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

Written by:

Maia James

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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

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  1. Gail Avatar

    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.