Skin Disorders

Public Enemy #1 – Sodium Laureth Sulfate, It’s in everything!

Dirty Dozen Chemicals: SLS

Bob Root, Keys and KODA Technologist

Many people that I meet ask me to describe why I do not use certain chemicals.  I tell them that my reasons are practical not political.  I generally explain in three to five stepped reason why I do not use certain ingredients.  Most encourage me to offer my simplified reason, so I am beginning to undertake why we do not use certain ingredients.  In this series of article, I will start with the Dirty Dozen.

For pets, we have to realize that perhaps the worst chemical that they come in contact with every day is Sodium Laureth Sulfate.  Why, because it is in virtually every home in many many forms.

When I am asked to list the top five products that come in contact with pets that contain SLS in large amounts, you would be surprised to learn what they are.

  1. Laundry Detergent
  2. Dish Washing Liquid
  3. Carpet Cleaner
  4. Outdoor Cleaners like Simple Green
  5. Pet Shampoo

Now you would have thought that the dogs shampoo would be first on the list, but that is not true because it has less SLS and it is used less frequently than a dog is exposed to the top four.

Oh, before you run out a buy a baby shampoo for your pup, it is full of SLS as well

Below is some information about SLS that will help you make wiser choices

SLS Overview:

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS) is the first chemical listed on the Dirty Dozen Chemicals created by the Marin County Cancer Project.  These Dirty Dozen have been linked to elevated Cancer rates in people and their pets.

SLS has over 200 synonyms listed on the National Institutes of Health Toxnet.  Some very chemical sounding while other sound very safe and botanical.  They are fundamentally the same.  We believe that many manufacturers have chosen to create synonyms to claim that they do not use SLS.


SLS is used in cleansers, soaps, shampoos and even toothpaste.  It makes things suds, degreases and cleans.  It was introduced into the US after World War II as an engine degreaser.  Up until the 50’s it was used primarily for that purpose in the form of a product called Gunk!  Gunk is an engine degreaser that is still sold in auto parts stores to get rid of engine grime.

Companies started to use SLS in personal care products to make then foam the same in hard and soft water.  As the use grew, it became very inexpensive which broadened its appeal to companies wanting cleaning degreasing action.  Most recently, companies making “patch” based products for non-smoking or weight loss have found that SLS also help to deliver the active ingredients deeply and faster.  This is sort of the main rub I have with the ingredient, but it is only just one of the things that keeps me from using the ingredient.

Recently, Fenchem Company has published some papers that link SLS in shampoos to baldness.  This is something that we have suspected and known for quite a few years.

Why Keys Does Not Use SLS

In all the yelling and screaming about what is safe and not, I have developed a series of reasons that I do not use the Dirty Dozen Chemicals as well as others.  I have chosen this format to simplify my reasons for our customers.  When I am speaking and arguing with others in the industry my basis is much more technical.  I have chosen to over simplify my reasons here to help lay people understand my reasoning.

Reason #1  Inflammation from SLS

I do not use SLS or any family of SLS surfactant because of the reactions I see with the skin.  Generally, anywhere above 0.5% of SLS, we see inflammation of the skin.  The above comment from Fenchem as bee well known to us for quite a few years, but without clinical studies, it would only be opinion and comment.  We see what they see all over the body, but it tends to manifest itself with early male pattern baldness.  What we believe is that the SLS causes inflammation of the hair follicles and causes them to close down starving off the hair growth.  We have noticed for years that men that stop using SLS based shampoos and start using Island Rx have seen renewed hair growth.  We believe it is mostly due to the switch from SLS based shampoos.  In many cases, to be an effective surfactant, SLS needs to be around 15% or higher.  This level has shown mild to severe inflammation for areas like the soft tissue around the eyes to even tougher skin on the arms and legs.  The inflammation seems to be cumulative, but reverses quickly when SLS is removed from the person regime.  Sometimes in science, taking something away results in more research facts than introducing a substance.  This is especially true when the effects of a chemical seem to be more gradual and effect other differently.

Reason #2  Stripping of Natural Oils caused by SLS

As we said, SLS began as an engine degreaser after World War II.  Even in amounts as low as 1%, SLS seems to over-clean and remove the skins natural oils.  Madison Avenue convinced us that our skin should not have any oil on it which is totally false.  Our natural oils are much of what retain our natural skin youthfulness.  In fact we believe that it is a combination of stripping these oils and unnatural dehydration caused by SLS causes skin to lose its luster.  This is why we use pharmaceutical grade natural oils in our products.  Think of it as repairing.

Reason #3  Increased Skin Permeability caused by SLS

Many companies using patch therapies and many pharmaceutical products  contain SLS to increase to how it aids to penetrate the skin and small intestines.  We extrapolate that SLS in skin care products helps to increase permeability allowing hydrocarbons, bacteria, yeast and other pollutants into the skin.

Reason #4  Cellular Breakdown

In some recent test, we have seen thinning of the skin cellular wall below the epidermis in the dermal level.  The outer layer of the skin has 25 to 30 layers of dead skin cells.  Below that are living cells whose cell wall seem to be effected by SLS.  The critical word here is “seems.”  We are just beginning to look at this closer, but ”seems” is good enough for me when I add the other three primary reason

For those of you that want more opinion, the following description is from The Natural Health Information Center offered as their description of SLS.  This is not Keys opinion, but we do agree with much of their findings and comments

Both Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and its close relative Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) are commonly used in many soaps, shampoos, detergents, toothpastes and other products that we expect to “foam up”. Both chemicals are very effective foaming agents, chemically known as surfactants.

Unfortunately, both sodium laureth sulfate and its cousin are also very dangerous, highly irritating chemicals. Far from giving “healthy shining hair” and “beautiful skin”, soaps and shampoos containing sodium laureth sulfate can lead to direct damage to the hair follicle, skin damage, permanent eye damage in children and even liver toxicity.

Although sodium laureth sulfate is somewhat less irritating than SLS, it cannot be metabolized by the liver and its effects are therefore much longer-lasting. This not only means it stays in the body tissues for longer, but much more precious energy is used getting rid of it.

A report published in the Journal of The American College of Toxicology in 1983 showed that concentrations of SLS as low as 0.5% could cause irritation and concentrations of 10-30% caused skin corrosion and severe irritation. National Institutes of Health “Household Products Directory” of chemical ingredients lists over 80 products that contain SLS and SLES. Some soaps have concentrations of up to 30%, which the ACT report called “highly irritating and dangerous“.

Shampoos are among the most frequently reported products to the FDA. Reports include eye irritation, scalp irritation, tangled hair, swelling of the hands, face and arms and split and fuzzy hair. This is highly characteristic of sodium laureth sulfate and almost definitely directly related to its use.

So why is a dangerous chemical like sodium laureth sulfate used in our soaps and shampoos?

The answer is simple – it is cheap. The sodium laureth sulfate found in our soaps is exactly the same as you would find in a car wash or even a garage, where it is used to degrease car engines.

In the same way as it dissolves the grease on car engines, SLES also dissolves the oils on your skin, which can cause a drying effect. It is also well documented that it denatures skin proteins, which causes not only irritation, but also allows environmental contaminants easier access to the lower, sensitive layers of the skin.

This denaturing of skin proteins may even be implicated in skin and other cancers.

Perhaps most worryingly, sodium laureth sulfate is also absorbed into the body from skin application. Once it has been absorbed, one of the main effects of SLS is to mimic the activity of the hormone Oestrogen. This has many health implications and may be responsible for a variety of health problems from PMS and Menopausal symptoms to dropping male fertility and increasing female cancers such as breast cancer, where oestrogen levels are known to be involved.

Products commonly found to contains SLS or Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Tooth paste
Washing-up liquid / dish soap
Laundry detergent
Children’s soaps / shampoos
Stain Remover
Carpet Cleaner
Fabric glue
Body wash
Shave cream
Skin cleanser
Moisture lotion / Moisturizer
Sun Cream

The use of sodium laureth sulfate in children’s products is particularly worrying. It is known that, whether it gets in the eyes or not, skin application DOES lead to measurable concentrations in the eyes of children. This is known to affect eye development, and the damage caused in this manner is irreversible. If you have children DO NOT USE products containing sodium laureth sulfate or SLS – they will thank you for it one day.

Do not believe that just because a product is labeled as “natural” it is free from SLS or sodium laureth sulfate. Most common brands of “Natural” or “Herbal” shampoos and cleansers still use these harmful chemicals as their main active ingredient – check your labels!

That is not to say that you can’t get sodium laureth sulfate-free shampoos, soaps, detergents and toothpastes. Some highly reputable companies have been producing such products for years. These products not only contains no sodium laureth sulfate, they are also free of other harmful chemical colorings, preservatives and even flavorings.

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