The Omnipresent SLS in Beauty Products – A Friend or an Enemy?

What are SLS, SLES and ALES?

SLS stands for Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. They are commonly present in almost everything that produces lather and foam. Yes, they are omnipresent in almost everything around us. In fact, we invite them in every possible form to our life. They are in our shampoos, soap, conditioner, hand wash, body wash, tooth paste, washing powder, industry cleaners, dish washing liquid and so on.

SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulfate) and ALES (Ammonium Laureth Sulfate) are the cousins of SLS. However, SLES is not as harmful as SLS. All of them are used for the same reason. They are all surfactants; they are used to produce foam required for cleansing.This also contributes to an important experience of product usage for many since people mostly associate more lather to more cleansing. We all have this misconception and there is nothing wrong in it till we do the genesis of this lather.

SLS in Shampoo

Why Now?

The last couple of years will be written in dark letters in the history of my hair. When my hair was at all time low, I started reading about hair care, hair products and peoples experience them. Then I came across this SLS which is an essential ingredient in almost all the shampoos sold today. I read about many people complaining and sharing experience with SLS and how it changed their hair structure for bad.

What did they do to earn the bad name?

To begin with facts, various health studies and researches including Environmental Working Group and FDA have mentioned it to be of ‘moderate hazard’ and ‘irritant’. There are over 16,000 researches on this and all say the same thing. It can lead to one or all of the following:

  • Irritation to eyes on contact
  • Irritation to skin (SLS gets easily absorbed by skin)
  • Causes hair fall
  • Hair breakage
  • Drying of scalp leading to irritation and dandruff
  • It strips off oil and moisture from skin
  • Drop in male fertility
  • Menopausal symptoms

The health report (the report can be viewed here )states the following

Studies on SLS have shown that: (Judi Vance, Beauty To Die For, Promotion Publishing, 1998)

  1. “Shampoos with SLS could retard healing and keep children’s eyes from developing properly. Children under six years old are especially vulnerable to improper eye development. (Summary of Report of Research to Prevent Blindness, Inc. conference.”
  2. “Sodium Lauryl Sulphate can cause cataracts in adults and delays the healing of wounds in the surface of the cornea.”
  3. “Sodium Lauryl Sulphate has a low molecular weight and so is easily absorbed by the body. It builds up in the heart, liver and brain and can cause major problems in these areas.”
  4. “Sodium Lauryl Sulphate causes skin to flake and to separate and causes roughness on the skin.”
  5. “Sodium Lauryl Sulphate causes dysfunction of the biological systems of the skin.”
  6. “Sodium Lauryl Sulphate is such a caustic cleanser that it actually corrodes the hair follicle and impairs the ability to grow hair.”
  7. “Sodium Lauryl Sulphate is routinely used in clinical studies deliberately to irritate the skin so that the effects of other substances can be tested.” (Study cited by the Wall St Journal, 1st November 1998)”

SLS infographic Image

Why are they still used?

If a lay man like me can do a ‘Google’ and browse through few reports for merely hours to understand this, do you think the so called ‘skin care, body care, dental care, fabric care and I don’t care’ wings of these conglomerates have skipped this vital piece of information? The answer is ‘NO’. These are still used widely because they are very cheap and can be easily produced chemically. The natural source of these vicious cousins is coconut but the chemical process is what makes it dreadful. I can quote few websites but I don’t want to start a chemistry class here :P. You could do a simple Google search to find thousands of reports and researches on this.


What I am trying to SAY.

It is often thought that our skin has some kind of immunity to all kinds of chemicals while our stomach doesn’t  For the same reason we pay much more attention to what we consume internally than externally. But maybe we are wrong. I will quote few things from a website (click here to go to the site) Putting chemicals on your scalp may actually be worse than eating them. When you eat something, the enzymes in your saliva and stomach help to break it down and flush it out of your body. However, when you put these chemicals on your skin, they are absorbed straight into your bloodstream without filtering of any kind, going directly to your delicate organs.

Once these chemicals find their way into your body, they tend to accumulate over time because you typically lack the necessary enzymes to break them down.

There are literally thousands of chemicals used in personal care products, and the U. S. government does not require any mandatory testing for these products before they are sold.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) estimates that one out of five cosmetics might be contaminated with a cancer-causing agent. This nonprofit public-interest research group is known for making connections between chemical exposure and adverse health conditions.

So, primarily what I am trying to say or shout out here is KNOW what you are using and KNOW about the products that touch your life every day. Do not be complacent thinking I am using an expensive brand or a renowned brand so the onus to make it safe for use lies on the company. Please read through the ingredient list of all products you use. If they say it’s a fairness product, please read about the ingredient which is the basis of such a tall claim. Read about what is in the product which will make you fair. Does the ingredient list have anything to do with fairness at all, are you sure they do not have side effects, something you are allergic to? DO NOT trust the company for doing the research, trust no one but you. No one will care about you more than you do. A little homework doesn’t hurt and there are no free lunches or no low hanging fruits which are sweet. What I am trying to reinforce here is be AWARE and then make choices. Even after reading through and studying all the ingredients of your products you may decide not to change them. You may still choose the SLS packed shampoo or face wash but this would be an ‘Informed Decision’ and not a ‘Blind One’. It will be a ‘choice’ that you will have made not blinded by the glitter of these expensive brands. Each time you buy a product without being aware or informed of it, the company succeeds in fooling you.

What I am not trying to Say.

I am not saying that SLS kills or endorsing the so called herbal or nature friendly products here. Let me play the ‘Devil’s Advocate’ here and say direct sunlight makes a lot of people sneeze (a close friend of mine sneezes the moment she makes an eye contact with sun) but that doesn’t mean we all are going to sneeze when encountered with bright sunlight. A lot of people have peanut butter allergy while rest of the world enjoys it. So, the point is SLS is bad and harmful, no wonder it is. But it may not harm each and everyone. My mother always got red itching eyes after shampoo for ages and now I can totally understand why. I, my sister and my mother have stopped using SLS shampoos to begin with. You can read my coming post on my story with hair fall to see what happened. But you may not take the same route which is fine. Also, the amount of SLS or SLES used is important. A very little amount of SLES in shampoo for people who don’t wash hair daily may still not hurt much. The ‘Hurtometer’ will differ from person to person obviously.

After doing justice to both sides of story and leaving the choice to you, I would like to sign off saying ‘Not knowing the products you buy is like you are paying your enemy to attack on you’ or ‘ keeping your house doors open to help a thief steal’.

Do let me know how you feel about this article and if it was of any use to you. Do leave comments even if you disagree to what I said. STAY AWAKE, STAY INFORMED.

Image Source : 1,2,3


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