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Apr. 17th, 2007

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and its Effects on the Human Body

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and its Effects on the Human Body
Initially, I started to look up information on sodium lauryl sulfate because a friend of mine said the product was destroying my hair. This particular friend is fairly flighty and has a general “natural way is the best way” attitude about everything, so I was not necessarily inclined to believe her. Still, at her insistence I began to wonder what is sodium lauryl sulfate, what does it do, and what products can I find it in.
Sodium lauryl sulfate is a cheap detergent. We can often find it in shampoo, liquid soap, toothpaste, and other house hold products ( It is usually found in these products to act as either a foaming agent or as a thickener (Kramer). It would seem that most people have a lot of contact on a daily basis with this chemical, however this does not mean that the chemical causes damage of any kind. From here though my question began to form, is sodium lauryl sulfate damaging to one's body?
While sodium lauryl sulfate is used in a lot of skin and hair care products today, that is not where we initially put the chemical to use. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate started its career as an industrial degreasant and garage floor cleaner. When applied to human skin it has the effect of stripping off the oil layer and then irritating and eroding the skin ( This chemical is actually used on a routine basis in studies as a skin irritant. In fact, the Journal of the American College of Toxicology notes that this ingredient has a "degenerative effect on the cell membranes because of its protein denaturing properties." The Journal also notes that because of SLS's low molecular weight, it is easily absorbed in the skin and tends to build up in the heart, liver, and brain. While this build up does not directly connect to problems concerning the drug it does lead on to be concerned over the potential for different health conditions resulting from increasing levels in those areas over a person's life span. The Journal also has found that SLS can have a negative impact on one's immune system. This is especially true in the skin where its protein denaturing properties can lead to skin inflammation and separation. While SLS is not a carcinogen, it does cause severe epidermal changes in the area it is applied, indicating a need for tumor-enhancing assays (Steinman).
Skin damage and potential internal concerns are not the only damages sodium lauryl sulfate may do. Other studies on sodium lauryl sulfate show that the chemical could inhibit healing and it could keep children's eyes from developing properly. In adult's eyes the chemical can cause cataracts ( A solution made up with as little as 10% SLS could cause corneal damage if it was not immediately washed from one's eyes. As little as a solution for 5.1% of sodium lauryl sulfate causes “mild irratation” to one's eyes. What might me most concerning is that the Journal of the American College of Toxicology found that sodium lauryl sulfate does damage to baby animals eyes even when it is not applied to the eye area. It is suspected that the properties in SLS that denurture the protiens also do not all for proper structural formation (Steinman). Lastly studies show that sodium lauryl sulphate is such a caustic cleanser that it actually corrodes the hair follicle and impairs the ability to grow hair (
At first, I was less concerned about the damages SLS poses to the eye. After all my body wash and shampoo aren't meant for the eye, and who hasn't ever gotten any shampoo in their eye? I've never heard of anyone getting cateracts from their shampoos. However, that's when I learned that many shampoo products actually put in something called nonionic detergents into shampoo because it is less damaging to the eye. These detergents help to numb the pain if one slips and gets soap into his or her eye. The product isn't actually less damaging, it just helps to create the illusion that it feels less damaging (Steinman). After learning this, it seemed to me that all of this information was really concerning. I'm still less concerned about SLS's effects on the eye, but certainly this trick does not help gain my trust that companies do put any thought or concern in for the consumer when creating these products.
What is more concerning to me is the indication that this substance we commonly use to wash with actually irritates the areas it is supposed to clean and help keep healthy. Another concern I have is about how easily the body does or does not absorb sodium lauryl sulfate and exactly how much a person needs to absorb before it becomes a health problem.
One thing that companies have done to help to reduce the negative effects of sodium lauryl sulfate is they put it through the process of ethoxylation. Ethoxylation is a process that makes decreasing agents like sodium lauryl sulfate less abrasive to the skin and it also helps to make the chemical foam more. The end product after ethoxylation is sodium laureth sulfate, which is an ingredient that one is more likely to find on most bottles of shampoo instead of its more corrosive orginator. Ethoxylation would seem to be a positive process, as it does reduce the damage that sodium lauryl sulfate does to one's skin and hair, however this process can create an extremely harmful compound known as 1,4-dioxane. 1,4-dioxane is one of the main compounds in Agent Orange, and is obviously not something I want near me ( So while sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate are not carcinogens, ethoxylation creates a carcinogen (Steinman) that I may be applying to my skin along with my peach smelling body scrub.
Needless to say, I'm not exactly pleased with the different threats that sodium lauryl sulfate seems to have on my body. After all, I want to be clean, but I don't want to damage my eyes, irriate my skin, or allow this stuff so build up in my system. However, this poses another question, what exactly are the alternatives to using products with sodium lauryl sulfate and are these alternatives better or worse for my body?
For example, sodium laureth sulfate, is technically less harsh on skin, but the federal government has documented ethoxylated alcohol compounds are frequently contaminated with 1,4-dioxane. Detergents and foaming agents that have been ethoxylated can be identified by looking for the prefix, word, or syllable PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, eth, or oxynol. None of these alternative are necessarily more positive for ones body because of how likely it is that the product is contaiminated with 1,4-dioxane (Steinman).
Some suggestions to remove sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate from one's regular usage include making one's own shampoos and soaps. Most people can suppliment their shampoo regime with a baking soda and water solution along with a cider vinegar wash. Doing this weekly instead of daily is often all the cleaning most people need for their hair (Wormwood).
As for phasing out SLS soaps, it would seem that castile soap lacks SLS and other harmful chemicals. The reason this product stopped being used was because of how difficult it is to get off of one's body because of hard water and because this soap will leave soap rings in one's bath tub. Castile soap is better for one's skin and over all bodily health because it lacks SLS or other equally harmful chemicals (Wormwood).
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate isn't a chemical that has been banned in the United States or anywhere else. While it definitely is harmful to one's skin and eyes, the actual studies on it do not tell us enough to know whether or not the exposure we have is extremely harmful to our bodies. Results suggest that daily use of SLS, even in limited doses is could be harmful and is not generally recommended. It is especially important that one not use products with SLS in it on children who are still developing. However, over all the risk of sodium lauryl sulfate and its counter part sodium laureth sulfate seems to be more of an irritant than an definite risk to one's immediate health.

Worwood, Valerie Ann.The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy. New World Library. San Rafeal: Californa, 1991. 140-141 155-157.

Kramer, Stelly R. “ Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate”. Healthy Awareness for the Body and Mind and Solutions for Good Healthy, Harmony, and Prosperity. 16 April 2007. <>

15 April 2007. <>

Steinman, David. “Sodium Lauryl Sulfate”. Health Living. 21 Jan 2005. 16 April 2007. <>

“Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS ) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). The Killers in your bathroom?”. 2006. 16 April 2007. <