toddler in tub with lots of soap bubbles

SLS and SLES- Just say NO!

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) And Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

Many years ago when I started reading the labels, I was amazed at all the names I didn't recognize. Seems like you need a chemistry degree in the US if you want to understand labels! It's pretty overwhelming to learn about the chemicals. Where do you start? How do you know which one's are worst? Why are they bad? What are safer alternatives to these ingredients? And the important question- will products work without these harmful ingredients?

 If you take a walk down the hair care aisle at your local discount store or pharmacy, you'll probably find (and I'm guessing here) that at least 90% of shampoos contain the ingredient Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (also known as SLS) or it's partner in crime Sodium Laureth Sulfate (also known as SLES). If close to 100% of products contain this ingredient it must be necessary, right?  WRONG! It must be safe, right? Not neccessarily! Well, there must be at least a good reason why it's being used, right?  Well, actually, companies use it since it's an incredibly CHEAP ingredient.  Well, the government must regulate it? WRONG again! So what are SLS and SLES you ask?
SLS and SLES are chemical ingredients that make your products lather and foam nicely. (Also called surfactants- in case you’ve seen that term and wonder what it means!)  They effectively remove oils (which is why garages use them to degrease car engines and clean floors).  SLS and SLES are really cheap ingredients for companies to buy. Over the years, people have become accustomed to their products foaming and making nice little bubbles. Yes, marketers have convinced us that for a product to work, it must foam a lot.
You'll find SLS and SLES in shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, mouthwash, body wash, liquid hand soap, bar soap and sometimes moisturizers. (You'll also find it in laundry soap, dish soap and other household cleaning products.) Sometimes labels will say "derived from coconuts" or "comes from coconuts". Don't be fooled by greenwashing from so-called natural cosmetic companies.


The are several health impacts of these ingredients. SLS is incredibly irritating to your skin and causes dryness (remember how well it removes oil?). It can also be irritating to the eyes. SLES may be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane (considered a probable carcinogen by the EPA).  This is due to the manufacturing process (ethoxylation). The FDA “encourages” companies to remove this contaminant but doesn’t require it and there is usually no way to know if it has been removed.  The levels of SLS taken, either orally or through the skin, may not be high on a daily basis —it's the gradual, cumulative effects of long-term, repeated exposures that are the concern.  There are not many long-term studies on how ALL of the chemicals in these products react together—so we don't really know what the long-term effects are.

(View the International Chemical Safety Card.)

Luckily, there are safer alternatives- Coconut oil or corn oil soap, Castile soap (sometimes listed as saponified olive or coconut oil) Sodium Coco Sulfate (a coconut derivative), anything with Glucoside (unless the ingredient has PEG or –eth in the name) or Sodium Cocoamphoacetate. You can find these ingredients in products in the natural section made by Burt’s Bees, Aubrey Organics and many others . You can also search for safer alternatives on EWG's Skin Deep Database.  As far as toothpaste, I like NOW foods xyli white available at  Trader Joe's Peppermint Toothpaste is also a good alternative. Watch out for some "natural" brands. Tom's of Maine toothpaste contains SLS. For mouthwash, I don't know about you, but I don't WANT to be foaming at the mouth so who needs SLS. I like my homemade recipe of water, vodka, baking soda and peppermint essential oil better.

At Be Green Bath and Body products we don't use SLS or SLES. Only organic saponified coconut, jojoba and olive oils are used in the foaming products. 

 A word of advice- truly natural products may feel different, but different in a good way. We've all grown up with chemical ridden products and have become accustomed to the way synthetic chemicals feel. We're only beginning to understand how natural feels. Will your SLS-free shampoo foam the way you're accustomed? No, I haven't found that to be the case. But after 8+ years, I've grown accustomed to less foam (not no foam).  Your hair may feel different- not that squeaky clean you may be used to. This is OKAY. It's still clean. This is the way your hair is supposed to feel. I like to rinse my hair with a homemade cider vinegar rinse after using a natural shampoo. (Mix 1/4 cider vinegar with 3/4 water in a recycled squeeze bottle and leave it in the shower.) The rinse leaves my hair soft and detangled and no, it doesn't leave my hair smelling like vinegar!

“Nourish your skin safely” ™ Karen

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