The Dangers of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

If someone asked you if you’d like to use an engine degreasing solvent on your skin, what would you say?  Overwhelmingly, the answer would be “No!” Abrasive and corrosive, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate are two ingredients found in many industrial cleaners…and skincare products.  As you may suspect, these substances can be irritating to skin and toxic to our bodies. 

What are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate?

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are two ingredients found in cosmetics, personal care items and cleaning products that cause them to foam.  A derivative of ethoxylated lauryl alcohol, they are surfactants that help make body surfaces moist.  SLS and SLES are also emulsifying agents that help ingredients blend well for a prolonged shelf life.  Both substances come from coconuts but are combined with other ingredients in the manufacturing process.

Found in almost every skincare item that foams, SLS and SLES are ingredients in facial cleansers, body washes, shower and bath gels, shampoos, toothpastes and bubble baths.  They are also found in industrial strength cleaning products such as car wash soaps, laundry detergent, floor cleaners, engine degreasers.

Other names for SLS include: sodium salt, sodium salt sulfuric acid, sodium dodecyl sulfate, aquarex me, aquarex methyl, monododecyl ester and sulfuric acid.  Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS) is similar in structure and risk to SLS and SLES.

Why are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate Dangerous?

SLS and SLES are known skin and eye irritants, are toxic to organs, and have adverse gastrointestinal reactions.  After all, these ingredients are strong enough to clean and cut through grease on motor vehicles, and are used as cleaning agents on indoor and outdoor floors.  As cleansers, they work by corroding surfaces. 

Clinical trials on animals showed strong evidence that products containing SLS and SLES used around the eyes, all over skin or that may become airborne (like those in aerosol bottles) are human irritants. In fact, some laboratories intentionally use these products to irritate skin in experiments designed to test products that relieve skin irritation.  Beyond irritation, SLS and SLES can cause skin rashes and infections, and may cause hair loss as they attack follicles.  They clean through corrosion, which leaves skin dry, dehydrated and without the natural essential oils skin requires for protection. 

Additionally, SLS and SLES can become contaminated in the manufacturing process.  There have been reports of ethylene oxide, nitrates and 1.4-dioxane contamination, which make SLS and SLES toxic and may be carcinogenic.  The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Healthy claims this toxic interaction can lead to problems in the central nervous system, kidneys and liver.  Another study from the University of Georgia Medical College found that SLS can be damaging to the brain, heart, eyes, especially in children.  Ingestion may also cause diarrhea, vomiting or nausea.

In reports from the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), SLS and SLES can be harmful in concentrations great than 2% and recommends limiting concentrations to 1% or lower.  The Environmental Working Group also cites high contamination concerns and high risk of skin, eye and lung irritation along with moderate concern for organ system toxicity.  Despite these warnings, there are not restrictions on SLS and SLES in consumer products. 

Enzymes help the human body break down many substances, but our bodies lack the enzymes to deconstruct the chemicals in SLS and SLES.  Instead, they accumulate in the body over time.  While isolated exposure may not conclusively show harm, this accumulation can be damaging to the body.

Even if the government does not restrict use of SLS and SLES, Natura Veda does.  Our skin is a delicate surface that requires gentle, natural cleansing solutions.  There are many natural alternatives to harsh chemicals like SLS and SLES that ultimate prove better results for our skin and our bodies as a whole.