Natural Health > Harmful Products > Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES).
What it is, where to find it and how to avoid it.


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Both Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and its close relative Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) are commonly used in many soaps, shampoos, detergents, toothpastes and other products that we expect to "foam up". Both chemicals are very effective foaming agents, chemically known as surfactants.

Unfortunately, both sodium laureth sulfate and its cousin are also very dangerous, highly irritating chemicals. Far from giving "healthy shining hair" and "beautiful skin", soaps and shampoos containing sodium laureth sulfate can lead to direct damage to the hair follicle, skin damage, permanent eye damage in children and even liver toxicity.

Although sodium laureth sulfate is somewhat less irritating than SLS, it cannot be metabolised by the liver and its effects are therefore much longer-lasting. This not only means it stays in the body tissues for longer, but much more precious energy is used getting rid of it.

A report published in the Journal of The American College of Toxicology in 1983 showed that concentrations of SLS as low as 0.5% could cause irritation and concentrations of 10-30% caused skin corrosion and severe irritation. National Institutes of Health "Household Products Directory" of chemical ingredients lists over 80 products that contain SLS and SLES. Some soaps have concentrations of up to 30%, which the ACT report called "highly irritating and dangerous".

Shampoos are among the most frequently reported products to the FDA. Reports include eye irritation, scalp irritation, tangled hair, swelling of the hands, face and arms and split and fuzzy hair. This is highly characteristic of sodium laureth sulfate and almost definitely directly related to its use.

Click here to learn of the possible health effects of sodium laureth sulfate

So why is a dangerous chemical like sodium laureth sulfate used in our soaps and shampoos?

The answer is simple - it is cheap. The sodium laureth sulfate found in our soaps is exactly the same as you would find in a car wash or even a garage, where it is used to degrease car engines.

In the same way as it dissolves the grease on car engines, SLES also dissolves the oils on your skin, which can cause a drying effect. It is also well documented that it denatures skin proteins, which causes not only irritation, but also allows environmental contaminants easier access to the lower, sensitive layers of the skin.

This denaturing of skin proteins may even be implicated in skin and other cancers.

Perhaps most worryingly, sodium laureth sulfate is also absorbed into the body from skin application. Once it has been absorbed, one of the main effects of SLS is to mimic the activity of the hormone Oestrogen. This has many health implications and may be responsible for a variety of health problems from PMS and Menopausal symptoms to dropping male fertility and increasing female cancers such as breast cancer, where oestrogen levels are known to be involved.

Products commonly found to contains SLS or Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Soaps
Shampoos
Bubble-baths
Tooth paste
Washing-up liquid / dish soap
Laundry detergent
Childrens soaps / shampoos
Stain Remover
Carpet Cleaner
Fabric glue
Body wash
Shave cream
Mascara
Mouthwash
Skin cleanser
Moisture lotion / Moisturiser
Sun Cream

To find hair, personal and household products without ANY SLS or other harmful chemicals, please click this link - SLS-free products.

The use of sodium laureth sulfate in childrens products is particularly worrying. It is known that, whether it gets in the eyes or not, skin application DOES lead to measurable concentrations in the eyes of children. This is known to affect eye development, and the damage caused in this manner is irreversible. If you have children DO NOT USE products containing sodium laureth sulfate or SLS - they will thank you for it one day.

Do not believe that just because a product is labeled as "natural" it is free from SLS or sodium laureth sulfate. Most common brands of "Natural" or "Herbal" shampoos and cleansers still use these harmful chemicals as their main active ingredient - check your labels!

That is not to say that you can't get sodium laureth sulfate-free shampoos, soaps, detergents and toothpastes. Some highly reputable companies have been producing such products for years. These products not only contains no sodium laureth sulfate, they are also free of other harmful chemical colorings, preservatives and even flavourings.

Recommended SLS-Free products

Soaps

Natural Soap

Shampoos

Natural Shampoo

Hair Coloring

Natural Hair Coloring

Bubble-baths

Natural Bath products

Cosmetics

Natural Cosmetics

Cleansers and skin care

Natural Skin Care

Shave Cream (His n Hers!)

Natural Shaving Products

Mouth Care / Oral Care

Natural Toothpaste and Mouthwash

Sometimes people forget to take supplies on vacation or business trips. Take our advice and make sure you replace the products in your wash-kit as well as your bathroom. You will be very grateful you did.

The potential effects of SLS on health are discussed here and the NLM's data on the subject is available here.

Natural Health > Harmful Products > Sodium Laureth Sulfate

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