Sodium Lauryl / Laureth Sulfate – The Cheap and Nasty Cleansing Agent
Although this article is going to delve into the topic of sodium lauryl sulfate, a compound similar to sodium laureth sulfate, and also known as SLS, we might wrap it all up with this one quote from an article from the Mercola website: “Nearly 16,000 studies mention the toxicity of sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a surfactant, detergent, and emulsifier used in thousands of cosmetic products and industrial cleaners… SLS has also been linked to nitrosamines, potent carcinogens that cause your body to absorb nitrates, which are known to be carcinogenic as well.”
So, as you can see, it is best to avoid it and always do online and real world searches for sodium lauryl sulfate free shampoo, body wash without sodium lauryl sulfate, and sodium lauryl sulfate free toothpaste, among many other products you use daily. You can keep yourself safe and free of risk when you use Certified Organic toothpaste, Certified Organic hair care, Certified Organic oral care, and Certified Organic skincare.
Yet even some ‘natural’ labelled skincare products have sodium lauryl sulfate on the labels. That means you need to become an avid reader of product labelling, even with ‘natural’ skincare products to be sure SLS appears nowhere in print. While you can easily find shampoo, toothpaste and face wash without sodium lauryl sulfate, you still benefit from knowing just what it is and what you can do to avoid its risks.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Dangers
It is actually helpful to begin any assessment on the dangers of sodium lauryl sulfate by looking at a comparison of sodium lauryl sulfate vs. sodium laureth sulfate. As one chemistry expert has said, “The major difference is in the manufacturing process. To make SLES, SLS goes through a process called ‘ethoxylation.’…both are very similar, SLS is a skin irritant. This can cause some minor skin irritations like dry, itchy skin. SLES is formulated be much milder and not irritate the skin.”
Yet, you can see that there is no difference. One is a purer form of the compound and one is derived from it, making them essentially the same. There are claims that one is gentler, but both can cause the same sodium lauryl sulfate side effects. In fact, the ethylene oxide used to create the sodium laureth sulfate is another noted carcinogen.
That brings us to the next question: Just how is sodium lauryl sulfate made? It is something that can be made from petroleum or, surprisingly enough, coconut oil. However, the original material is put through a rigorous process of chemical extraction in order to get the lauryl alcohol out of the original agent. Once this is removed, it is treated with sulfuric acid (yes, you read that right!) and the end result is the SLS you find in so many products. So, if you were wondering if plant derived sodium lauryl sulfate is safe, the answer is no. Though it can be sourced from coconut oil, the process used is so dangerous and unhealthy that it results in a harmful agent regardless of its form as SLS or SLES.
With an answer as to just where sodium lauryl sulfate comes from, it is important to understanding why it is used at all. The simple truth is that it is used as a bit of a trick on the consumer. When added to soaps, toothpastes and other products, it creates a dense lather and is a popular surfactant (bubble producer). This is also why it is added to many detergents and commercial or industrial cleaners. Unfortunately, there is also sodium lauryl sulfate in food where it is used as an emulsifier and thickener. For example, it “can be found in dried egg products, some marshmallow products, and certain dry beverage bases.”
With so many sodium lauryl sulfate uses, it might seem that it is safer than we think. Though the FDA in the United States says it is safe, the reality proves them wrong. After all, a basic safety study showed that SLS is alright if used briefly and rinsed instantly from the skin. Prolonged exposure of more than 1% solution, though is not safe and can lead to skin irritation, allergic reactions, and of course its links to cancer.
Remember too that many experts explain that it is also something to avoid for more than just its potential risks as an irritant and carcinogenic compound. Consider this short list:
- It pollutes ground water and ends up in drinking water supplies
- It is used to kill insects and plants
- It is toxic if heated and releases sulfur oxides and sodium gases
- It enables other compounds to enter the body, essentially leaching materials that would not pass the skin barrier on their own to enter the bloodstream
- Sodium laureth sulfate is bad for hair as it strips it of all essential oils, destroys the protein stands and halts healthy hair growth
- SLS is harmful to the skin for the same reasons it is dangerous for hair – it strips it of any beneficial oils and leaves it dry and damaged
- It is dangerous to use when pregnant
This last point is so important we need to take a closer look at it now…
Is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Safe During Pregnancy?
Now that you know how sodium lauryl sulfate is made and the risks it poses, you understand that it is to be avoided during pregnancy. It is, in fact, one of the most important shampoo ingredients to avoid when pregnant because of its potential risks to unborn children. According to the experts at The Bump website, “sodium lauryl sulfate, a popular surfactant found in shampoos, has been linked to birth defects in animal studies.”
Yes, that says animal studies, but we have also already learned that SLS passes easily through the skin if left on for any length of time. Anything that passes into the bloodstream of the mother may eventually reach the baby, and that is just another reason to become a dedicated label reader when buying any sort of cosmetics or personal care products. You may also want to reduce the frequency of your shampooing if you are struggling to find a shampoo you are certain is free of potentially dangerous ingredients.
For example, that same site explained that there are many other chemicals to avoid during pregnancy readily found in hair care and beauty products. These included “parabens; rosemary; synthetic fragrances, which may contain phthalates; and a preservative called methylisothiazolinone (MIT). Phthalates may alter hormone levels, and in scientific studies, MIT inhibited the growth of rats’ nerve cells.”
Entering through the skin and hair follicles, these products do pose at least the potential for risk, and should just be avoided at all costs.
The Best Route Is to Use Certified Organic
Whether you are a pregnant woman or someone just eager to avoid the risks posed by SLS and SLES, one of the best ways to avoid these ingredients is to buy Certified Organic skincare and other products. As the Australian Certified Organic Standard website explains, it is the “rulebook for businesses certified with Australian Certified Organic.” It goes beyond the national organic and biodynamic standards set by the government. Instead, it combines national and international standards and if the iconic “BUD” insignia appears on a product, it means that “all the product ingredients have been certified to the Australian Certified Organic Standard and have met rigorous certification checks.”
In other words, it says that Certified Organic cosmetic products are safe during pregnancy, and that it is just as wise to use Certified Organic face wash during pregnancy, too. Yet it also means that anyone who wants to reduce exposure to chemical ingredients should opt for the Certified Organic insignia or certification when buying cosmetics, skin care, oral health products like toothpaste and even when buying household cleaners, too.
Certified Organic skincare products are safe during pregnancy and at all other times and well worth your investment. They are free of the potentially harmful agents such as SLS and SLES, and it cannot be ignored that they are also far better for the environment. Remember that you might read that SLS is safe if used for a moment or two and rinsed away, but keep in mind where that rinsing goes…down the drain. It enters the public or ground water supplies and does a lot of damage.
Though you might read that SLS and SLES are derived from plant sources like coconut oil, they are heavily and chemically processed. There is nothing natural or organic about them. They have been proven (in thousands of studies) to be problematic, irritating and potentially carcinogenic. Why risk their use when there are Certified Organic skin care, hair care and cosmetic products just as effective and safe. Don’t jeopardize your health or that of an unborn child for the convenience of cheap products. Instead, invest in health and wellness for yourself, family and environment with Certified Organic products.