Chemical Nasties: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

July 28, 2015 Beauty Edits
sodium lauryl sulfate

Chemical Nasties is a new blog series on Classic Muse where I do a write up while I research chemicals to keep an eye out for on product labels. Hopefully it will help fellow eco-conscious consumers too!

While you’re able to save some coin buying chemical-laden mainstream household and cosmeceutical products, your body may be paying a much higher price. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is one such chemical to be aware of and here’s why.

What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate?

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) has been a star ingredient in thousands of household and personal care products for many years now despite being recognised as an eye and skin irritant by the US Cosmetic Ingredient Review. They are made from fatty acids extracted from petroleum, palm or coconut oils which are converted into fatty alcohols and then sulfonated so it crystallises.

It’s an effective detergent and surfactant commonly used in cosmetic products like shampoos, soaps and shower gels, moisturisers and toothpastes, just to name a few.

What does SLS do?

As it is a detergent/surfactant, it “breaks surface tension and separates molecules” to facilitate the cleansing properties of a product so it’s also accountable for the lather factor of your products.

It’s also an additive used to ‘bond’ ingredients in products to produce an emulsion, preventing the separation of certain substances. Think about how oil and water don’t stay ‘mixed’ when you shake and stir them! Adding an emulsifier like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate creates an environment that allows them to play nice with each other.

How does it affect my body?

Studies conducted by the Environmental Working Group show high concerns of skin, eyes and lung irritation as well as moderate concerns of non-reproductive organ toxicity. Though, I should note that it is determined safe for use in cosmetics but really depends on the concentration and how it is used.

Besides being an irritant at higher concentrations, other side effects are more gradual and cumulative with repeated exposure to SLS.

Quick tips on going SLS free

Should you decide you want to completely ditch products containing Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, here are a few things to keep in mind next time you’re at the shops:

  • Avoid products that list SLS, SLES, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium lauryl ether sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate or sodium dodecyl sulfate on the ingredients label.
  • Beware of brands with claims of being “natural” or “eco-friendly” because many still use SLS in their products, so read the ingredients list carefully!
  • If there is no ingredients list on the product, see if a staff member can give you some answers, or simply hold off on purchasing it until you can find a definitive answer online.

I’m very much on the fence when it comes to SLS in products but the age old saying “prevention is better than the cure” still rings true to me, which is why it would be best for me to reduce the use of products containing SLS before it is too late.

What are your thoughts on products containing SLS?

Much love,

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