Sodium Lauryl / Laureth Sulfate

Repeat after me: SLS-Free is the way it should be…SLS-Free is the way it should be!

What Is Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate (SLS)?

SLS is a common emulsifier and foaming agent used in the cosmetics industry.  The majority of mainstream body washes, shampoos, toothpastes, and soaps contain SLS.  SLS is essentially what makes your shampoo get a thick sudsy lather or your toothpaste to foam, and we are conditioned to need those responses from our products to really feel like they are working.

Sodium LAURYL Sulfate and Sodium LAURETH Sulfate essentially do the same thing, but the name difference is the processing of the chemical compound.  Sodium Laureth Sulfate is put through an extra manufacturing process where they add ethylene oxide to change the compound in an effort to make it less irritating to our skin.  Ethylene oxide is a flammable, toxic gas.  While it becomes gentler on your skin, the compound itself becomes more dangerous for your body.

What You Should Know

  1. SLS is a known skin irritant and so much so that companies looking to test out their skin healing lotions and potions will purposely irritate skin with SLS first to see how well their products work.
  2. Mainstream shampoo is one of the most common products using SLS and it is drying for both your hair and your scalp.  What completely boggles my mind is that companies like Head & Shoulders who are aimed at resolving dandruff are often causing the dandruff due to their use of BOTH Sodium Lauryl and Sodium Laureth Sulfates in their formula.  It is brilliant marketing built on keeping you on the product that causes your problem.
  3. On the same note as shampoo, lotions may be contributing to or not helping your dry skin if they contains SLS.
  4. It is corrosive.  Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is found in many industrial cleaning agents such as engine degreaser and industrial strength detergents.  How do you feel about putting a chemical on your skin that can strip a dirty engine of its grease?

Health Dangers of SLS

SLS is not labeled a carcinogen and at this time there are no studies that can point to a direct link between SLS and major health risks.  However, none of these studies take note of the processing methods these compounds go through to get to their end state.  There are byproducts of the manufacturing process, like the ethylene oxide I mentioned above and many others, that may still be in traces in your products and are absolutely carcinogenic and harmful to your health.  When you think about shampooing your hair here and there it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if various products that you use daily – your shampoo, your toothpaste, your bodywash, your lotion – all contain SLS, you can start to see why this could be an issue.

So now what?

This isn’t something you should panic about and throw away every product you own.  I’m a big fan of using up the product you have and then making a different choice.  I recommend checking the following list of personal products in your home for SLS, especially those you are using on your kids: Soaps, Shampoos, Bubble Baths, Toothpaste, Body wash, Shaving Cream, Mascara, Mouthwash, Face Wash, Lotions, and Sunscreen.

According to the Environment Working Group (EWG), Sodium Laurel Sulfate may also be listed as sodium dodecyl sulfate, sulfuric acid, monododecyl ester, sodium salt, sodium salt sulfuric acid, sodium dodecyl sulfate, aquarex me or aquarex methyl.

In addition to the names above, Sodium Laureth Sulfate may also be listed as lauryl ether sulfate and sodium polyoxyeththylene lauryl sulfate.

There are many other names for SLS, but the ones above are the most common if you’re taking a look at your products.


There are so many sulfate-free options out there now that finding a new product shouldn’t be difficult.  Need a recommendation?  Just ask!

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  1. Hi Larisa – thanks for sharing! I had no idea SLS was in toothpaste and mascara. Checking out my brands ASAP. You mention you are a fluoride-free family. Would you mind sharing why you made that choice?


    1. Great question Alison! I don’t believe that ingesting fluoride is beneficial. I believe it is in fact harmful, so for my kids specifically that would swallow toothpaste, we definitely don’t use a fluoridated toothpaste. I do believe that fluoride can be beneficial topically so I do get a fluoride treatment for the kids twice a year when we go to the dentist. In the past I’ve also gotten my husband and I off fluoride since our water systems contains fluoride and I didn’t want to overdose on the stuff. However, as I mentioned I do think there are some benefits to fluoride topically so we may introduce it back in for us adults at some point in time or in spurts for tooth decay prevention purposes. You can check if your public water system is flouridated by going to

  2. Are there any “sulfate” ingredients that would be considered ok? Or should we stay away from pretty much anything “sodium ___” or “____ sulfate”?

    1. I wish it was that simple! It really depends on the product. Not every ingredient that ends in sulfate is bad and definitely not every ingredient that starts with sodium.

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