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Sodium Laureth Sulfate In Skin Care

Alternative Natural Ingredients To Look Out For Instead

What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and is it bad for my skin?

If you do choose to shun SLS and opt for natural, clean beauty products, there are many soaps and toiletries out there that use milder alternatives to provide the same bubbles.

The following natural ingredients derived from sugar3 are just as effective at getting products all foamed up and giving you a good clean:

  • commonly used in baby shampoos and those with sensitive skin
  • Alkyl polyglucoside a group of raw surfactants made from vegetable oils and starch used in many cosmetic and personal care products.

Why You Should Avoid Sodium Laureth Sulfate In Skincare

You might remember beauty guru Jonathan Van Ness saying sodium lauryl sulfate is the same thing that cleans the car engine in a car. But even the biggest JVN fan might not know about sodium laureth sulfatea similar, and equally troubling, ingredient.

No matter if youre a beauty aficionado or exploring skincare for beginners, knowing whats in your products, why theyre there, and how they help is key to creating a healthy and beneficial routine. So what is sodium laureth sulfate? How is it related to sodium lauryl sulfate? What are sodium laureth sulfate skincare products? And how easy is it to find clean skincare products that dont use it?

What Are The Benefits For You

  • Helps oil and water-based ingredients, which generally dont mix, to become dispersed.
  • Cleanses the skin and hair by attracting oils like sebum and allowing them to be rinsed away with water.
  • Makes a rich lather, which is not responsible for cleansing but helps the hands work the product through the hair or across the skin.

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What Are The Concerns With This Ingredient

There are several concerning issues with this ingredient, particularly since SLS appears in so many of our everyday products. First, it’s irritating. A report by the Journal of the American College of Toxicology noted that concentrations of 0.510% of SLS caused slight to moderate skin irritation, while 10-30% caused skin corrosion and severe irritation. In addition, the ingredient is routinely used in clinical studies to deliberately irritate skin, so that healing solutions can be tested. Right there that’s enough to make me want to keep this stuff away from my skin! They also reported eye irritation, which comes into play specifically with SLS-containing shampoos.

That’s not all. In the same report, toxicologists stated that SLS had a degenerative effect on the cell membranes because of its protein denaturing properties. Protein denaturing means that the structures of the proteins in the skin are disrupted and possibly destroyed. Skin aging as a result of sun exposure is believed to occur because of protein denaturation. In other words, SLS can age the skin. Problem number two!

Finally, the same report noted that SLS can easily penetrate the skin to burrow into the deeper tissues and even the bloodstream. High levels of skin penetration may occur at even low-use concentration, they noted. This is especially concerning if SLS causes other health issues, which many suspect that it does.

May Irritate Your Skin


Many people who live with sensitive skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis choose to use products that do not contain SLS or other synthetic ingredients as they believe that they are kinder to their skin.

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review have approved SLS and SLES safe for use, however that comes with a few caveats.

SLS has the potential to irritate the eyes and skin, especially if it is not formulated correctly or is left on the skin for prolonged periods of time.2

You can find SLS-free body washes, soaps, bath creams, and many more beauty products that use different agents to foam up and clean your skin.

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Side Effects Of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Nazarian says although sodium lauryl sulfate is not a bad ingredient for most people, it can, in fact, be an irritant. “If you’re going to get it in your eyes or if youre not going to wash it off your skin and youre going to leave some of the residue on your skin, it can be irritating,” Nazarian says. But Lu adds that the potential for irritation is mostly based on the concentration of sodium lauryl sulfate. “The higher the concentration, the higher the potential of irritation,” Lu says.

Nazarian and Jaliman advise anyone with a true allergy as well as those with sensitive skin or eczema to avoid using sodium lauryl sulfate in their skincare products. However, both dermatologists say other skin types should be fine using it if they want to, and Lu adds that these people don’t need to swear off sulfates altogether. “Generally, for all other skin types, we wouldnt go as extreme as recommending to avoid all sulfates, because its still possible to create a good, non-stripping formula that contains sulfates,” Lu says.

As far as allergies go, Nazarian says when a patient comes in with a potential contact allergy, sodium lauryl sulfate is one of the ingredients that they will test for, but it’s more of an irritant than it is an allergy. “Anything can be an irritant if its used the wrong way or if its on the skin too long,” she explains. “Its more likely to be an irritant, meaning we just need to teach people how to use it and how often to use it.”

What Does Sulfate Do To Your Hair

When it comes to hair products, the concern has to do with the state these sulfate-based detergents may leave your tresses in. When used in shampoos, sulfates are efficient cleansersmaybe a little too efficientand can pull a lot of natural oil from hair and skin. Theyre so good at cleaning that they can actually strip your hair of its natural oils and make it feel frizzy, dry, and brittle.

Theres also a common misconception that sulfates can affect color-treated hair. “It’s a myth that sulfates will strip hair color,” Romanowski says. “They don’t strip the color any worse than any other shampoo detergent.”

In some cases, sulfates can cause dryness and irritation on your scalp. However, as the Centers for Disease Control notes, the complex molecular interactions in sulfates make it difficult to fully understand why some people may experience irritation. As is the case with any skin irritation, its best to consult a trusted doctor or dermatologist for additional help.

Lortscher says that hair-care products with sulfates may contribute to acne around your hairline or acne on your back , while toothpastes with sulfates may lead to skin issues in areas that come into contact with foam.

Lortscher also notes that hair-care products with sulfates may contribute to acne around your hairline or acne on your back , while toothpastes with sulfates may lead to skin issues in areas that come into contact with foam.

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Are Sulfates Bad For Skin

The degree of irritation caused by sulfates is dependent on the duration of exposure and the amount of the ingredient that penetrates the skin.

The latter is determined by a number of different factors such as the chemical properties of the ingredient, the way that it is applied, environmental factors , and the condition of the skins barrier .

Furthermore, skin irritation from SLS varies between individuals. For example, a number of research studies have found individual variations in the irritation threshold of SLS meaning the lowest concentration of SLS required to cause visual skin inflammation after a 4-hour patch-test.

For some people, a concentration of less than 0.1% SLS was enough to cause visual skin irritation while others showed little irritation to SLS concentrations over 20% .

A key point to note here is that the various concentrations of SLS were applied to the skin, covered , and then left on for 4 hours which is not reflective of how cleansers containing SLS or other sulfates would be used.

One reason that the irritation potential of SLS and other sulfates may vary between people may be due to the rate at which they penetrate the stratum corneum. Research has found that the thickness of the stratum corneum and the baseline rate of transepidermal water loss are highly predictive of how irritating a person is likely to find SLS .

The Skins Barrier Function & Why Its Important

Ingredients Yay or Nay: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

The skins barrier function is performed and maintained by the outer-most layer of the skin, the stratum corneum, which keeps water in the skin and keeps irritants out.

The stratum corneum is said to have a brick and mortar like structure, where skin cells are held together by a mixture of lipids . The lipids play a vital role in regulating the water content of the skin. When the lipids are reduced within the stratum corneum, more water is able to escape leading to reduced skin hydration and more irritants are able to penetrate the skin and cause inflammation.

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Sodium Lauryl Sulfates Impact On Sensitive Skin

Youd like to be able to assume that because SLS and SLES are in so many products today that means theyre safe to use on your skin. However, research and anecdotal evidence say otherwise.

In fact, SLS is so well-documented as an irritant that its used as a positive control to determine how irritating new skincare products are comparatively. Wild, right?

Researchers from Germany found that 41.8% of patients exposed to SLS had an irritant reaction. Oddly enough, another study found that the warmer the water used with SLS, the greater the level of irritation.

That means when youre using that SLS-containing shampoo or body wash in a hot, relaxing shower, youre only increasing your irritation level!

While sodium lauryl sulfate is a known irritant, theres no evidence supporting that its carcinogenic as you may read elsewhere on the internet.

Is Sodium Laureth Sulfate Bad For Skin

Are sulfates as bad for your skin as they are made out to be? Whats the difference between SLS and SLES? Is Sodium Laureth Sulfate bad for skin? Should you be using sulfate-free cleansers?

In a world where people think all chemicals are toxic and misinformation is rife, how do you work out which ingredients are bad for your skin and which are just misunderstood? Are sulfates always bad for skin?

The short answer?

No, sulfates are not universally bad for the skin.

Lets have a look at why sulfates, such as Sodium Laureth Sulfate, get a bad reputation and why they may not be as bad for your skin as you think

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How To See If Your Beauty Products Are Safe

You can use tools like INCIDecoder and the EWGs Skin Deep database, which offer further information on the ingredients included in your favorite personal care products, and whether you should be concerned about using.

If youre unsure about what you see on a label or online, you can always consult your primary-care doctor or dermatologist for their professional opinion. The most important thing is to think beyond the splashy claims in advertisements and on product packaging and focus on what the ingredients listed on the back mean and fortunately, the aforementioned resources can help you do that without getting too overwhelmed.

How Does Sls Work

Sodium Laureth Sulfate is the foaming agent used in most cleansers ...

SLS is a surfactant an agent that lowers the surface tension between different ingredients, e.g. between two liquids, a gas and liquid, or a liquid and a solid.

When it comes to beauty products, its main benefits include:

  • Trapping oil-based dirt so it can be rinsed away with water
  • Turning liquids into foam for that rich lather we all expect and enjoy when were washing
  • One common concern with SLS is that it is used in both beauty / self-care products as well as household cleaners where it performs a very similar function.

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    Where Is Sls Hiding And Why Should You Avoid It

    Posted on Feburary 22, 2022

    Who can resist an invigorating foaming party on our skin and that squeaky-clean feeling after cleansing until you discover those suds are actually duds for your skin. Enter sodium lauryl sulfate or SLS the most common chemical lathering agent.

    Although there is a lot of confusion around the safety of SLS, were here to help get to the bottom of the controversial ingredient. Lets dive right into why SLS is bad for your skin and health and where it is commonly found.

    What Is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate ?

    Its easy to forget that our skin is not the impenetrable fortress we sometimes believe it to be. While our skin does have protective mechanisms in place, some things we put on it can sneak directly into our bodies. Sodium lauryl sulfate is one such culprit that has more diluted intentions on its mind than the safety of you and your skin.

    SLS is a chemical agent found in many skin and body care products that is most often used as an emulsifier or surfactant. As an emulsifier, it helps to stabilize and thicken products for smoother application. As a surfactant, it acts as a cleansing and foaming agent, giving a stronger impression of cleaning power.

    It is often how SLS is sourced and its skin-stripping properties and long-term health side effects that are of controversial nature.

    How Does Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Affect Our Skin and Body?Risks and Research On Why Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Is Harmful

    Check out the potential risks of this sneaky toxin:

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    Are Sulfates Bad For You

    The biggest issue with sulfates is that they can cause varying levels of skin and eye irritation, which gets worse the longer the product is in contact with the skin. “Sulfates can often dry out the skin, and some people find they may lead to more acne when their skin is in frequent contact with sodium lauryl sulfate, explains Dr. Lortscher. This is typically less of a problem with body skin , so most people tolerate sodium lauryl sulfate in body washes.”

    Sulfates in toothpaste could also potentially be to blame for some symptoms inside your mouth as well. Sodium lauryl sulfate can cause or irritate existing allergies, canker sores, and bad breath, Dr. Fields-Lever says. And, she notes,”there are some professionals feel sodium lauryl sulfate can be harmful to the mucosa of the mouth.”

    There was a time when people believed sulfates cause cancer. The perception that sodium lauryl sulfate is carcinogenic appears to have arisen in the early 1990s, Dr. Lortscher says. But, he notes, those claims have been disproven. According to a review of the toxicity of sodium lauryl sulfate in humans and in the environment this false claim is thought to have derived from multiple misinterpretations of the scientific literature. sodium lauryl sulfate is not listed as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the U.S. National Toxicology Program, California Proposition 65 list of carcinogens, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or the European Union.

    Benefits Of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate For Skin

    What is Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and How to Buy SLES

    A relatively inexpensive ingredient, sodium lauryl sulfate is included in a wide variety of products with a wide range of uses. In skincare, it’s predominantly used as a detergent to remove oils.

    • Lathers up: The foamy lather is not only used for its sensory properties , but Nazarian says the suds also contribute to cleaning the area by attracting the oils.
    • Cleans efficiently: Nazarian says by stripping the oils, sodium lauryl sulfate is responsible for giving you that squeaky clean feeling. Thanks to the foamy lather, a little bit of the product goes a long way and in a sense, makes your products a little bit more efficient. “You dont need much and you feel like youre getting a bigger clean,” she says.
    • Removes makeup: If you wear a lot of oil-based or long-wear makeup, Nazarian says you might find that a sudsy cleanser allows you to break it down and remove it more effectively.
    • Emulsifies: According to Jaliman, sodium lauryl sulfate can help to bind two ingredients together, such as oil and water, to prevent separation in the formula.
    • Fights bacteria: Jaliman says it also has some antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.

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    Uses For Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

    All the soaps and cleaning products that you use are a mix of water and oil. But they donât mix together on their own.

    Instead, surfactants bring them together. Soap’s cleaning power comes from the bonded oil and water molecules rubbing against dirt and grease.

    That is why so many products have surfactants in them. They blend the ingredients that make cleaning happen.â

    Sodium lauryl sulfate is very easy and inexpensive to make, and it works well in many situations. You’ll see it listed as an ingredient in common products found in the home and in the workplace. â

    Personal Products. These include things like:

    SLS is also a foaming agent. Many of these products use SLS to give a foaming action during the cleaning process. If you have a foaming face wash or are working up a good lather with your shampoo, you’re probably using something with SLS.â

    Cleaning Products. Sodium lauryl sulfateâs ability to break down oil and grease lends itself well to industrial products. You can find it in household cleaning products as well as engine cleaners and industrial-strength soaps. â

    Food. You may see SLS used in certain foods you eat, within limits approved by the FDA. As a food additive, SLS can make marshmallows fluffier and dried egg products lighter. It helps mix citrus and other acidic liquids with water to make fruit drinks.

    However, SLS is not allowed in food globally. In fact, it is banned from being used as a food additive in the European Union.


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