Monday, September 20, 2010

Is It a Luxury or a Toxin?

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and its close relative Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are very popular ingredients in many household products today.  This is the inexpensive foaming agent in dish soaps, hand and body washes, cleaning products, and even toothpaste.  We might see this as a luxury; it is what allows us to have very calming bubble baths or really foamy shaving creams.  However, studies have shown that this may not be such an innocent luxury. The power of this substance is strong enough to scrub garage floors or to degrease an engine, and is considered to be carcinogenic over time.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate contains the known carcinogen 1,4-Dioxane, which is also known as ether. This compound is irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract. It is suspected of causing damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys. Several deaths have resulted from accidental exposure to this toxic substance.

When applied to the skin, SLS stays in the body for as long as five days and can be found in other tissues such as the liver, heart, lungs and brain.  A report published in the Journal of the American College of Toxicology in 1983 showed that concentrations as low as 0.5% could cause irritation, and concentrations of 10-30% caused severe irritation and skin corrosion. Some products have up to 30% of SLS and have been listed as being a harmful substance. SLS can also combine with other ingredients in the container and create nitrosamines, which cause further skin damage and irritation.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate shows itself in many common products today and the average consumer doesn’t even know what it is or the implications that it brings. Soaps, shampoos, bubble-baths, toothpastes, dish soap, children’s soap, mascara, mouthwash, skin moisturizer and sunscreen: these are just a few of the products that contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate.

Why do they use this product if it is so harmful?
The answer: because it is cheap. The SLS that you find in your beauty products is the same exact ingredient that they use in the garage soaps or engine degreasers. You can also bet that since this powerful degreaser can remove oil from an engine, that it removes the very essential oils on your skin as well. It has also been said that once in the body, SLS mimics the hormone estrogen, which can bring on health problems like PMS, menopausal symptoms, decreased male fertility, and increased female cancers (just to name a few). SLS also works to denature proteins, and, as you are aware, our bodies are made up of proteins. Even further, a dental association in Japan tested SLS on bacteria culture and found that it is mutagenic, which means that it has the ability to change the genetics of the cell. Another study found that in children under six, the absorption of this ingredient through the scalp everyday prevented the proteins in their eyes from properly developing. Furthermore, it is said that the SLS in toothpaste contributes to prolonged and more frequent canker sores in the mouth, and the SLS in shampoo causes hair to become more brittle and break easier. So, SLS is not only a harmful additive, but it is a beauty product ingredient that is creating a not-so-beautiful situation.

What can you do to avoid this toxin?
Read the labels on all of your products, especially ones that foam. Realize that Sodium Lauryl Sulfate has many names, including: Sodium Laurilsulfate, Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate, Sodium Diethylene Glycol Lauryl Ether Sulfate, Alkyl Ether Sulfate, Sodium Dodecyl Polyoxyethylene Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Ethoxysulfate and Sodium Polyoxyethylene Lauryl Sulfate. Ammonium Laureth Sulfate is an almost indistinguishable molecule, having only slightly different properties.

My motto: if you can’t pronounce the name and you don’t know what it is… don’t use it. Also remember that you shouldn’t put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t eat as everything is absorbed and carried throughout your body. Choose natural alternatives for skin care and beauty products. Cold-pressed coconut oil is a natural moisturizer and brings balance back to the essential oils of the skin. Find toothpastes that are SLS free and contain no fluoride (another article for another time). Also be aware of the products that list themselves as “organic” or “all-natural”, these products can still contain these harmful ingredients at times. Finally, find products that have minimal ingredients, ones that you know and trust.

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