I know Organix products aren't completely "organic." They still contain surfactants and silicones. Some people read the back and see an ingredient that bears a striking resemblance to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, and they wonder if the "sulfate-free" claim is just another marketing lie.
Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate: The Good
The surfactant Organix shampoos contain is Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate. This is not the same thing as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or any other -Sulfate surfactant. Sulfates are irritating in part because they're small molecules that can penetrate the skin. Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate is a larger molecule that can't penetrate skin. (Sources: Essential U Blog, Truth in Aging.)
Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate is known to be very gentle to the skin, even at very high concentrations it remains non-irritating to even sensitive skin types.
Structurally it is a considerably larger molecule than many other surfactants and belongs to a category known as anionic surfactants, meaning that it has a negative charge. The safety and mildness of Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate lies in the absence of a sulfate ion head, which is commonly found in many other surfactants. The sulfate ion, which originates in sulfuric acid, is replaced with the more stable and safer sulfonated ester. The result is an effective yet safe product that offers a plethora of advantages over sulfate chemicals.
Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate: The Questionable
According to the journal Contact Dermatitis, 10% Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate displays "similar" signs of irritation to 2% Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (Source).
I emailed Organix customer service to inquire about how much Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate their shampoos contain. Here is the complete, unedited answer:
Thank you so much for contacting us! Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate is a foaming agent in ---. Just to clarify, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate has not been sulfated in the production process which makes it free of sulfates. Even though it may sound alike, it is not a Laurel Sulfate. Sulfosuccinates are the sodium salts of alkylester of sulfosuccinic acid not sulfuric acid. Sulfates are salts of sulfuric acid. This surfactant is a very mild surfactant and can be found in many sulfate free shampoos that are on the market today. We use approximately 21%. Have a great day!
Customer Service Department
A 21% Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate solution would be comparable irritation-wise to a 4.2% Sodium Lauryl Sulfate solution. I think the average drugstore shampoo contains about 10% SLS. If I'm right, that means Organix shampoos are less than half as irritating as the average SLS-containing shampoo.
Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate: My Choice
Is Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate the perfect cleanser? Of course not. It can still cause irritation, and it's not exactly natural. But is it better than -Sulfate surfactants*? I think so.
* Harsh sulfates include sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS), ammonium laureth sulfate (ALES), sodium myreth sulfate (SMS), sodium myristyl ether sulfate (SMES), and basically any other surfactant ending in "sulfate."