Thursday, February 11, 2010


It’s not an airline of some Scandinavian country. It’s not a new way of sending text messages. And it’s also not a "safety learning school."

So what exactly is SLS? And what is SLES? What’s the difference between them? And why are we making a big deal about them?

SLS (Sodium Lauryl sulfate) and SLES (Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate ) are surfactants – wetting agents that lower the surface tension of a liquid such as water, allowing for better penetration of the liquid and thus acting as primary cleaning agents in many formulations.

SLS and SLES are very commonly used in household products such as toothpaste, shampoo, bubble bath and all sorts of cleaners. They are also very often used in "natural" cleaning products since both SLS and SLES can be coconut derived.

So what’s the problem?

SLS is an irritant. According to the Journal of the American College of Toxicology, "studies at Georgia Medical College indicated that SLS kept young eyes from developing by possibly denaturing the proteins and not allowing for proper structural formation. This damage was permanent." The journal also states that "other research has indicated that SLS may be damaging to the immune system, especially within the skin." The article explains that "skin layers may separate and inflame due to its protein denaturing properties."

In order to make SLS less irritating, it is often ethoxylated, resulting in the modified, far less irritating compound of SLES. Unfortunately, this process of ethoxylation, creates small amounts of the carcinogenic byproduct 1,4 dioxane – something we talked about in greater detail in a previous post on our blog.

How do you avoid SLS and SLES?
For starters, you should look at the ingredient list of the products you buy. You want to look for products that are free of SLS and SLES. Many natural cleaners do contain SLS or SLES – so you need to check natural products as well.

If you have a question regarding a certain product, you may want to try their customer support line, they are often very helpful. They should know what Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate are and can direct you as to whether their product contains either.