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?

Shampooing

Credit: iStockphoto

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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.

Evidence

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.