What is a Sulfate Allergy, and How Will it Affect Me?

What is a sulfate allergy?

Sulfates are contained in just about every personal hygiene product on the market today. Ammonium laurel sulfate is the most common form, and it is used as a foaming agent in everything from shampoo and conditioner, bar and hand soap, toothpaste, and laundry detergent. Sulfates show up in many multi-vitamin tablets, usually in the form of zinc sulfate. Perhaps because sulfates are in everything we use, more and more people are developing sulfate allergies.

Symptoms of a sulfate allergy include an itchy skin rash that can last for several days upon contact. When the sulfate allergy is severe, the rash can turn into full-blown hives that cause the throat to swell and breathing to become difficult. In milder cases, the allergy will cause a rash only after repeated or prolonged contact. A person can develop a sulfate allergy at any age for any reason.

What do I do if I have a sulfate allergy?

If you find yourself with a brand-new sulfate allergy, don’t panic. Your life is not over, although you will have to make some major changes. It can be hard to find sulfate-free products, especially if you live in rural area.

Health food stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s carry many sulfate-free alternatives. Usually these brands have the added benefit of not being tested on animals, not containing animal by-products, and being all or partly made from organic ingredients. Just because it’s on the shelf at Whole Foods, however, doesn’t mean you can use it. Read the labels before you purchase anything, and ask a clerk for help. They usually have quite a bit of experience helping people with sulfate allergies and can recommend the best products.

If you are having trouble locating sulfate-free products, you can order directly from the companies that make them online, although usually that’s a more expensive solution than finding a store that carries them. Avalon Organics, Nature’s Gate, and Herbal Scent Creations are just three of the sulfate-free cosmetics companies you can order from online.

While you wait for your order to arrive, you still need to get by without your old products. You can use baking soda in the meantime to wash your hair and in the shower, for laundry, and even as toothpaste.

What if my partner has a sulfate allergy?

If your partner has a sulfate allergy and you want to be together for a while, expect to make some lifestyle changes. At the very least, you need to wash your bedding in sulfate-free laundry soap or baking soda. If you have medium-length to long hair, you’ll absolutely need to switch shampoos to keep your partner rash-free when you cuddle. Ideally, your allergic partner will help identify potential threats around your home to keep her safe and recommend solutions and products.

Other possible allergies


Sulfa is an antibiotic group commonly used to treat urinary tract infections. If you know you have a sulfate allergy, tell your doctor. You are probably very allergic to sulfa as well, and an allergic reaction to an antibiotic can be life threatening.


Sulfites are commonly found in liquors, especially bottled cocktail drinks like Bartles and James. Some red wines are also made with sulfites. Manufacturers of liquor are required to label their bottles as containing sulfites, specifically for this reason. Check the labels on the bottles before you buy them for a warning. Usually a sulfite warning will be listed on the label around the bottle’s neck.

Some frozen and canned foods also contain sulfites, particularly foods with tomato or pizza-like sauces. In this case, sulfite will be listed as one of the ingredients.

Synthetic fragrances

For whatever reason, a sulfate allergy is often accompanied by sensitivity or allergy to synthetically made fragrances. That means anything with a perfume can potentially cause a rash or breathing problems. Fortunately, products scented with essential oils are safe, as they derive directly from the plant they smell like and do not contain chemical additives. You don’t have to live without pretty-smelling soap, you just have to be careful that the label doesn’t list “artificial fragrance” as one of the ingredients.

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