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Sodium Lauryl Sulphate – Toxic Lather

This week as we continue with our series on cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid let’s talk lather.

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) is a surfactant, or foaming agent, commonly used in cosmetics and personal care products.  We have become used to certain products foaming up (shampoo, toothpaste) and SLS definitely delivers on the suds.

But at what cost to our health?

SLS, and its milder cousin Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), are esters of Sulphuric acid.   SLS and SLES are linked to skin and eye irritation.  We’ve all experienced the intense stinging when shampoo gets in our eyes and studies done on animals show permanent eye damage due to the regular use of SLS.  Many conventional shampoo manufacturers use chemical ingredients thought to have an anesthetizing effect, masking the true reaction the SLS is causing.

While both SLS and SLES have been dismissed as cancer-causing chemicals, they are known penetration enhancers which alter the epidermal structure, allowing other chemicals to more easily penetrate the skin.

And while it is true that SLES is milder than the harsh SLS, SLES is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a chemical by-product linked to cancer and is thought to have longer lasting effects than SLS.

Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate(ALS) and Sodium Lauryl Sulphoacetate(SLSA) are similar sounding cosmetic ingredients with the same job as SLS and SLES – they are used as foaming agents.  ALS is the ammonium salt of lauryl sulfate and, though the health risks are the same as SLS, this one is said to be milder.

But SLSA is different.  This one is a plant-derived surfactant, usually from palm or coconut oils, and is very mild.  The molecular size of SLSA is much larger than the others, too large to penetrate the skin. SLSA is commonly used in natural cosmetics to produce lather and keep ingredients from separating.

The Cosmetic Trade Industry Association (CIR) says sulphates “appear to be safe in formulations designed for discontinuous, brief use followed by thorough rinsing from the surface of the skin.”  Doesn’t sound so safe, huh?  If you have to limit your use of a product to “discontinuous” and “brief” for it to be safe, you may want to not use the product in the first place.  Germany will not allow a cosmetic product to be labeled “natural” if it contains any ingredients from the sulfate family (lauryl, laureth or ammonium).

To identify these ingredients in cosmetic and personal care products look for:

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS), Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate; Sulfuric Acid, Monododecyl Ester, Sodium Salt; Sodium Salt Sulfuric Acid, Monododecyl Ester; Monododecyl Ester Sodium Salt Sulfuric Acid; Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Sodium Lauryl Sulfate; Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate; Sulfuric Acid Monododecyl Ester Sodium Salt; Ai3-00356; Akyposal Sds; Aquarex Me; Aquarex Methyl

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Dodecyl Sodium Sulfate; Peg- (1-4) Lauryl Ether Sulfate, Sodium Salt; Polyethylene Glycol (1-4) Lauryl Ether Sulfate, Sodium Salt; Poly (Oxy-1,2-Ethanediyl) ,A -Sulfo-W (Dodecyloxy) -, Sodium Salt; Polyoxyethylene (1-4) Lauryl Ether Sulfate , Sodium Salt; Sodium Peg Lauryl Ether Sulfate; Sodium Polyoxyethylene Lauryl Ether Sulfate; Sodium Polyoxyethylene Lauryl Sulfate; Sodium Salt Peg- (1-4) Lauryl Ether Sulfate; Sodium Salt Polyethylene Glycol (1-4) Lauryl Ether Sulfate; Sodium Salt Poly (Oxy-1,2-Ethanediyl) ,A -Sulfo-W (Dodecyloxy) –

Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate(ALS), Dodecyl Ammonium Sulfate; Sulfuric Acid, Monododecyl Ester, Ammonium Salt; Ammonium Salt Sulfuric Acid, Monododecyl Ester; Monododecyl Ester Ammonium Salt Sulfuric Acid; Ammonium Dodecyl Sulphate; Neopon Lam; Akyposal Als 33; Ammonium Dodecyl Sulfate; Ammonium N-Dodecyl Sulfate; Conco Sulfate A; Dodecyl Ammonium Sulfate

[Foamy hands photo via Shutterstock]

Written by Liz Thompson

I am an organic beauty expert, writer, and mom of two young environmentalists who can already spot a toxic product when they see one. Read more about me at Organic Beauty, and find me on , Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

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