Cosmetic companies and the FDA don’t seem to have a problem with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureate Sulfate (SLES), so why should I? You may have heard about these two chemicals, but didn't know why people do what they can to avoid them. Here’s the deal so you can make a decision for yourself and your family:
Both SLS and SLES are foaming agents and surfactants used for cleaning. They are commonly found in:
Both SLS and SLES are synthesized from lauryl alcohol, which can be derived either from plants or petroleum. Regardless of the source of the lauryl alcohol, in the end they are always highly processed and mixed with other chemicals to create SLS and SLES.
SLES differs from SLS by one oxygen molecule and is created by adding ethylene oxide to SLS. Through this process, called ethoxylation, a harmful bi-product called 1,4-dioxane is created. Some manufacturers will attempt to reduce the 1,4-dioxane in SLES, but it is not completely removed. SLES is less irritating to the skin, but potentially more dangerous.
According to several sources, neither one are great. Both are known irritants. While SLS is known to be an irritant, SLES is known to often contain a by-product called 1,4-dioxane. This by-product is a likely carcinogen and the FDA has recommended all cosmetics manufacturers "reduce" the dioxane contained in their products, though it is not required by law. According to the FDA, the cosmetic industry was aware of the presence of this harmful chemical in 1982. However, SLES is also still a major source of 1,4 dioxane. Consumers can identify potential products with 1,4 dioxane by looking for these ingredients: PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxythylene, oxynol, ceteareth, oleth, -xynol, -eth
Additionally, 1,4-dioxane (the by product created when making SLES which can be present in SLES in varying concentrations) is:
Though the Cosmetic industry claims that SLS and SLES are safe to use over a short time, there is no definition of what a "short time" is. Most of us shampoo our hair at least three times a week for most of our lives, wash our hands multiple times a day, wash dishes regularly, etc... Therefore, we probably use products with SLS/SLES up to 5-10 times a day for most of our lives... Clearly, safety in the long-term needs to be studied.
However, the results of such tests offer varied results and is difficult to sort through. This leaves consumers confused about what to believe and who to trust:
Overall, the long-term effects of SLS/SLES are generally unknown. Scientists have also not studied the long-term effects of washing SLS, SLES, and 1,4-dioxane down the drain. They do know that 1,4-dioxane has been found in the groundwater across North America. If both the FDA and Health Canada have recognized it as a carcinogen, then what is it doing to the animals, nature, oceans, and lakes?
As you probably know, our skin (including our scalp), is like a giant sponge. Chemicals applied to the skin are absorbed into the blood stream and then distributed throughout our organs and tissues. Many of the chemicals we encounter are stored and accumulate in our organs over time. As far as I could find, there are no scientific studies which clearly support or contradict that SLS or SLES stores in vital organs. It becomes your decision to take a chance.
by Joanna Rosso
by Joanna Rosso
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