Wellness

What Is Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate?

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101-SLS_SLES

This is part of our ongoing series helping consumers better understand chemicals, chemistry, and product formulations. We translate the science, bust the myths, and give you an honest assessment, so you can make informed choices for your family!

Ingredient:

These are actually two different, but closely related, chemicals: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES).

What they are:

Sodium lauryl sulfate can be made from petroleum oil (via the OXO process) or from coconut or palm oil (via the Ziegler process). In both processes, fatty acids are extracted and converted to fatty alcohols, then sulfonated to become a crystalline salt. If SLS undergoes a chemical process called “ethoxylation,” it becomes SLES.

What they do:

Both of these chemicals are used in products primarily as emulsifiers (to help keep all ingredients properly mixed up) and surfactants (to help clean and create lather). They can be found in shampoos, toothpastes, mouthwashes, body washes, soaps, detergents, and more.

Why we’re featuring them today:

For many years, SLS was the star surfactant in skincare products, despite being a known irritant. This is so well-known, in fact, that it’s commonly used in lab testing to intentionally harm skin: Following application, scientists can compare the effects of untested products against SLS or test the efficacy of products intended to heal skin.

Widespread concern over the past few years compelled many companies to look for a gentler alternative. Putting SLS through the ethoxylation process led to the creation of SLES, a milder surfactant; it also often produces 1, 4-dioxane, a toxic contaminant and likely carcinogen. Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that companies strip out this nasty chemical, it’s not a requirement. That’s likely why independent testing conducted by the EWG found this contaminant in 46% of products tested.

SLS and SLES are both included in our Honestly Free Guarantee which means we’ll never use them. We’ve switched over to sodium coco sulfate (SCS), which is a gentler alternative always derived from coconut.

Want your home to be Honestly Free of SLS & SLES?

It’s as simple as reading your ingredients labels. Avoid anything that lists the following: SLS, SLES, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium dodecyl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, or sodium lauryl ether sulfate. (There are actually even more names for these two ingredients, but the ones above are most commonly used in the marketplace.)

Be aware: Many brands that claim to be “natural,” “green,” or “eco-friendly” still use these ingredients, so read carefully! If it’s a company you love, ask them to use a safer alternative. Together, we can make it better…

References:

  • Campaign for Safe Cosmetics : Contaminants in Bath Products. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2014, from http://safecosmetics.org/article.php?id=221
  • Geier, J., Uter, W., Pirker, C., & Frosch, P. J. (2003, 12). Patch testing with the irritant sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is useful in interpreting weak reactions to contact allergens as allergic or irritant. Contact Dermatitis,48(2), 99-107. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0536.2003.480209.x
  • Loffler, H. et al. Pitfalls of irritant patch testing using different test chamber sizes. American Journal of Contact Dermatitis. March 2001, pages 28–32.

30 Comments

  1. avatar

    I am highly allergic to the chemical, whatever it’s being called, and started using Honest products solely because of the Honestly Free Guarantee. It’s amazing how much easier cleaning myself and the house is without worrying about blisters and hives and rashes just from soap!

    • avatar

      We are sorry to hear about your allergy Meg, but we are thrilled that the Honest products have been working so well for you! We love getting such positive feedback, in fact, it’s what we work for. Thanks for the support!

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  3. avatar

    Thank you, Honest Company for enlightening me! I have been searching for guidance in making small, everyday changes for a healthier, more wholesome way of life. I work full time and have found it exhausting, in the past, to sift through information about living naturally and healthy. I always seemed to find myself on some blog about how to lose weight or a website about home rememdies. THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN SEARCHING FOR! I’ve had so many questions about ingredients in my skin care products, healthier food alternatives, everyday inspiration and so much more. Your website and blog present information so simply and purposefully. I think this is the beginning of something big for me. The push I needed… I just thought you should know. 😉

  4. avatar
    NWChickie

    The ingredients for a the dish soap I use states it’s plant-based sodium lauryl sulfate. I’m assuming that must be the coconut derived SLS. So should I still be concerned because of the process that it goes through?

  5. avatar
    Melissa Gomes

    Sodium coco sulfate is just as bad. A good alterntive is coco-glucoside.

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  22. avatar

    SCS contains a mixture of various cleaning agents that include a significant amount of SLS.

  23. avatar

    The chemical structures of ‘sodium lauryl sulfate’ and ‘sodium coco sulfate’ are exactly the same. So why do you claim the coco version is any ‘gentler’? What science do you use to measure gentleness?

    Or is this ‘woo-hoo’ just based on the erroneous belief that plants can’t be as toxic as synthetic chemicals? Just because it comes from ‘Nature’ or is ‘Natural’ doesn’t mean it can’t kill you. Think of poisoned toad-stools.

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  27. avatar

    Does sodium C12–14 fatty alcohol sulphate come from SLS as well?

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