baby in bath

I’ve seen so many comments about people being excited about a product until they found out that it had SLS in it. It’s one of those ingredients that is controversial. But is SLS toxic for real?

I’ve tacked other contentious issues like EMFs, essential oils, and fluoride, and now it’s SLS’s turn! Let’s do this…

What is SLS?

SLS – or sodium lauryl sulfate – is a surfactant and foaming agent found in cleaning products and personal care products. It is often confused with SLES (sodium laureth sulfate), which has its own issues but it’s different than SLS (more on this below).

Here’s a breakdown of some of the common concerns and how worried you should be.

Skin Irritation

SLS, along with many surfactants, have the potential to cause skin irritation because it can disrupt the membrane that protects skin cells. In wash-off products (like shampoo and body wash), this is unlikely to cause an issue for most people. Those with eczema-prone or sensitive skin however may find avoiding SLS helps.

Aquatic Toxicity 

SLS is considered toxic to aquatic life and on its own is not recommended to be discharged into the environment (including down the drain). This recommendation is for full concentration of SLS rather than the amount that would be found in household products. It is readily biodegradable, which means it doesn’t last long in the environment before it breaks down into nontoxic forms.

Cancer

There is no indication that SLS causes cancer, though there are some sources that make this claim. This is likely due to confusion between SLS vs SLES (sodium laureth sulfate). SLES is an ethoxylated substance, which means it may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane. Some brands that use SLES use a process that also removes the 1,4-dioxane, but unless advertised it’s hard to know for sure. Again, this is not a concern with SLS.

The Bottom Line

Is SLS perfect? Nope. It may be made with unsustainable palm oil or petroleum (or it could be 100% non palm plant-based). And manufacturing isn’t without its problems if it’s not disposed of or treated properly, as I outlined with the environmental concerns above.

But if SLS is the only questionable ingredient in a product you love and you don’t have skin concerns, I’m likely to recommend you stick with it and move on to other things that have greater health impacts for you and your children. Then you can come back and revisit your SLS-containing products if you want.

But if you get hung up on this, you might be missing some chemicals that have a much larger overall impact. If you’re struggling to read labels and want to easily figure out what products are truly healthy vs harmful, then check out the Complete Guide to Choosing Healthy Products: Personal Care & Cleaners Edition here!

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