Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and/or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are key ingredients used in cleaning products. We will refer to both as SLS in this article. From garage, floor and household cleaners to shampoos, toothpastes, soaps and baby washes.
There is much debate surrounding SLS and its 'true' dangers. Without a doubt, some of its dangers have been over exaggerated. However what is true about SLS is the following:
1) it is a known skin irritant and eye irritant
2) it increases skin's permeability and is used in certain lotions to increase absorption into the skin. This can compromise the skin barrier function over time
3) it can 'over strip' your scalp and skin causing it to be dry and flaky particularly for individuals with sensitive skin
4) the production of SLS involves a process called ethoxylation which creates a by-product called 1,4 dioxane. 1,4 dioxane is a known carcinogen and there have been concerns that SLS contains trace contamination of this chemical. Some personal care ingredient companies have started making 1,4 dioxane free sodium laureth sulfate by adding an extra purification step. It's difficult to ascertain which companies are using the 1,4 dioxane free sodium laureth sulfate because it's not required by the FDA to list whether there is trace contamination with 1,4 dioxane on the label. The FDA simply 'encourages' manufacturers to remove 1,4-dioxane, though it is not required by federal law.
SLS is so widely used as a primary foaming agent in most cleaning products because it cheap. Soaps have been around for thousands of years, chemical surfectants, less than a 100. Shampoos since the mid 1800s were simple formulas of soap bars and water with natural herbs. Procter and Gamble created the first sulfate shampoo in 1930, forever creating the association of shampoos to foamy lathering formulas that most people are used to today.
Foam is not a necessity for cleaning, but most consumer studies show again and again that that people prefer a shampoo that provides copious amounts of foam. People are conditioned to think that more foam equals more effective cleaning.
Surfectants, are basically a mixture of molecules that attract both water and oil which allows it to separate dirt and oil from your skin so that it can be rinsed off your body and down the drain. A gentler alternative to sulfate surfactants are alkyl polyglycosides. The head group is a sugar instead of a sulfate.
Whatever the controversy around SLS, I would much prefer to avoid anything that produces a carcinogenic by product in it's manufacturing process even if the trace contamination can be subsequently 'purified' through another step in the process. I choose not to support yet another polluting process that our planet does not need!
Why not choose something that's milder on the eyes and on the skin. An alternative that does not compromise your skin barrier function.
Orli's natural SLS free WASH and SHAMPOO uses coco glucoside; made from 100% biodegradable and marine safe coconut oil and fruit sugars. It is an anionic surfactant that mildly cleanses by helping water mix with oil and dirt so that they can be rinsed off. It's suitable for all skin types and gentle enough for babies. The Duhring Chamber test lists it as having the lowest irritation score of all surfactants.