This posting was first premiered in our Chemical Free Home class. Once again, we see cross-pollination of the chemical kind -- where one nasty chemical has many uses and starts as an ingredient in a harsh toilet cleaner and then ends up in your beauty care products.
Here is the original post with additions for our class today: There is certainly a lot of mud slinging going on about this one to be sure. Advocates on both sides of the spectrum argue their points very well. Let's discuss briefly, what a sulfate is and why it is used, and then we'll enter the mosh pit and see why tensions are high.
There are two main types of sulfates: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate. Found in most shampoos, soaps, and detergents – along with a host of other products, SLS is used as a surfactant and emulsifier. Basically, it adds the bubbly, mixes the solution together better, and strips oils on contact. Because that’s what you want, all the natural oils on your body stripped clean.
This actually isn’t the main concern with Sodium Laurel Sulfate/Laureth Sulfate. Really, the issue is it is toxicity through manufacture. Known for being severely harsh to skin, causing rashes and dermatitis, or with higher concentrations, burns, SLS seems to have much more hidden beneath the surface. But it’s all up for debate. Some say it’s safe enough. Some say it’s beyond toxic and unable to be processed by the liver – remaining in the body for up to a week after exposure. What’s the truth? Well… more research must be done before conclusive results are available. Yet, we do know a few things and worry about a few more.
Here’s the scoop: The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has stated sodium laureth sulfate requires processing with other chemicals to reduce harshness. When Ethylene oxide is added to SLS it can result in 1,4- dioxane--a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency known carcinogen. Inhalation exposure ranging from a few minutes to a few hours has been shown to cause a variety of issues from headache and vertigo to irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Just how lethal is 1,4-dioxane? Well, for example, long-term ingestion of 1,4-dioxane in rats has caused cancer, tumors, kidney and liver damage. Long-term oral exposure has shown increased tumor appearances in both humans and rats.
With repeated warnings from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease stating that long-term skin exposure results in liver and the kidney toxicity with possible links to cancer, we can’t ignore the possible threat of these toxins. Even if those awful side effects weren’t listed, SLS has been blacklisted by hair clinics everywhere as the cause of thinning hair and lack of hair regrowth. As it is an ingredient in the vast majority of shampoos, we should all be worried. Not only will the chemicals be soaking into our skin and thus into our bloodstream and organs, but we’ll end up bald as well. Sulfates are also concerning because they were found to break down proteins, which can lead to a degenerative effect on the cell membranes. If that isn't enough, sulfates were also found to leave residue in the heart, lungs, and brain. Sounds like a recipe of disaster we should all avoid, don’t you think? Is something ever truly “safe enough” with all those possible side effects?
This is one required to be on the label, so do your reading!