your hair over! (Pun intended)

Oh, and by the way, Nick is now a FAN of  his aforementioned sulfate-free product.


  1. I really have to say that I was shocked that such a standard sensory experience that we associate with being clean (and not even a specific product’s unique merits) are caused by a toxic chemical. This is really a marketing/communications challenge for new brands looking to do healthy product… because it really challenges some of the core ways you connect with your body, product, that you’ve never questioned before, and it does result in some resistance / barriers to entry.

  2. In New Zealand we have a plant called Kumerahou. When you rub the flowers together with water in your hands it forms a natural lather. Gum diggers used it to remove resin from their hands so it is also known as Gum diggers soap. The closer you can get to nature you will find that nature has the answers – we are lucky in New Zealand as 86% of the flora here is unique to new zealand as we are so far away from anywhere and surrounded by oceans. Living Nature a New Zealand 100% natural skincare company has harnessed the power of nature and bottled it. The shampoo includes the kumerahou and kelp to naturally stengthen the hair. Their product does a light natural lather and the best thing is it naturally detoxes the hair and leaves it soft and shiny like the hair you had as a kid.

    • Thanks so much for your information on Kumerahou and Living Nature, Louise (I’m a big fan of the Living Nature hand cream, as you can tell). I will clarify in the post that there are natural ingredients that can produce lather. Thanks for stopping by!