SLS - Does it help or hinder?
You've probably heard a statistic like this before...
On average women add more than 200 chemicals to their skin daily, and more than 60% of these chemicals get absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Combine this with chemicals found in hair care and dental hygiene products, such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate, and it’s no wonder why more people are searching for a natural solution.
Where do we find SLS?
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (commonly known as SLS) is a widely used and inexpensive chemical found in many mainstream personal hygiene products such as shampoo, toothpaste, mouthwash, body wash, soaps, and detergents, along with Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and Ammonium Laurel Sulfate (ALS).
The National Institute of Health publication “Household Products Directory” lists Sodium Lauryl Sulfate as a chemical ingredient in more than 80 products! Some household soaps have a concentration measurement as high as 30 percent. This level is considered unsafe and a likely cause of skin irritation. SLS is also found in toothpaste, mouthwash, makeup, body wash, and shampoos.
What is SLS?
SLS is a detergent and surfactant which essentially means that it breaks the surface tension and separates molecules in order to allow better interaction between the product and your hair. This in turn creates a lather which makes products such as shampoo and toothpaste more effective cleaners. So effective and so inexpensive is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate that it’s found in a number of industrial cleaning agents such as engine degreasers and industrial strength detergents. It’s also widely used as a skin irritant when testing products used to heal skin conditions.
Health concerns from SLS
A 1983 report published by The American College of Toxicology (ACT) found that even relatively low concentrations, less than one-half percent, might result in harmful skin irritation.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is one of the common ingredients used in shampoos. This makes shampoo a frequently reported product to the Food and Drug Administration. Some of the typical reports and complaints include split or fuzzy hair, swelling of the arms, face or hands, irritation of the scalp and irritation of the eyes. The good news is that these bad effects and other dangers can be completely eliminated by using natural and safe cosmetic products.
Look for these names on ingredient labels: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), and Ammonium Laurel Sulfate (ALS)
Sodium lauryl sulfate is a surfactant, detergent, and emulsifier used in thousands of cosmetic products, as well as in industrial cleaners. It is present in nearly all shampoos, scalp treatments, hair color and bleaching agents, toothpastes, body washes and cleansers, make-up foundations, liquid hand soaps, laundry detergents, and bath oils/bath salts. Although SLS originates from coconuts, the chemical is anything but natural. The real problem with SLES/SLS is that the manufacturing process (ethoxylation) results in SLES/SLS being contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogenic by-product.
SLS is the sodium salt of lauryl sulfate, and is classified by the EWG Cosmetics Database as a "denaturant, surfactant cleansing agent, emulsifier and foamer," rated as a "moderate hazard." Similar to sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is sodium laureth sulfate (short for sodium lauryl ether sulfate, or SLES), a yellow detergent with higher foaming ability. SLES is considered to be slightly less irritating than SLS. Ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS) is another surfactant variation commonly put into cosmetics and cleansers to make them foam. ALS is similar to SLS, with similar risks.
SLS goes by other names, including:
+ Sodium dodecyl sulfate
+ Sulfuric acid, monododecyl ester, sodium salt
+ Akyposal SDS
+ Sodium salt sulfuric acid
+ Aquarex ME
+ Monododecyl ester sodium salt sulfuric acid
+ Aquarex methyl
Studies about SLS
Can 16,000 Studies About SLS Be Wrong?
According to the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Reviews,6 research studies on SLS have shown links to:
Irritation of the skin and eyes
Neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, ecotoxicology, and biochemical or cellular changes
Possible mutations and cancer
If you visit the SLS page on the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) website, you will see a very long list of health concerns and associated research studies. In fact, you will also see their mention of nearly 16,000 studies in the PubMed science library (as well as their link to that list) about the toxicity of this chemical. There are clearly grounds for concern about using products containing this agent. Yet skeptics abound, claiming that these concerns are overblown and unfounded. It's no wonder that consumers are completely confused about just how much risk this chemical poses.
High levels of SLS intake, either orally or through the skin, are not ordinarily experienced in normal cosmetics use—it's the gradual, cumulative effects of long-term, repeated exposures that are the real concern. And there is a serious lack of long-term studies on ALL of the chemicals in these products—so we don't really know what the long-term effects are. It's not just repeated exposure to one chemical—it's the combined effect of thousands of little chemical exposures, day in and day out, that is of concern.
Next we’ll talk about the biggest offender, Fragrance.