SLS and SLES Shampoo – What Are They? Sodium Lauryl and Sodium Laureth Sulfate

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Over the past few years, as more and more people become aware of the different harsh chemicals found in the personal care products that they’re using, more and more clean and natural brands of hair care, skincare, and cosmetics have been launched.

Some of the harsh and toxic chemicals that people are now choosing to avoid include parabens, phthalates, formaldehydes, and sulfates, which are detergents that help products to foam. They are found in most shampoos and body washes.

The two most common sulfates are Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laurel Ether Sulfate (SLES).

In this article, I’ll discuss SLS and SLES Shampoo. I’ll take a closer look at each one so that you can decide whether you want to use it on your hair, and give a few recommendations for SLS and SLES-Free shampoos.


SLS and SLES Shampoo – Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Most of the common branded shampoos that you will see on your drugstore shelf contain either SLS or SLES, which are used to make the foam lather that washes away dirt and debris from your hair.

SLS and SLE obviously sound quite similar. They are both sulfate surfactants, and they both provide a similar result. But they are actually two completely different chemicals in the way they act. 

For example, SLES is an acronym for Sodium Laureth Sulfate, which is also known as Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate.

Meanwhile, SLS is an acronym for Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, which is also known as SDS, or Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate, and SAS, or Sodium Alkyl Sulfate.

Confused?

Yeah, well, so were we.

Therefore, there’s no need to feel judged for doing the wrong thing!

Surfactant Power

Dismissing the alphabet soup of acronyms, whatever these chemicals are called, they all act as surfactants, which is a fancy word for detergent that is effective at removing dirt and oil, and rinses away easily with water. 

They are the ingredients that produce a good lather.

This is why these chemicals are used as ingredients in personal care products like soaps, cleaning products, body washes, and shampoos. But they’re derived from petroleum, which strips the skin and hair of its natural oils, and gets worse with continued use.


What’s the Difference Between Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate?

SLS is an ingredient that may cause irritation. SLES is essentially a less-irritating version of SLS.

SLES is the result of processing SLS to remove a chemical called 1,4-dioxane from SLS, resulting in SLES.

Great!

But there’s no guarantee that the process works, and many shampoos that say that they have SLES as an ingredient still have 1,4-dioxane present.

Because manufacturers don’t need to confirm the removal of 1,4-dioxane, it can be assumed that they do not actually remove it fully due to the cost of doing so. Since SLS is an effective surfactant that is relatively cheap to make, it wouldn’t make sense to add more cost to a company’s bottom line if it wasn’t mandated.

The Environmental Protection Agency considers 1,4-dioxane a probable human carcinogen. Many people choose to avoid both chemicals in their shampoos, because of the way they can damage your health, and because it’s essentially impossible to tell if the SLES is actually 1,4-dioxane-free.

Many people choose to avoid both chemicals in their shampoos, because of the way they can damage your health, and because it’s essentially impossible to tell if the SLES is actually 1,4-dioxane-free.

SLS is considered the strongest and most effective of these detergents, so has been the most commonly used. However, it’s also the most irritating to your skin if it’s consistently used. 

In fact, there have been several studies done that have shown that SLS causes damage to the acid barrier of the skin, which damages the body’s natural oil balance, and leads to redness, dryness, and irritating itchy skin. 

In some cases, SLS use will even cause eczema and dermatitis, which can lead to dandruff from using shampoo preserved with this chemical.

This is why SLES is found in many brand name detergents and cleaners, including hand soaps, body and shower gels, and shampoos. 

Although the EPA says there’s no evidence that the foaming agent SLS could be carcinogenic, and it doesn’t contain 1,4-dioxane as a result of processing, there have been studies conducted that conclude long-term use of SLS can irritate the skin and hair, and many believe it can lead to hair loss.

This is especially true when the products contain high concentrations of SLS. Most SLS concentrations range between 0.01% to 50%, so it really depends on the actual product that you use whether or not your skin is being bombarded with high doses. 

If you are concerned about this, and want to be more mindful of the chemical formulations in the skincare and haircare products that you use, then you may want to consider other alternatives to these common detergents.

So, Should I Choose A Sulfate-Free Shampoo?

If the shampoo you use contains SLS or SLES, it works well for your hair, and you don’t suffer from dry or irritated skin, then there’s no reason for you to switch to a sulfate-free shampoo.

If the shampoo you use contains SLS or SLES, it works well for your hair, and you don’t suffer from dry or irritated skin, then there’s no reason for you to switch to a sulfate-free shampoo.

However, there are many shampoos now available that contain safer chemical alternatives, such as Sodium Coco Sulfate (SCS), which is a coconut fatty acid derivative, sodium lauryl sulfoacetate (SLSA), Disodium/Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Decyl Glucoside, and Lauryl Glucoside.

Have nightmare flashbacks to chemistry class yet?

Sorry.

All of the above are surfactants and cleansing agents that aren’t derived from petroleum, so are more gentle for your skin. Therefore, if you have sensitive skin, then it would be a wise decision to choose one of these recommended shampoos mentioned below.


SLS Free Shampoos

1. Love and Beauty Planet Vegan Biotin & Sun Kissed Mandrin Sulfate-Free Shampoo 

Love Beauty And Planet Sulfate-Free Deep Cleanse, Hydrate, Strengthen, Volumize & Shine Vegan Biotin & Sun-Kissed Mandarin 5-in-1 Multi Benefit Nourishing Shampoo, 32.3 Fl Oz
  • OUR HAIR CARE PROMISE: infused with...
  • 5-in-1 MULTI-BENEFIT SHAMPOO: this...
  • YES Safe for Colored hair, YES...
  • NOURISHING SHAMPOO FORMULA WITH 6 FREE...
  • 97 PERCENT NATURALLY DERIVED SHAMPOO:...

Love Beauty And Planet Vegan Biotin & Sun Kissed Mandarin Sulfate Free Shampoo is one such recommendation that will deeply cleanse, hydrate, and strengthen your strands to leave them appearing full, volumized, and shiny.

It includes coconut oil that will visibly nourish your hair, while its cruelty-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free, and sulfate-free formula will give you voluptuous tresses with a fresh and citrusy fragrance to uplift your mood and keep you in a positive vibe all day long.

It also has a matching conditioner. 

2. Color Wow's Color Security Shampoo 

Color Wow Color Security Shampoo - 100% clean, sulfate-free, silicone-free; leaves no residues behind for your healthiest hair + scalp; for all hair types, including color-treated hair
  • 100% clean, sulfate-free shampoo is...
  • Contains no ingredients (like silicones,...
  • Promotes healthier hair by not leaving...
  • Gentle and safe; great for fragile,...
  • Rinse-clean formula protects against...

If you have colored locks that you need to tend to, and are wanting to try a sulfate-free shampoo option, then Color Wow’s Color Security Shampoo could be exactly what you’ve been looking for.  

Although it’s not a clarifying shampoo, it contains clean ingredients that are free of sulfates, silicones, and thickening resins, so it won’t clog your hair follicles with product buildup, which can lead to unhealthy hair growth. It also washes out easily, and can be used on all types of colored hair. 

3. Aveeno Fresh Greens Blend Sulfate-Free Shampoo 

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Aveeno, Fresh Greens Blend Sulfate-Free Shampoo with Rosemary, Peppermint & Cucumber to Thicken & Nourish, Clarifying & Volumizing Shampoo for Thin or Fine Hair, Paraben-Free, 12oz
  • REFRESH & VOLUMIZE: Infused with oats,...
  • CLARIFY & THICKEN: Infused with...
  • FARM FRESH INSPIRED: We make hair care...
  • SOOTHING PROPERTIES: We've been a...
  • BEAUTIFUL HAIR FROM ROOT TO TIP: Our...

My final recommendation is Aveeno Fresh Greens Blend Sulfate-Free Shampoo, which is formulated for thin, fine, and medium hair to clarify your scalp, and refresh and thicken your locks to leave it looking volumized.

Also free of parabens, this Fresh Green Blend shampoo is infused with natural oat, rosemary, peppermint and cucumber to add cooling and moisture, and is also safe to use on color-treated hair.


Final Thoughts

As we’ve said before, if you’re happy with the shampoo that you’re using and are satisfied with the results that it provides, then there’s no reason for you to stop doing so. However, you should be aware that there are some ingredients that could eventually cause skin irritation that you could do without. 

When it comes to SLS and SLES Shampoo, what are they, and can they cause you harm? If you already have sensitive skin, then overuse of shampoo and other personal care products with these ingredients can contribute to irritation.

So, if you want to keep your skin at its healthiest, why not try one of the sulfate-free shampoo recommendations above?

Your hair and your skin will thank you for it.

Written by Jacqueline Ames