If you’ve been looking for the the causes of a skin complaint or damaged hair, chances are someone on the internet has pointed the finger at SLS, or sodium lauryl (or laureth) sulfate, a common ingredient in beauty products, washes, toothpastes and even cleaning products. So what this material does, why it is found in everything, and what does the evidence say about how safe it is?
Why is SLS?
When we use a wash or beauty product on our skin, it may be a liquid made of water phase and oily phase. As we know, oil and water do not mixed, so something is needed to keep the ingredients together. That something is called Surfactant. A surfactant allow oil and water molecules to bind together – that’s what is found in soap and detergent so we can wash our oily faces or dishes with water and get the grime to disappear.
Sodium lauryl sulfate is a surfactant, and its efficacy, low cost, abundance and simplicity mean it’s used in a variety of cosmetic, dermatological and consumer products. You can also find pure sodium lauryl ether sulfate for sale on various online chemical stores to make soaps at home and for various other purposes.
Is this dangerous?
The outermost layer of our skin is specifically designed to keep dangerous things out, and this is where surfactants can cause problems. Using chemicals that weaken this defense mechanism has the potential to cause loss of our skin.
And some surfactants are more irritating to our skin than others. For something to be harmful, irritant or allergenic, it has to fulfil two criteria.
It has to have been found in studies to irritate human skin, and it has to have the ability to penetrate the skin. SLS ticks both of these boxes.