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Sodium Lauryl Sulfate: Friend or Foe?

Source: user Sleepy Kisser

Source: user Sleepy Kisser

Sodium lauryl sulfate (or SLS) is one of the most challenged ingredients in skin care products. Not to be confused with sodium laureth sulfate, a gentler version of the ingredient in question, sodium lauryl sulfate is created by mixing sulfuric acid, monododecyl ester and sodium salt. It is used in shampoo, soap, detergent, bubble bath and even toothpaste as a cleansing and foaming agent. SLS is what gives your shampoo those rich suds that you love so much, plus it has the ability to seek out grease and gobble it up. In fact, SLS is used in car washes and even car garages where it can either clean the outside of your car or de-grease dirty engines. These actions make it perfect for use in oily skin treatments and hair products for oily scalps. However, sodium lauryl sulfate has a dark side that leaves us all wondering whether we should be seeking other ingredients for our cleansing needs.

Sodium lauryl sulfate is commonly used as a skin irritant in clinical testing. It is applied to the skin to cause a rash or a similar reaction in order to create the correct atmosphere for a sensitive skin care product to be tested for effectiveness. On a slightly more shocking level, SLS has been shown to remain in organ tissues like the heart, liver and brain long after it was applied to the skin. It can strip away the skin’s protective lipids, seriously irritate and damage the eyes, and cause hair loss by damaging the follicle. It also works as an usher for environmental contaminates, as it “opens up” the more sensitive layers of the skin to external damaging aggressors. Of course, these adverse affects generally appear only when excessive amounts of sodium lauryl sulfate are used. However, even if you’re only using a small amount of SLS in your daily beauty care products, are you sure that you want this ingredient anywhere near your skin knowing its possible effects?

So, why is SLS used? The answer is simple and unsurprising – it’s cheap and able to get the job done. This benefits both the manufacturer and the consumer – if it’s cheaper to make, it’s cheaper to sell. For those who aren’t worried about the possible effects of SLS, it’s a dream ingredient that offers both the desired results at a wallet-friendly price.

Safety organizations have obviously approved the usage of sodium lauryl sulfate, most likely because the percentages used in skin, hair and oral care formulations are low enough for use without immediate irritation or damage. This leaves the decision up to you. For those who wish to stay away from SLS, there are many beauty treatments that feature coconut-derived cleansers or other gentle cleansing agents. Just take a few extra moments to glance at the skin care ingredient list of the product in question and decide if sodium lauryl sulfate is the ingredient for you.



  1. Posted May 22, 2009 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Just discovered this blog! Thank you for the honest post.

    I avoid sulfates of every kind (sodium lauryl/laureth, ammonium lauryl/laureth, sodium myreth, etc). I’ve found them to be significantly more stripping than gentler surfactants like decyl or lauryl glucoside. Plus, ethoxylated surfactants like sulfates can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane.

  2. Leanna Kelly
    Posted June 1, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for your comment! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

    I agree – sulfates do feel quite stripping, which is why I stopped using them even before I found out that they can actually be dangerous. Interesting to know about 1,4-dioxane, too. I had no idea!

    Thanks again for your comment. I hope you enjoy our future posts.

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