by Dr. Pooneh Ramezani, DDS
Whether it’s a mainstream and conventional toothpaste, facial cleanser, a shampoo, or toothpaste, you’re probably familiar with a foamy, sudsy sensation that can sometimes leave your skin, scalp or mouth feeling stripped. This sensation can be attributed to sodium lauryl sulfates (SLS). But with sulfate-free labels becoming popular on the market, does it really matter if your products are SLS-free?
At Dr. Brite, we’re here to tell you that the cheap detergent that is SLS can be more of a nuisance to your oral health than a true benefit. In this blog post we’ll get to the bottom of:
- What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Its Function
- What About SLS That is “Coconut Derived?”
- The Difference Between Different Types of Sulfates
- Why Sulfate-free Matters
The Big Deal About SLS
In the most basic terms, sodium lauryl sulfate is a detergent. To be a more technical, SLS breaks surface tension and separates molecules in order to allow better interaction between the product and your skin, hair, or teeth (SLS Free). Essentially, SLS is a cheap soap that is used to help a product work more effectively and it creates a rich, sudsy lather or foam. Years and years of marketing messages have trained our brains to recognize this sensation means we are truly achieving a deep clean.
But this clean feeling comes at a price. Over continued use, SLS can cause skin irritation. So, while you may not experience skin irritation now, there is the potential for irritation to occur. In addition, residual SLS can accumulate in the body with daily use in the same way that fluoride can accumulate over time.
What About SLS That is “Coconut Derived?”
First, let’s talk about how sodium lauryl sulfate is made. When lauryl alcohol is treated with sulfur trioxide gas or chlorosulfuric acid, SLS is created. Now, the lauryl alcohol can come from petroleum or it could come from coconut oil or even palm kernel oil. Once the coconut oil or palm kernel oil is transformed in lauryl alcohol, it hardly resembles its natural origins (Be Well® Blog).
So, when you read a label on a beauty product and it says that its SLS is “coconut derived,” just know that the SLS is still skin irritating potential.
Why Are There Different Sulfates? Do They Behave Differently?
Now, there are also different types of sulfates and the main difference is how they are manufactured.
Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) is said to be less irritating than SLS because of the way it is made, but this ingredient can actually be worse for you because of a byproduct that is produced.
SLES is created when ethylene oxide is added to SLS in a process called ethoxylation. However, a byproduct of ethoxylation is 1,4-dioxane, which is a known cancer causing agent and a leading groundwater contaminant, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
As consumers become more aware of the risks associated with SLS and SLES, some companies try to use sulfates with different names, thinking that we won’t notice this. Some of these common ingredients include:
- Sodium caprylic sulfate
- Sodium capric sulfate
- Sodium oleic sulfate
- Sodium stearyl sulfate
- Sodium myreth sulfate
- Sodium dodecanesulfate
- Sodium monododecyl sulfate
Just because the name is different, doesn’t mean that skin irritation is avoidable. Think of the controversy involving sugar. Whether it’s glucose, sucrose or any other type of -crose, the ingredient is still a sugar.
Why SLS-free Matters and is the Way to Go
Today, more and more companies are introducing new products or are changing existing products to say that they are now sulfate-free. But why does this distinction matter?
In toothpaste, for example, SLS can irritate the delicate tissues in your mouth. Have you ever had a canker sore? SLS can further upset the sore and can actually prevent the sore from healing at a faster rate.
SLS can also be an unsustainable ingredient since petroleum is unsustainable itself.
So, save your skin, hair, and mouth from drying and potentially irritating SLS/SLES. For oral care, make the switch to Dr. Brite. Our formulas contain soothing and nourishing ingredients that you can read like organic aloe vera juice, organic coconut oil, and organic neem oil. All of our ingredients are formulated to work together in order to leave your mouth feeling clean and refreshed.
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