Sodium Lauryl Sulfate: What It Is and Why Should We Avoid It?
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is a detergent, thickener and emulsifier. It is used to help blend and stabilize a cosmetic mixture and it’s been used for a long time. But that doesn’t mean it’s good for your skin. While there are unsubstantiated claims on the internet that SLS may cause hormone disruption and possibly cancer, there is no valid science to support this.
What does concern us is that SLS is proven to be a known skin irritant. In fact, it’s one of the most irritating ingredients used in skincare products. A 2003 German study1 found that SLS increased water loss from the skin, causing skin dehydration. In 2008, a study published In the Journal of Investigative Dermatology2 showed that SLS disrupts the barrier function of the skin, and more recent research3 confirms this.
SLS is a common ingredient in many skin cleansers and moisturisers, but it may not be supporting your skin health, especially if you have eczema, dermatitis or acne. These inflammatory skin conditions disrupt the barrier function of the skin, causing itching, flaking, dryness and redness. Applying moisturisers that contain a known skin irritant that is proven to disturb the barrier function of the skin just doesn’t make sense. “An ideal emollient would repair the skin barrier, maintain skin integrity and appearance, reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL), and restore the lipid barrier's ability to attract, hold, and redistribute water. However, the market abundance of emollients ranging from traditional to the designer ones makes the choice of an ideal product confusing.”4
Our advice is to always read the labels of any cleanser or moisturiser and avoid any products that contain SLS, especially if you have eczema, rosacea, dermatitis, acne or psoriasis.
- Löffler H, Happle R. Profile of irritant patch testing with detergents: sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate and alkyl polyglucoside.
Contact Dermatitis 2003 Jan;48(1):26-32.
- Torma H, Lindberg M, Berne B. Skin Barrier Disruption by Sodium Lauryl Sulfate-Exposure Alters the Expressions of Involucrin, Transglutaminase 1, Profilaggrin, and Kallikreins during the Repair Phase in Human Skin In Vivo
Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Vol 128, Issue 5, May 2008, Pages 1212-1219
- Schwitulla J, Brasch J, Löffler H, Schnuch A, Geier J, Uter W. Cutaneous Allergy Skin irritability to sodium lauryl sulfate is associated with increased positive patch test reactions.
British Journal of Dermatology. March 05 2014
- Criton S, Gangadharan G. Nonpharmacological Management of Atopic Dermatitis.
Indian Journal of Paediatric Dermatology. 2017. Vol 18:3 166-173