What’s Wrong with Sodium Lauryl Vs. Sodium Laureth Sulfate?

Written by:

Maia James

Looking for a different guide? Browse them all HERE.

This is Gimme the Good Stuff’s simple primer on sodium lauryl sulfate and its cousin, sodium laureth sulfate

Sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS, is a surfactant. For simplicity’s sake, think of a surfactant as something that creates bubbles in dish soap, toothpaste, shampoo, shower gel, etc. There is conflicting evidence, but my research has made me believe that SLS is not a carcinogen, but it is irritating to some people’s skin. SLS sometimes appears on labels as “coconut-derived surfactant.”

Sodium laureth sulfate, or SLES, is another widely-used surfactant that is also coconut-based. SLES is probably carcinogenic, as it is usually contaminated with 1,4-dioxane (this happens during the production process).

A 2008 study by the Organic Consumers Association showed that many eco-friendly dish soaps contained 1,4-dioxane, which is a byproduct of the production of SLES. Most of these companies no longer use SLES, but Ecover is a notable exception.

Some products containing SLS are manufactured on equipment used to produce SLES, resulting in 1,4-dioxane cross-contamination if the equipment is not cleaned properly. Seventh Generation claims that their dish soap no longer contains detectable levels of 1,4-dioxane, despite their use of SLS and initial cross-contamination problems.

Bottom line: I’m never okay with using products that contain SLES, but I’m basically cool with SLS if I can’t find an alternative product without it.

I use products with SLS in my home, and recommend them as well. I do not usually recommend skin care products with SLS because of its potential as an irritant, but it is safe in things like laundry or dish soap. (If you hand wash a lot of dishes and find that your hands are irritated, this might be something to consider.)

Stay sane,

Maia, Founder & CEO

Note: This article contains affiliate links or sponsored content, which means that if you make a purchase, we may earn a commission. We only recommend products that meet our strict standards for non-toxicity and that we use (or want to use!) ourselves. Thank you so much for supporting the brands that make Good Stuff! 

Enjoying this guide?

Join our list of 60K families who rely on our free guides covering everything from milk to mattresses! Plus get access to exclusive deals.
Subscribe

Non-Toxic Sunscreen Guide

Posted on
I know you’re here to find the best non-toxic sunscreen. But, I actually believe we should let our kids (and ourselves) experience small amounts of sunlight on bare skin. Vitamin…

Non-Toxic Air Freshener Guide

Posted on
Most traditional air fresheners contain chemicals that aren’t labeled. Here’s our guide to non-toxic, natural air fresheners.

2023 Best Natural Dish Soap Guide

Posted on
The vast majority of “natural” dish soaps contain a ton of chemicals that you don’t want to ingest when dish soap residue remains on dishes. This guide will help you…

Leave a Reply

  1. Gail Avatar
    Gail

    is the laundry detergent CLEAN PEOPLE safe?

  2. gail murray Avatar
    gail murray

    I have followed your site as I try to clean up my home safely.
    What is best laundry detergent to keep whites brighter?
    is Calgon safe to soften water? is there another product on the market that is safer?
    Thank you for your time and expertise.