Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Causes Hair Loss: True or False?

What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate?

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a common ingredient in hair products, which include soaps, shampoos, and even conditioner.

SLS works mainly as a foaming agent. It is a synthetic chemical derived from petroleum and coconut and palm oils.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a detergent surfactant, which means that it breaks up surface tension and separates molecules in the solution for better interaction between the product and your hair.

This is what causes the “lather”, which makes the cleaners more effective. It’s also what makes that lathery bubbly sensation in most conventional shampoos.

Why Sodium Lauryl Sulfate?

sudsOur friends at Wikipedia have this to say:

SDS is mainly used in detergents for laundry with many cleaning applications.[7]  It is a highly effective surfactant and is used in any task requiring the removal of oily stains and residues; for example, it is found in higher concentrations with industrial products including engine degreasers, floor cleaners, and car wash soaps.

In lower concentrations, it is found in toothpastes, shampoos, shaving creams, and bubble bath formulations, for its ability to create a foam (lather), for its surfactant properties, and in part for its thickening effect.[8]

So, this sulfate chemical is so powerful that it’s used as engine degreaser. Think about that for a minute.

Because it’s so good at removing oils from surfaces, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is also widely used as a skin irritant when researchers are testing products used to heal skin conditions.

We expect our cleaning and soap products to lather, and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate gives manufacturers an inexpensive way to make that happen.

Dangers of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Skin Irritation

skinHigher concentrations of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate in products can cause severe irritation and even corrosion of the skin.

The International Journal of Toxicology provided a safety assessment of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and recommends concentration levels of no more than 1% in everyday household products with prolonged use.

This is disturbing when you realize just how much Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is in these everyday cleaning products, sometimes as high as between 10-20% and in extreme cases over 30%.

SLS Allergy

Allergic reactions to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate  have been associated with scalp itchiness and dry, cracked, itchy or flaky skin. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate may make your skin become sensitive, even if it wasn’t sensitive in the past.

As an ingredient in toothpaste, SLS has been associated with physical reactions including cracks at the corner of the mouth or the development of canker sores.

How to Avoid Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

The names and labeling of different chemical compounds in beauty products can be confusing. Because Sodium Lauryl Sulfate can be made from palm or coconut oil, some products containing it will be labeled and marketed as “all natural.”

This is misleading if you’re looking specifically for Sodium Lauryl Sulfate-free products. Sadly, the only way to make sure a product contains no Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is to read the entire ingredients list.

What does this mean for hair loss?

Irritated, itchy, “degreased” and corroded skin on your scalp is not an optimal environment for hair growth. The follicles need nourishment and space, two things that are more challenging for skin to provide under extreme stress.

If you’ve never considered whether your normal, everyday hair products (ones that almost certainly contain SLS) might be responsible for your thinning or fragile hair, it’s worth finding out.

Eliminate every product containing SLS from your bathroom and kitchen. Use only products containing no Sodium Laryl Sulfate (or other sulfates) for six to eight weeks. If you see an improvement in your hair strength and growth, you have your answer.

Hair Products Without Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

These are all in the $10-$20 range/bottle – nothing that breaks the bank. I have tried some but not all of them. Based on the glowing reviews, it’s really encouraging to see so many quality sulfate-free hair products out there on the market.

  • Christina Moss Naturals Shampoo
  • Pura d’or Premium Organic Anti-Hair Loss Shampoo
  • Art Naturals Organic Moroccan Argan-Oil Shampoo
  • Tea Tree Shampoo for Moderate Dandruff by Maple Holistics
  • Yes to Carrots Nourishing Shampoo
  • Fundamental Shampoo by Fundamental Earth
  • Carols Daughter Black Vanilla Moisture & Shine Sulfate-Free Shampoo
  • OGX Nourishing Shampoo, Coconut Milk – note, all OGX products are sulfate free.  You can also read my detailed review of the new OGX hair loss shampoo here.

Do you have any thoughts on sodium lauryl sulfate? I’d love to hear from anyone with a known allergy, or who’s tried total sulfate elimination for hair loss treatment. As always, I look forward to your comments!


17 thoughts on “Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Causes Hair Loss: True or False?”

  1. Really informative post! Now I know to check out the products I buy and see if SLS is a part of it. My boyfriend uses Art Naturals Organic Moroccan Argan-Oil shampoo and conditioner, but I use something else. After I finished your article, I’ve decided that I’m going to just finish off my bottles of shampoo and conditioner and use the same one as him. =) I always find a lot of my hair just getting pulled out when I brush it, so I’m wondering if it is mostly caused by the products I use or if it’s just me.

    • Exactly, it’s good to just experiment with the obvious potential causes before spending too much money on hair loss solutions (because trust me, it adds up!) And for us women, hair loss has so many different causes, both internal and external, it’s easier to start with the external stuff that goes on our heads every day before we go get bloodwork or see a nutritionist! thanks for the comment 🙂

  2. Very useful information on the ingredients that cause baldness. It’s one thing I’ve been trying to prevent for a long time and I’m glad to have found some kind of answer. I think those shampoos you’ve mentioned are a great alternative that don’t contain sodium lauryl sulfate. Thanks for the advice!

  3. Wow, I never thought that using my regular shampoo might damage my hair. I checked my shampoo now and it says that it contains Sodium Laureth Sulfate, is it the same SLS? Would you suggest I start using a different shampoo?

    • Thanks for the question! Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate are very similar shampoo additives, that do the same thing (promote lather). However, Sodium Laureth Sulfate is even a bit worse, as it also contains a known carcinogen, 1,4 dioxane. I would highly suggest using and supporting shampoos and beauty products that don’t involve these additives.

  4. Great article! It makes me so mad that we are being poisoned by all these chemicals in everything we use. Grr. And Sodium lauryl sulphate is no exception. In fact I went through my bathroom cabinet one and found it in everything. Fortunately, I work in a Herbal Apothecary now where I have learnt so much about these chemicals, everything we sell is organic so as you can imagine my bathroom cabinet looks very different now…and so does my skin 🙂 And, it’s really great you’ve given us a list of good shampoos to buy. Thanks

    • Thanks for the great comment. Yeah – it IS frustrating that some greedy people agreed that it would be ok for all of us to be slowly poisoned by harmless-seeming stuff that we use every day. This is just one more bugaboo to look out for, particularly for those of us trying hard to protect and regrow our hair. glad you have access to tons of herbal alternatives!

  5. OMG, the things you are not aware of is really sad and scary. I have never heard of SLS nor have I ever been warned about the uses of it. I read my food labels but now I have to read my hair and cleaning labels. This is a great article and I am glad I have run into this today because for one I am a mother who is responsible for my children. You may have brought my attention to what has been causing my husband’s scalp irritation also. So I truly thank you for opening my eyes to something as important as this. I have some labels to read. 😀

    • Thanks for sharing your feedback – I agree, it’s sad and surprising that we’re surrounded by so many chemicals in what should be safe, every day ingredients. Good luck in your label vigilance! you may need to do a purge of cleaners and beauty products, and replace with all-natural alternatives.

  6. Hi Penelope
    Thank you for the explanation of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate – I had never heard of it before. I don’t use soaps due to eczema and the way they dry out my skin instead using water and non-scented moisturisers to shower. However, I do use shampoo and will be looking at the contents a lot more carefully now as my scalp is quite dry at the moment – which could be just from eczema or it could be from Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. Again thank you for pointing this out to me.

    • Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts on this dastardly ingredient that somehow sneaks its way into all our products! Glad you’re warned and on the lookout now! 🙂

  7. Great information! I have also learned that Sodium Lauryl Sulfate causes colored hair to lose the color quickly. This makes sense since it is such a damaging substance.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I agree that SLS drains color, and since we usually pay an arm and a leg for that color, it makes total sense to avoid it just on those grounds.

  8. This is an eye-opener: High concentrations of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate in products can cause severe irritation and even corrosion of the skin and you’re telling me it also can be found in toothpaste, bubble bath, and shaving creams? We have been poisoning ourselves without knowing. This has to stop!
    This kind of information is important for people to read and I am glad you wrote about it. Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you for the comments, and yes! We are surrounded by poisons in everyday products, it’s insidious, unfair, and absurd that our government gives these product makers a pass to utilize such damaging ingredients. The burden is, sadly, on ourselves to keep ourselves safe and in the clear.

  9. I have heard of SLS but I didn’t know it had so many side effects….I’m a bit worried as I went reading your article I realized that…well it might be the cause of my problem right now. I pretty much have all of the negative effect of it and I didn’t realize till now…I will make sure to change my shampoo Asap!! Thank you for the info I really really appreciate it!

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