Is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Bad for Your Skin?

Simply cleaning your clothing in the laundry can result in a variety of chemicals that can enter onto your clothes and impact not only the fabrics material that has been washed by this cleaning agent, but it may also have a lasting impact on your health – specifically your skin. The everyday laundry products that most households use to clean their garments can include laundry detergent, fabric softener, freshening beads, and a variety of other laundry care products that have become popular in recent years. However, before we use these products, we often neglect to look closer at the ingredient list of these products to determine the various chemical agents that are used to provide these products its cleaning capabilities in the washing machine. And these seemingly harmless laundry care products can harbor within them potential threats to human health.

A common ingredient that is found in several cosmetic and household products that has been found to elicit certain adverse health reactions is a chemical called SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate). SLS is present in many laundry detergent products and when used on clothing and other household materials it has been said to cause allergic reactions and skin irritation, along with other potential health effects after long-term exposure.

In this article we are going to learn more about sodium lauryl sulfate and determine how this commonly found laundry detergent chemical can impact human health when exposure occurs on the skin.  

What is SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate)

What is SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate)Sodium lauryl sulfate, also referred to as SLS is a chemical agent that is commonly used in cleaning products due to its inherent ability to clean, according to Chemical Safety Facts. This chemical is labeled as an emulsifier and foaming agent that is commonly used in cosmetic products, along with industrial cleaners. The SLS chemical is said to be derived from coconuts but this will also include contamination of this derived coconut with toxic byproducts during the manufacturing process. This chemical has been utilized in shampoo’s and other cosmetic products since the 1930’s due to its ability to act as a foaming agent that provides a lot of bubbles and cleaning power.

The sodium lauryl sulfate has been used in a variety of products that are utilized in the home each and every day in the environment. In addition to acting as a surfactant in these different household products, SLS will also have the capability to wet surfaces, emulsifying or solubilizing oils, and suspending soil so that it is easily rinsed away in the wash.

What Does Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Do

The chemical cleaning agent sodium lauryl sulfate was originally derived from both petroleum based and vegetable-based sources – and the sources of the SLS ingredient in chemical products will vary depending on the brands and their specific cleaning products. In the process of producing SLS, fatty acids will be extracted and converted to fatty alcohols, which will then sulfonate to become a crystalline salt. After the sodium lauryl sulfate has undergone this process if the SLS undertakes “ethoxylation” it will then convert the SLS to SLES (sodium laureth sulfate).

As we stated earlier, the sodium lauryl sulfate will be used in products primarily as an emulsifier that helps to keep all the ingredients within the specific product mixed up, as well as act as a surfactant that will help clean and create a lather while using the household product, like laundry detergent. However, although the SLS provides many beneficial capabilities to these different household cleaners, it also has been found to create a potentially adverse reaction – specifically to the human skin where the chemical can spark irritation. This new discovery of this product has led to the strong consumer desire to learn more about what exactly this chemical agent is doing to human skin and determine if they should avoid the use of products that contain this chemical ingredient.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Uses

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate UsesThere are several different uses of sodium lauryl sulfate, particularly in a home where it is utilized in a wide range of household cleaning and cosmetic products, like toothpaste, shampoo, shaving creams, bubble bath soap, laundry detergent, etc. This highly effective surfactant that is used to remove oily stains and residues can also be used in high concentrations in industrial products such as engine degreasers, floor cleaners, and car wash soaps. In addition, sodium lauryl sulfate has also been used as an emulsifier or thickener in food. The SLS food additive helps to make marshmallows and dried egg products, giving it that light and fluffy consistency when made.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate vs Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

When it comes to a widespread ingredient used in most personal care products, sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate are two chemicals that are very commonly used. Both of these chemicals, although closely related in terms of the name and capabilities, there are some major differences that help to distinguish between these two chemical cleaning agents. While the chemical structure of these two chemicals are nearly identical, it differs by a single oxygen atom from SLES that is added during a process that is known as ethoxylation. This process thus converts the lauryl to laureth.

When SLS and SLES are used in these different household cleaning and cosmetic products, it has been documented that they both can cause irritants to both the skin and eyes. According to Dermveda, this irritation that is elicited from SLS and SLES can eventually lead to skin redness and dehydration, as well as an altering in the skin barrier function and the natural pH level of the skin. These degrees of irritation produced from sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate will vary from person-to-person, by duration of skin contact, and even by the time of year.

Is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Safe?

Is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate SafeThere have long been debates over the safety of the chemical cleaning agent used in many different household cleaning agents and cosmetic products used every day, called sodium lauryl sulfate. As we discussed previously, one of the major risks of SLS exposure and use could be the development of skin irritation in certain individuals – this will depend on the amount of exposure, length of contact time, and even the time of the year that the exposure occurs. It was reported by Kosmea, that SLS can strip the skin of its natural oils which will therefore cause dry skin, irritation, and reactions. In addition, it can also be a very irritating agent on the eyes and lead to an inflammatory skin reaction that could be followed by itchy skin and scalp, eczema, and dermatitis.

For some individuals, continual use of SLS in their laundry detergent or other household cosmetic items can trigger a reaction as the SLS chemical ingredient begins to penetrate the skin, this may be the result of an allergy to sodium lauryl sulfate. When this penetration occurs, it can make the skin more vulnerable to the absorption of other foreign irritants.

Allergy to SLS in Detergent

When a person starts to experience what seems like allergy-symptoms from exposure to these products that contain sodium lauryl sulfate in its ingredient composition this may be indicative of an allergy to SLS. The symptoms that may be elicited could include dry skin, itching, and flaky skin that will be sensitive. In reality, however, it may not necessarily be an allergy to laundry detergent – or more specifically the SLS chemical that you are experiencing. Rather it may just be a sensitivity to the chemical agent instead. According to Livestrong, it is said that toothpaste that have sodium lauryl sulfate present in the ingredients has been associated with physical reactions that will include cracks at the corner of the mouth or the development of canker sores.

SLS Free Laundry Detergent Alternatives

If you are someone who has sensitive skin that is easily impacted by the SLS chemical used in your regular, everyday detergent which can lead to the need to switch your laundry detergent to a more natural, less toxic detergent alternative. It is best to look for a safe laundry care product that states in the ingredients to be “sodium lauryl sulfate free” and even finding one that is all-clear labeled which means it does not contain any harsh or toxic chemicals in its ingredients. There are a variety of safer, alternative laundry detergent for sensitive skin and laundry care products that contain fewer toxic ingredients including the omission of sodium lauryl sulfate in its chemical list.

Although there are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to selecting a SLS free laundry detergent, what can you do if your clothing and other household fabrics have already been tainted by these chemicals in previous washing loads that used SLS detergent? The EnviroKlenz Laundry Enhancer is a specifically designed laundry additive that can be safely and effectively use in most wash loads to eradicate and expel chemical odors completely from the fabrics of the material(s). The EnviroKlenz Laundry Enhancer works alongside your normal everyday detergent to enhance its ability to remove those tough odors that would normally be impossible to remove, and best of all EnviroKlenz Laundry Enhancer contains no masking agents or fragrances providing you with a clean and odor-free results.

The proprietary EnviroKlenz® technology works through the use of safe, nontoxic earth minerals that will capture, contain, and neutralize a variety of toxic and noxious chemicals and odors from the surfaces of the fabric’s materials. This technology allows for the odors and chemical compounds that are latched tightly into the fabric’s fibers to be contained and neutralized by the EnviroKlenz earth minerals on contact. Check out the EnviroKlenz Laundry products now to learn more about the technology and the different odorous compounds that it can neutralize when used in your wash load!

Article Sources:

  1. Chemical Safety Facts: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (link)
  2. Dermveda: Sodium Laureth Sulfate or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate? (link)
  3. Kosmea: What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Why Should We Avoid it? (link)
  4. Livestrong: Sodium Laureth Sulfate Allergy (link)

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EnviroKlenz® Medical Disclaimer:

“Any information that is provided on this website is not for the use by any commercial or personal entity without expressed written consent of the blog author. The material and statements illustrated within this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases or medical conditions. Nor does the author in any way guarantee or validate the validity, totality, or efficacy of any claims and will therefore not be held responsible for the content of any claims. Always consult your medical physician for any specific medical advice or recommendations.”

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