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Dangers of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Related Compounds

Carefully read the labels on your shampoos, soaps, facial cleansers, shaving creams and body washes or shower gels: can you find Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) or one of its related chemicals Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate or Sodium Myreth Sulfate? It's worth finding products that avoid these harsh chemicals if you respect your skin and health, and that of your family.

Manufacturers use these strong detergents because they efficiently and cheaply strip oils and make suds. But SLS is so strong it's used commercially as a degreaser in car washes and on automotive shop floors! These harsh chemicals easily penetrate the skin by defeating the skin's natural moisture barrier, and they remain detectable in the heart, liver, lungs and brain for up to five days (as reported by the American College of Toxicology). Yet SLS and/or related compounds are found in almost all "mainstream" cleansing products that foam — including toothpastes!

Following are some of the damaging effects of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and related compounds:

  • Tests show that SLS can penetrate into the eyes and organs (brain, heart, liver, etc.) and shows long-term retention in those tissues. Since soaps and shampoos are used over our whole bodies, penetration of SLS into the eyes and other tissues can be extensive.

    The danger of absorption through the skin and eyes is especially important in infants, as young bodies may be more susceptible to absorption and damage from outside toxins and are still growing and developing. SLS and related compounds act as potent endocrine system disruptors by mimicking estrogen, thereby wreaking havoc in young developing bodies and pre-, peri- and post-menopausal women.

  • SLS and related compounds cause skin and eye irritation and allergic reactions.
  • In the presence of nitrogen (present in all plant and animal tissues) SLS produces nitrosamines, potent carcinogens. Cosmetics research chemist Dr. David H. Fine estimates that a person would be applying 50 to 100 times the nitrosamine consumed in a serving of bacon preserved with nitrates.
  • The Journal of Investigative Dermatology reports that SLS causes cracking and inflammation of the skin. Skin layers may separate and become inflammed due to SLS' protein-denaturing effects.
  • SLS damages DNA in cells according to Japanese studies (possibly through the same denaturing action). DNA damage leads to genetic mutation and/or premature cell death.

In conclusion, SLS and all its cousins are harsh, irritant detergents that strip the skin's moisture barrier (important to immunity and overall health as well as skin health). They cause serious health problems in animal tests and have been shown to damage children's delicate eyes; they denature proteins, which skin is made of (!); and they combine with commonly-used chemicals DEA, MEA and TEA (often found in the same shampoo) to form nitrosamines, potent carcinogens.

They are used because of their potent foaming and oil-stripping actions: it is unhealthy to strip the oils from your skin as it causes our skin to become too permeable; after these chemicals have harmed our skin and organs they pass into ground and surface water supplies to do further harm through their toxic, endocrine-disruptive and surfactant effects (which disrupt water's important surface tension properties).