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Chemicals in your products: SLS

This is the first of a series of posts that will attempt to demystify the chemicals that cosmetic products commonly contain to help to make you a more informed consumer.

The May edition of International Journal of Cosmetic Science carried an article on the effect of SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfonate) on the skin.

Sodium lauryl sulfateImage via Wikipedia

What is SLS?
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS or NaDS) (C12H25SO4Na) is an a
nionic surfactant used in many cleaning and hygiene products such as shampoos, liquid soaps, body washes, face washes, bubble baths, toothpaste, et al. It is used for its thickening effect and its ability to create a lather, i.e. lots of bubbles & foam.

SLS however is a strong surfactant and a number of health concerns have been raised in published reports.
  • SLS may worsen skin problems in individuals with chronic skin hypersensitivity, with some people being affected more than others.
  • SLS in toothpaste may cause aphthous ulcers, commonly referred to

    Three rubber ducks in foam bathImage via Wikipedia

    as canker sores. Using SLS free toothpaste may reduce the sores
  • SLS has also been show to irritate the skin of the face with prolonged and constant exposure (more than an hour) in young adults. This is an important point to consider when buying bubble bath solution for kids. Children and women tend to spend long hours in such baths.
Beauty Brains explains why Sulfates are used in products despite all the bad press above:

Why sulfates are popular

  1. They’re very cheap and they’re readily available. Basic sulfates can cost as little as 25 cents per pound. More expensive surfactants can be $1.00 or more per pound.
  2. They’re good cleaners. Sulfates are good at dissolving dirt and oil, especially the kind found on your hair and body. So they work really well in shampoos and body washes.
  3. They foam well. Sulfates are extremely good at generating a lot of foam really fast. Even though you can have a good cleansing product that doesn’t foam, consumers tend to like high foaming produ

    Backward styleImage via Wikipedia

    cts better.
  4. They’re easy to thicken. Lauryl sulfates (not so much the laureth ones) can be thickened just by adding salt. Therefore, the companies that manufacture shampoos and body washes like to formulate with sulfates because their products can be made quickly and easily.

Coming back to the study:

The study found that SLS disrupted the normal skin barrier more severly when applied under alkaline conditions (read soaps) and caused greater transdermal water loss.

What this means is that SLS has a far greater drying effect on the skin when used as a part of shampoo or facewash that is alkaline to begin with.

Therefore it is important that you choose products that are either SLS free or neutral in nature to use if you have sensitive skin or are prone to dryiness.

SLS Free Shampoos that you can consider using:

Please note that SLS free shampoos rely on either natural or milder surfactants hence do not foam or bubble up as much as you

Sapindus mukorossiImage by dinesh_valke via Flickr

might like. They need a getting used to, especially if you associate the quality of a shampoo with the kind of foam it produces.

1. Biotique shampoos which are available in a number of variants such as Green Apple, Soya Protein etc. They all contain soap nut (shikakai) which as the foaming agent.

On a personal note I have also observed that the Green Apple shampoo makes a decent substitute for a bubble bath solution. Consider using it for the kids or yourself rather than the normal SLS laden bubble foam. Especially if you plan to go for a long soak.

2. No Tears Johnsons Baby Shampoo: very mild, very good, but also a little expensive.

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  1. Very nice article ... I used to have a thick silky hair in my teens n i lost a considerable amount after my hormonal imbalance :( Even Biotique didn t help me ! It went so severe that slowly i almost got bald near my forehead :'( Then i did a lot of research about shampoos and haircare and decided that it was time to make my own shampoo ! I would boil soapnut and shiakai is a cup of water the night before and and wash my hair with that water the next day. I would even add some additional herbs like curry leaves, green tea and etc to make the shampoo more nourishing :) and things really improved and i was getting my lost luster back and slowly my bald patch vanished ... mind you it was very slow ! There is this product called 'sabash' from the house of aachi masala which is a lagiyam of really good stuff and lathers too :) Soapnut lather that is. Here is the link ... it is the hair & body wash :
    dunno if it available everywhere but it is worth a try !

  2. And I have to add that I no longer have any hair disorder like dandruff and etc ... :)

    And I must say that i ve become addicted to your blog ... you are doing a great job yaar :) I really really luv ur blog ! You ve enlightened me about make up :)


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