After all the positive feedback I got for the first post in this new Ingredients to Avoid series I knew I better not leave it too long before the next instalment! So, today I want to talk about the Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate, or SLS & SLES as I’ll be referring to them from now on.
First things first, what are SLS & SLES?
SLS & SLES are detergents and surfactants, meaning they break up the bonds between molecules on the surface of objects. This makes them an effective cleaner, and that’s why they’re so widely used in shampoos, body washes, toothpaste, cleansers, moisturisers, mouthwashes and soaps, as well as in laundry detergents and washing up liquids (they’re also very cheap to produce!). SLS & SLES in products are responsible for the lathering or foaming up of the product, as this is them breaking down those molecules and stripping away the dirt or moisture.
Why is this a problem?
For years there have been rumours that SLES can cause cancer as it can apparently become contaminated with the chemical dioxane, which is a suspected carcinogen. This has not been proven, however even so there are plenty of reasons why I avoid using products that contain both SLS & SLES.
These sulfates are included in products as they are able to effectively strip away dirt and moisture however this results in them being quite harsh on the skin, and are known skin and eye irritants. In fact, in order for skincare companies to test the effectiveness of their products they are known to first irritate the skin with SLS, so I’d rather not be putting it on my face! SLS & SLES also strip away not only surface oils from your hair but the hair’s natural oils as well, which can leave hair dried and more prone to damage.
As well as doing quite the opposite to what we want for our skin and hair, SLS & SLES are also impacting on the environment. Each time we wash our hair, brush our teeth or wash our hands these sulfates are entering our waterways, and they are known to be toxic to fish and other marine life. As with the microbeads, if we can avoid adding these pollutants to our waterways then we really should.
What are the alternatives?
Thankfully, despite the cancer rumours not being substantiated this has spurred lots of companies to re-examine the use of SLS & SLES in their products. They can be known by a whole raft of names, however most products that don’t use them share this quite prominently on their packaging. Look out for ‘sulfate free’ or ‘SLS & SLES free’ on the labels, but always double check the ingredients list if you’re not sure.
You may find that SLS & SLES free shampoos don’t later up quite as you’re used to, but don’t let that put you off, they will still be cleaning your hair, just in a more gentle manner!
At the moment I’m using My Organics on my hair (thanks to Lady Frankie for the recommendation!), Sukin for my cleanser, facial scrub, moisturiser and body wash and Thankyou for my hand wash. They all do the job perfectly and are free from all kinds of nasties, not just SLS & SLES!