Understanding SLS and its impact.

SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) has been around since the 1930’s, it was introduced as a soap alternative. It was great because it is an oil based alternative (normally derived from or palm oil or coconut oil) and was effective at trapping oil based dirt and yet still washing it away with only water. It gained its popularity with its effectiveness and simplicity.


SLS is made from Lauryl Acid found in palm oil or coconut oil, combined with sulphuric acid found in petroleum and then is neutralised with sodium carbonate, this makes SLS a surfactant and detergent. Surfactants help lower surface tension, this lowered surface tension is what causes foaming and why SLS is so common in bathroom products.


Most of the products that SLS appear in are topical, but in recent years SLS has moved from shower gels and shampoos to oral care products like toothpaste. Meaning SLS is now being ingested in small amounts. Although there is no definitive research to show long term health concerns, SLS is one of the most common chemical irritants. Causing flare ups of dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis and skin rashes. This is because SLS strip all oils from the skin and hair, exposing pores and drying out skin. By removing all oils, the body tends to over produce oil compensate. This is why many people find that over washing their hair tends to lead to oiler hair.


There is more research being conducted into the more severe, longterm side effects of SLS. This research is mostly unfounded, however it is gaining traction. More studies are being done providing more insight into long term usage. Because products containing SLS wash into water ways, research is now being conducted onto its environmental impacts as well.


Its well known that everything that washes down the drain, ends up in the ocean and has some kind of impact on marine life. There is now research to show that SLS is having a negative impact on micro organisms, including Daphnia Magna, which in the long term can effect the entire marine eco system. Not only is there an after use effect on marine life, there is also manufacturing impacts due to SLS being commonly derived from Palm Oil. There are also significant environmental impacts in producing SLS. These include deforestation, social poverty in rural communities and endangering wildlife (a full blog on the impacts of Palm Oil coming soon). SLS can be produced from coconut oil, but it is costly and can still be mixed with palm oil to keep costs lower.


With all this negative research and buzz, people are starting to become weary of SLS. Alternatives have come about including SLES, SAS, SCS and ALS. Although they are similar to SLS, they are significantly less potent and damaging. Most of these alternatives are developed from coconut oil and have lower environmental impact. Bar products also contain no SLS. Due to how bar products are applied there is less contact with the scalp and reduced irritations for those with sensitive scalps. SLS is normally the second largest ingredient in shampoo bottles after water.


At Sustainable Essentials we have done the research, so you don’t have to worry about the nitty gritty science behind the brands and products. There’s no SLS on our website and none in the company’s we retail.


Shop our SLS free shampoo’s here.

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