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?
Our friends at Wikipedia have this to say:
SDS is mainly used in detergents for laundry with many cleaning applications. 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.
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
Higher 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%.
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!