Desert survival

What has this got to do with sulfates?

An unsurprising side effect of living in the desert is dry skin, but since I’ve been here something like 30 years, I don’t always notice. It’s less of a problem at other times of the year and in other parts of the state. But the Sonoran desert is extremely dry, and if there’s anywhere to feel like a shriveled and wizened husk of a person, it is here.

That is why, several years ago, I made a conscious effort to avoid drying sodium lauryl sulfate in personal products that I use. Of course, sulfates in various forms are ubiquitous in shampoos, lotions, and even toothpaste, as sulfates are foaming agents, and American marketers have trained us to associate lots of foam with lots of clean. I guarantee, though, that it’s rare that I’m showering to remove “oily stains and residue” from myself.

It’s getting easier to find SLS-free soaps and cleansers on the market, but it’s still tricky. I picked up some organic shea butter soap a couple weeks ago and forgot my own rule of checking the ingredient list: now my skin is like white sandpaper; even my heavy-duty, sulfate-free Burt’s Bees lotion can’t make up for it. (Burt’s Bees, incidentally, is one of the few natural lines to not use sulfates, ever…also I’m an unapologetic though uncompensated advocate for their badass new tinted lip balm.) The only thing a product’s presence in the natural section almost always guarantees is a funky scent and a drab color (but if you check, that big gray-green or brownish soap probably still contains dyes).

There are sulfate-free mainstream products, though. My favorite facial cleanser doesn’t contain sulfates, and they make a pretty good lotion, too. L’Oreal makes a sulfate-free line of shampoos and conditioners, which consciously ape Aveda scents and ingredients in a way that’s kind of funny. They create this downmarket Aveda air, but the actual Aveda shampoo is only about three bucks more.

Anyhoo. Apropos of nothing, last night, we caught the episode of An Idiot Abroad in which Karl Pilkington travels to Peru. He is obliged to spend a couple nights in the jungle, and I had to admit, that that is one place I have no interest in experiencing, and someday, when we get around to seeing Machu Picchu, I’ll arrange it so that there’s no jungle camping. Gah. I know unequivocally that I would step into the jungle, look around, and in under five minutes, be desperate to escape the heat, humidity, and teeming insectity.

And at that point, sulfates would probably sound pretty great.


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