The average number of chemicals that an adult will encounter daily can be in excess of 200 separate chemicals in our modern world. It is important to keep in mind that at least 60 percent of what we put on our skin is absorbed into our bloodstream and this includes those chemicals we are coming into contact with. Most people mistake the skin for a barrier but it is actually the body’s largest organ. While it does have some protective properties to keep the flesh and other organs safe, it is still permeable, particularly by products that we place directly on it.
One such chemical that is commonly found in a multitude of different products we use daily is called SLS or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. A widely used and inexpensive chemical that is used in many commercial hygiene products such as shampoo, toothpastes, mouthwash, body washes, soaps, detergents and more. SLS is technically a detergent and a surfactant. This means that it breaks surface tension and separates molecules in order to allow better interaction between your body and the product. This creates a lather which is meant to allow the product to cleanse more effectively.
Sounds innocent enough but SLS is anything but healthy. According to the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Safety Review (Skin Deep), studies of SLS have shown it to be directly linked to skin and eye irritation, organ toxicity, developmental/reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity and endocrine disruption, biochemical changes, and possibly mutation or cancer. While a lot of the over 16,000 studies on its harmful effects state that the actual health risks related to SLS use are dependent on the level of exposure and individual susceptibility, it should be noted that the cumulative effects of SLS from repeated, regular exposures is what has not been adequately tested.
An excellent synopsis of the troubles with SLS can be found from Smart Klean. They state that:
If you have the suspicion that washing your face is making your skin dry, or that shampooing is giving you an itchy scalp or making your eyes sting, or that cleaning your teeth is giving you mouth ulcers, sodium lauryl sulfate is the likely culprit. In studies, there are “significant correlations” (in the words of one) between SLS and contact dermatitis. The Journal of the American College of Toxicology says that it has “a degenerative effect on the cell membranes because of its protein denaturing properties”. The Journal adds that “high levels of skin penetration may occur at even low use concentration.
So without further ado, here are the top reasons to avoid SLS in any and all hygiene products.
- It is a known skin irritant. When cosmetic companies need to test the healing properties of a lotion, they need to irritate the skin first. What do they use to do this? SLS, of course. If you have dandruff, dermatitis, canker sores, or other irritated tissues or skin, it could be due to SLS.
- It pollutes our groundwater. It is toxic to fish and other aquatic animals and has the potential for bioaccumulation (meaning it accumulates in the bodies of the fish.) It also is undetected in many municipal water filters, getting into the tap water that you drink.
- It is actually a pesticide and herbicide. It is commonly used to kill plants and insects. Makers of SLS recently petitioned to have SLS listed as an approved pesticide for organic farming. The application was denied because of its polluting properties and environmental damage.
- It emits toxic fumes when heated. Toxic Sodium Oxides and Sulfur Oxides are released when SLS is heated. Makes a hot shower with an SLS shampoo seem not quite as nice…
- It has corrosive properties. According to the American College of Toxicity, this includes corrosion of the fats and protiens that make up skin and muscle. SLS can be found in garage floor cleanrs, engine degreasers, and car wash soaps
- Long-term permeation of the body’s tissues. A study from the University of Georgia Medicine showed that SLS had the power to permeate the eyes, brain, heart, and liver.
- It’s an eye irritant. It was shown to cause cataracts in adults, and is proven to inhibit the proper formation of eyes in small children.
- Nitrate and other solvent contamination. Toxic solvents, including carcinogenic nitrates are used in the manufacturing of SLS, traces of which can remain in the product.
- Manufacturing process is highly polluting, emitting cancer-causing volatile organic compounds, sulfur compounds, and air particulates.
- It helps other chemicals get into your body. SLS is a penetration enhancer, meaning that its molecules are so small they’re able to cross the membranes of your body’s cells. Once cells are compromised, they become more vulnerable to other toxic chemicals that may be with the SLS.