Safety Alerts Saves Lives
Safety Alerts  
Home Privacy About Us Contact Us Change Preferences

August 31, 1999

Coming Clean - Facts About Additives in Shampoos, Soaps and Detergents

Part 1

WASHINGTON, D.C. (SafetyAlerts) - Rumors which have been circulating around the Internet have raised questions and fears regarding the safety of certain additives that are commonly found in shampoos, soaps, detergents, shaving cream and even toothpaste.

Unfortunately, the answer as to whether these additives are safe is not a simple one.  Rumors, half truths and incorrect information has built a mountain of confusion regarding this issue.

The additive in question is known as "SLS".  Even the meaning of the acronym has been under controversy.   What SLS actually stands for, according to the  Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association, is "Sodium Lauryl Sulfate" a surfactant which is used by manufacturers to amplify foaming or lathering.  This chemical has been confused with "Sodium Laureth Sulfate" which, although similar in sound and use, is a completely separate chemical.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate - This common additive, along with other chemicals in this family of additives such as Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate is added to many soaps, shampoos and other toiletries and has been examined by an independent panel of experts chosen by the CTIF.

Results of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review  testing done on animals found heavy deposition of the detergent on the skin surface and in the hair follicles causing possible, if minor,  hair loss.  "Further, it has been reported that 1 percent and 5 percent Sodium Lauryl Sulfate produced a   significant number of comedones when applied to animals.   These two problems - possible hair loss and comedone formation - along with proven irritancy, should be considered in the formulation of cosmetic products."

Sounds bad, right?  Well, sort of.  The panel of experts have fully assessed the safety of this ingredient and found it to be safe. The report stated that Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate appear to be safe in products designed for discontinuous, brief use followed by thorough rinsing from the surface of the skin.  In products intended for prolonged contact with skin, concentrations should not exceed 1 percent.  You can view the report findings here.

SafetyAlerts talked to Don Havery, a chemist for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whom told us the claims that SLS can cause cancer are false.  "There are no indications that Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or Ammonium Sulfate are carcinogens." Haverly said, "These false rumors have mislead people into believing the product is dangerous."

In an effort to reduce the amount of SLS absorbed by the skin and hair, some manufacturers have combined surfactants with Ethylene oxide.   This procedure actually enlarges the molecule of the additive, thus making it harder to penetrate the skin and hair.  The resulting product is called Sodium Laureth Sulfate.

Part Two of this article deals with Sodium Laureth Sulfate and its relation to possible cancer causing agents.  Part 2 can be found by clicking here.


Top of Page
(To return - Click Back On Your Browser)