Sodium Lauryl Sulfate — commonly known as SLS — is a chemical found in many beauty products and household cleaners. It’s the ingredient responsible for creating that telltale lather in shampoos, soaps and toothpastes, but it’s been widely regarded as controversial when health and beauty are involved.

So, what exactly is SLS?

SLS is a surfactant, which means that it breaks surface tension and separates molecules in products for better interaction with your hair or skin. This process is what creates those suds and bubbles often dubbed as the most effective way to clean.

Where can it be found?

Commercial personal grooming products, such as facial cleanser, makeup remover, hand soap, shaving cream, shampoo, and lip balm all contain SLS. But because it’s so inexpensive and effective, it’s also found in a number of industrial cleaning agents like engine degreasers and industrial strength detergents.

OK, so why’s it controversial?

Think about it. Would you willingly apply an industrial strength detergent to your skin? Hopefully not. But that’s essentially what you’re doing when washing your skin with beauty products that contain this chemical. There are conflicting reports that link SLS and Cancer, neurotoxicity, organ toxicity, skin irritation and endocrine disruption but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regards it as safe, when used discontinuously and rinsed from the skin. However, you can’t exactly say something is safe when it has to be washed off the skin within seconds, right? And when over 60% of everything we apply to our skin gets absorbed into our bloodstream, it’s definitely cause for concern.

There are also concerns about contamination with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and 1,4 –dioxane, which is a suspected carcinogen that’s also associated with organ toxicity and birth defects. It lasts much longer in our bodies, because our liver can’t metabolize it effectively. Even scarier? It’s unlisted in ingredient labels, but often hides in SLS.

How can I avoid it?

Unfortunately, SLS is so widely used that you’ve probably used products containing the chemical. And because it’s so cheap to produce and the FDA regards it as safe, many brands aren’t going to remove it from their products. Here at Follain, we regard it as a restricted ingredient, so you’ll never find it in any of the products we stock.

Looking to soak sans suds?
Try these safer alternatives: