Don’t be a Victim of Marketing | Sodium Lauryl Sulfate | Fragrance

March 15, 2012

soap 300x300 Dont be a Victim of Marketing | Sodium Lauryl Sulfate | Fragrance

Sodium lauryl sulfate [SLS] and sodium laureth sulfate [SLES] are the lathering agents in soap and shampoo—they make the bubbles.  Every few years “natural” soap and shampoo marketers target SLS and SLES as caustic agents to convince potential buyers to switch brands.  Their efforts are working as I have recently witnessed my friends with no science background discussing the topic.  Because of this, I have watched the videos and read the propaganda written by unqualified authors using bits and pieces of outdated studies that have been taken out of context.  It makes me chuckle.

I was first introduced to SLS and SLES bashing in the late 90s when I was taking chemistry courses at UT. One of my professors worked in the soap industry and we had lengthy conversations about chemicals found in soaps, shampoos, and detergents.  SLS and SLES are benign lathering agents with no documented general risks or adverse effects.  Both have been studied rigorously by independent agencies.  Because of the “electric” pull and the size of the molecule, it does not enter the skin and end up “in your system.”  This is true for most other ingredients in shampoo as well.

SLS and SLES don’t grow on trees but they are derived from nature.  Because the process of doing so occurs in a lab, they are known as chemicals.  However, there is a difference between chemicals derived from nature and those constructed by man.  Any ingredient with a number in the name is synthetic (manmade) and in large quantities can become a health hazard.  1,4 Dioxane (synthetic chemical carcinogen) and quaternium-15 (a formaldehyde releasing preservative) are ones to watch for.

In addition to synthetic chemicals (again, usually has a number in the name), watch out for “fragrance” on a product’s ingredient list.  Under FDA law, a manufacturer does not have to disclose ingredients labeled as “fragrance” to protect against knockoff perfume formulations.  Ingredients used to scent shampoos, soaps or detergents are not disclosed to any governing agency and that is where known cancer causing agents may be purposefully hidden.

There are movements in the US to change the “fragrance” protection law but the US Cosmetics, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA) has strong lobbyists who are paid well by a 60 billion dollar industry.  The EU has banned over 1100 chemicals from personal care products because they may cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive problems.  The US has banned only 9.

In the meantime, you can protect yourself by avoiding synthetic chemicals and products that contain “fragrance” on the ingredient list.  Switching brands frequently might also help to reduce continued exposure to the unlisted ingredients.  Alone, the “natural chemicals” in shampoo, such as SLS and SLES, are not going to harm you but the fragrance might.


I like these sites:  www.ewg/ 


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Comments (5)

  1. I have used this site before as well. I would be curious to hear what you think of it:

    That is CRAZY that the EU bans 1100 and US bans 9! Shocking. Great blog post.

    • Heather, thanks for reading and sharing on Facebook! Http:www.ewg/ used to be back in 2008 when I first heard about it. I wanted to do a little research into the name change before I recommended it. I discovered that the name change is a simple issue of trademarking. “Cosmetic database” is too generic to federally trademark, thus the database was given the unique name Skin Deep as not to confuse the public. The Environmental Working Group [EWG] still helps to fund Skin Deep and the EWG also founded the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics which is the website that I mentioned in the post. I like both sites. Thanks for suggesting another good resource.

  2. Pingback: Organic Processed Food is still Processed Food | Marketing Organic Junk | Nurse Gail

  3. Thanks for a very informative post, Gail. I agree that the Environmental Working Group is an excellent and trustworthy organization.

    Something I often feel concern about vis-a-vis scientific studies is who paid for the study to be done. Some industries conduct studies but I wonder if those studies are purposefully flawed to obfuscate results that they would rather the public not know.

    And yes, I agree that anything with “fragrance” in it should be avoided due to the non-disclosure of ingredients. The chemical companies still have too much influence on their own regulation, so consumers must be as knowledgeable as possible in order to avoid potentially harmful ingredients.

    • Thanks, Keith (of I am so lucky to have gone to 2 universities that promote research (both UT and NYU want their students to become researchers at some point). Unfortunately, most people don’t have access to the education required to detect bias, validity, and reliability in research studies. 2/3 of U.S. nurses have an associates degree and research isn’t part of the curriculum. We live in a research driven society but only a handful of people know how to analyze it. That is why groups like the EWG are helpful. But they, too, need to be watched by the pros to make sure they maintain their integrity.

      E-juice (the proprietary liquid chemical and nicotine mixture in e-cigarettes) is dangerous and unregulated. Far more scary than “fragrance” in shampoo.

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