Ask G

Ask G: Is Sodium Lauryl Sulphate really that bad?

Sodium laureth sulphate is known as a bad guy, but it's been wrongly accused

There's been a lot in the media about sodium lauryl sulphate and how it might cause cancer. Is this true?


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Sodium laureth sulphate (SLS) and it's cousin, sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES) have received a bad rap.

These chemicals are found in shampoos, shower gels, mouth rinses, toothpaste, detergents, and even in some foods.

Why do add SLS and SLES to everyday items?

Sodium laureth sulphate is a type of surfactant, which means that breaks the surface tension of water. In basic terms, this is what causes your shampoo to suds up.

Somewhere along the lines (mis)information about a link with cancers has crept into the mainstream and caused a panic.

The concern comes from the fact that, in strong doses, (such as that found in industrial cleaners) SLS can be a strong irritant. It has also been associated with causing cataracts. But this is only when used in concentrated amounts.

When added to your average shampoo, the concentration is much less than industrial cleaners.


The bottom line is that, despite many scientific studies, there are no studies that link SLS or SLES with cancer.

SLS and SLES (to a lesser extent) may cause skin irritations. But this is also true of many other ingredients in beauty products.

Skincare companies are starting to take notice of the bad publicity SLS and SLES are receiving and are starting to remove the synthetic versions in favour of coconut-derived versions. But they are really only doing this in response to concerned customers, not because of health concerns.

While you might want to avoid SLS and SLES for skin irritation reasons, don't avoid it for cancer concerns. After all, it's been in our beauty products for years and we haven't noticed the ill health effects. And shampoo wouldn't be as much fun if it didn't suds up.


Your comment is laughable - "we've been using SLS for years without any noticeable ill health effects".
Is that why we've got an explosion of cancer in recent years?? Something must be causing it! Think on!

My concerns about SLS/SLES come more from an environmental position than a skin irritant/carcinogen perspective. Sourcing the chemicals from plants grown in unenvironmentally sound plantations is of more concern to me, personally.

I also don't agree with this conclusion - it's a pretty PC one to be honest.

As Patty has stated, it doesn't account for the mass effect of the chemical cocktail in conventional products.

The other thing is that anything that is 'derived' is bad. It is manufactured in a lab and has undergone a lot of chemical changes in most cases to get it to the point of inclusion in products. This includes all the sulphates, including ammonium lauryl/laureth sulphate.
Whereas, anything that has been extracted is good. That is what people would be looking out for.

Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate is also derived from Coconut or palm - mostly from un-environmentally friendly sources so it should also be avoided if you care about the rainforest and environment. As I'm sure we all do.

In the end - if you can't pronounce it - it's been produced in a lab from synthetic ingredients and is most likely bad for you. So avoid it.

I can recommend products that don't have any nasties in it - but it's not my place to do it here.