A number of people have started to ask me questions recently about specific chemicals in the daily products we use, and what the potential dangers are. This is a funny old subject for me to write about as I personally don’t have first hand knowledge of the make up of these chemicals. But the subject is very close to my heart and an important debate that I feel needs to be raised. Why? Because on average women add more than 200 chemicals to their skin, of which more than 60% gets absorbed directly into your bloodstream.
So, I will be doing a series of blogs called ‘The Facts’. They will be based on research and articles I have read to try and make the evidence surrounding these chemicals more accessible to you as a reader. ie. all in one place and easy to read. I may include my opinion from time to time (not that I’m too opinionated on this subject…!) but I will make it clear that these are my thoughts, and not based on scientific research. OK? Here we go…
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate – otherwise known as SLS.
What is it?
SLS is a synthetic chemical which is cheap to produce. There appears to be no denying this – I’ve seen it documented in a number of places. But what does synthetic actually mean? There’s only one place to look for the answer to this. The good old Oxford English Dictionary. Here’s what it says..
“(of a substance) made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural product”
In short, SLS is man made to try and do the same thing as a natural product, only cheaper. That’s how I see it anyway. It’s found in numerous mainstream products such as shampoos, toothpastes, bodywash, soaps etc. You know that lovely lather and beautiful bubbles you get from your products? That’s SLS. A man made product to try and make you feel luxurious (in my opinion).
How does it work?
“Here comes the science”… Let’s take shampoo as an example. SLS breaks surface tension and separates molecules in order to allow better interaction between the product and your hair. This is what creates the lather and helps make it an effective cleaner. So we know it is effective in doing the desired job, and we know it is cheap. Hhhmmmm I hear cash registers ringing…
But the big question on everyone’s lips is “Is it dangerous?” It would appear that the biggest debate surrounding the dangers of SLS is concerning the link with cancer. It is important for me to note here that currently there is no scientific evidence that relates SLS to cancer. BUT, there are many reports on the side effects, the main one being irritated skin. Higher concentrations of SLS in products can cause severe irritation and even corrosion of the skin. I believe I am living proof of this. SLS was present in the last brand of handwash I used. Then I turned to Norwex. See the picture below. No words needed.
What I found most concerning whilst reading though, is how the International Journal of Toxicology recommends that concentration levels of SLS remain below 1% in products which require prolonged use (e.g. handwash, shampoo, cleaning products) and that many cleaning products have levels between 10-20%. Some even 30%. I need to tell you right now that Norwex doesn’t use SLS in any of it’s products. For obvious reasons I would say. But irritation to the skin, gums and scalp can be caused by just a 1% concentration. It’s common knowledge that I have suffered scalp problems. The first thing my GP told me was to stay away from products containing SLS. (Opinion warning). A GP?! yet this stuff is freely sold on the supermarket shelves to billions of people everyday?? I find this absolutely shocking. Moving on…
One off use of SLS does not seem to be of much concern. What is very concerning is long term repeated exposure. I have read up on many studies before writing this blog and they are too complicated to go into here, but I will list all my sources used at the end of this blog like the good Psychology student that I am! From these studies effects have been documented such as burning sensations in the mouth, effects of SLS as a corrosive skin irritant (already discussed), and would you believe that SLS is used as a laxative in enemas?! Nice. That’s put me off my spa treatments…
Lastly (as I promised to keep this short and accessible) I need to mention SLS and the effects on children. In children, SLS has been linked to eye irritation and poor eye development. Those of you who have read my previous blogs will know that when my son was 11 months old I took him to the eye department of my local hospital. The consultant told me there and then to avoid using baby wipes anywhere near his eyes. Perhaps this is why… I started looking up the ingredients in baby wipes. One extremely well known brand made the proud claim that they did not use SLS in their baby wipes. Instead they used SLES. However this chemical can often become contaminated with a suspected carcinogen (Dioxane) which the liver cannot metabolise. Hhmmmm….
Finally, through my research I have found many companies claiming to be ‘green’ and environmentally friendly using SLS in their products. Now I’m not saying that they are misleading people, or doing anything wrong. But what I did realise was that each individual has their own definition of what a ‘green’ product is. For me, a company or product using SLS is most definitely not green. So, you must ask yourself, what are you looking for from your ‘green’ products? No nasty chemicals? No environmental impact?
Whatever it is, take the time to research your brand. I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised. But you may not.
Thanks for reading,
International Journal of Toxicology