Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are two similar chemicals used throughout the bath and body care industry as surfactants, detergents, and emulsifiers. They are used in virtually thousands of cosmetics products as well as industrial use as shampoos and detergents. The concern over these two chemicals is that they are listed as ‘moderately hazardous’ on the Canadian environmental Working Group (EWG) cosmetic database and can contain two other ingredients which are listed as high hazard.
Why be concerned?
The two ingredients that we are primarily concerned about are ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane. These two ingredients, 1,4 dioxane is a by-product of ethylene oxide, are in fact considered to be contaminants to the SLES. This is of particular interest because on their own they are not permitted for use in cosmetics due to their suspected carcinogenic nature. They are toxic to the brain, central nervous system, kidneys and liver, as well as being a groundwater contaminant and deadly to aquatic life.
Recommended use for SLS/SLES is in the 5% range. After this it is recognized as a skin irritant, so much so that some medical procedures which require irritation of the skin use this precise chemical to do the trick. Unfortunately, many cosmetic ingredients including shampoo, body wash, bubble bath, and hand soaps use SLS or SLES at concentrations exceeding 40%. This makes current data based on the 5% very misleading.
Sources of SLS/SLES include eye makeup, lipstick, sunscreen, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, mouthwash, bath bombs and other body care products. It’s also a main ingredient in your dish soap, laundry detergents and fabric softeners. With it’s potential to irritate the skin, it can well be imagined the long term effects such continuous and prolonged exposure could have to human health.
Unfortunately, most testing is based on short term exposure and very little data is available for long term use. The Canadian government has identified these ingredients as requiring further testing however, so eventually we’ll get the official word – but will it be too late?
What you can do
With the potential for rash, itching, eczema, cellular changes, cancer, and organ toxicity we’re not comfortable with using this product in our day to day products. Review the cosmetics you’re using and check the labels. There are other options, safer options, for your products and one of them is Sodium Lauryl Sulphoacetate (SLSA) which is a similar detergent but is a larger molecule that does not permeate the skin and thus washes off after use. It is much kinder to the skin and does not damage or interfere with cell structures. Find SLS/SLES free products and avoid using chemicals with ‘eth’ in them as well as those with ethylene.
Small changes now can have significant rewards in your future health and that of your family.