Sodium Lauryl Sulfate - ChemicalSafetyFacts.org

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a cleaning agent and surfactant, is an ingredient in many personal care and cleaning products. SLS can be derived from natural sources like coconut and palm kernel oil and can also be manufactured in a laboratory setting.

Uses & Benefits

Personal Care Products

SLS has been an ingredient in shampoos since the 1930s. It works as a surfactant, trapping oil and dirt in hair so it can rinse away with water. An effective foaming agent, SLS can help create a rich lather in products like body and hand wash, facial cleansers and bubble. Likewise, SLS helps create the foaming action in toothpaste and also helps remove food particles from teeth.

Cleaning Products

SLS is an effective surfactant used in household cleaning products to help remove oily stains and residues, such as food stains in carpets. Because of its ability to break down oil and grease, SLS also is an ingredient in many industrial cleaning products, such as engine degreasers and industrial strength detergents.

Food Additive

As a food additive, SLS is used as an emulsifier or thickener. For example, SLS helps make marshmallows and dried egg products light and fluffy. SLS also helps acids mix better with liquids, for example in fruit juices and punches.

Safety Information

Common questions about the safety of SLS often stem from its use as an ingredient in both personal care products and household cleaners. Some believe that SLS is too harsh to safely use on skin, but claims that SLS is corrosive to the skin are inaccurate. While cleaning products containing SLS may have the potential to be skin irritants if not made properly, products that contain SLS are not necessarily irritating to the skin. According to a 2015 peer-reviewed study published in Environmental Health Insights, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that skin contact with SLS causes hair loss and no scientific evidence indicating that SLS is a carcinogen.

Multiple scientific bodies have reviewed SLS as an ingredient in personal care and cleaning products and determined its typical use in these applications to be safe for both consumers and the environment. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), an independent expert scientific panel established by the Personal Care Products Council, has evaluated the scientific data and concluded that SLS is safe as used in personal care product formulations such as shampoo, a product designed for brief use and thoroughly rinsed from the skin and hair. In products intended for prolonged skin contact, the concentration of SLS in the product should not exceed 1 percent.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) includes SLS on its list of multipurpose additives allowed as a direct food additive.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations also states that small amounts of SLS residues from cleaning products may remain on food contact surfaces in public eating places, dairy-processing equipment and food-processing equipment and utensils.

Answering Questions

Why does my shampoo contain sodium lauryl sulfate?

SLS contributes to the foaming and lathering properties of products like shampoo and bubble baths. SLS is safe to use in typical use of these types of personal care products, according to the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) scientific panel. EPA also lists SLS as a safe ingredient in these types of products under normal use.

Why is sodium lauryl sulfate in my toothpaste?

SLS is a common ingredient in toothpaste because it helps make toothpaste foam and it helps remove food debris from teeth. The American Dental Association lists SLS as an ingredient that can help improve oral health.

Is sodium lauryl sulfate bad for you?

Despite some online rumors and misperceptions, government agencies like FDA and EPA have reviewed the safety of SLS and approved its use for a number of consumer applications. In addition, a 2015 study published in the academic, peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Insights found that SLS is safe for normal use in household cleaning products, is not corrosive to a person’s skin under normal conditions, and that its use was not linked to hair loss.

Is sodium lauryl sulfate safe for skin and hair?

SLS is not corrosive to a person’s skin under normal use, and there is no scientific evidence to suggest SLS causes hair loss.

Does sodium lauryl sulfate cause cancer?

There is no scientific evidence supporting that SLS is a carcinogen, according to one recent study. In fact, SLS is not listed as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), U.S. National Toxicology Program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the European Union.

Are “sodium lauryl sulfate-free” products better or safer?

There is no scientific basis to say that SLS-free products are safer than products that contain SLS. Product manufacturers may use “free of” claims to indicate that a product does not contain a certain material, such as SLS, but such claims can be misleading. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission has specifically cautioned, “free-of claims may deceive consumers by falsely suggesting that … the marketer has ‘improved’ the product by removing the substance.”