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What is SLS

What is SLS?

SLS or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a chemical foaming agent which is added to products to create the foaminess or bubbly effect in most drug store cleansers, body washes, toothpaste and shampoos etc. This synthetic ingredient can be derived from petroleum (most commonly), palm oil or coconut oil to create a surfactant and although SLS from Coconut or Palm Oil may seem more natural, unfortunately, they need to be processed so heavily that they are not really still natural. Also, we have all seen the news about the destruction that unsustainably sourced palm oil is causing to rain forrest and natural habitats. So, what do surfactants do? Well they lower the surface tension between different ingredients which helps them to bind together. This is beneficial in beauty products in a couple of ways; they help to trap oil-based dirt so it can be lifted away by water and it helps turn liquids into foam which gives the effect of the product deeply cleansing.

Although SLS has been used in beauty products for many years, dating back to the 1930’s many people are now choosing to avoid products that contain SLS. It has come to light in more recent years that this synthetic ingredient can be very drying and irritate sensitive skin, especially those with skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, rosacea or dermatitis. It can be harsh on the skin and damage the acid mantle which is the protective outer barrier of our skin made from its natural sebum and oils.

What is SLS

The creamy lather that is created makes it a popular ingredient in many shop bought shampoos, however it can also be very drying to your hair and strip the hair of its natural oils.

What is SLS

SLS is also associated with a negative effect on the environment due to the production of the ingredient. The use of palm oil in products is controversial due to the destruction of tropical rainforests for palm tree plantations, however there are some sustainable palm oil plantations now which strive to protect the environment. Products used it the bathroom ultimately get washed down the drain so it is also more favourable to avoid products with chemicals that could potentially be damaging to aquatic life.

The most popular eco-certified alternative to SLS is SCS or Sodium Coco-Sulfate which is classed as being kinder to the skin. Although SCS is a little more gentle on the skin it is actually made up of around 50% SLS. SLS is a single molecule (sodium salt of lauric acid) or in other words a fatty acid from coconut, palm oil or petroleum that reacts with sulfuric acid to create a sulfate. SCS, however, is a mixture of sodium salts of all of the fatty acids that are present in coconut that also reacted with sulfuric acid to create sulfate.

What is SLS?

This means that the production method of SCS and SLS are the same with the difference being the material used to produce it i.e. SLS is the lauric acid only, a single component of coconut oil and for SCS the starting material is the whole coconut. It is the use of the whole coconut which allows for the presence of numerous fatty acids in SCS making SCS less irritating to the skin than pure SLS.

So when it comes to choosing a more natural or gentle alternative to SLS it means that it is not as simple as just looking for one of its alternatives like SCS. Instead, it means finding a brand that you trust who can guarantee that the surfactant (or foaming agent) they are using are derived from natural and sustainable sources and although it will still go through extensive production methods that it has been produced to the highest standards possible to ensure it is safe for gentle skin.