Updated May 18th, 2017 Written by a Staff Member of Hair Loss in Women
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a a detergent found in many shampoos, body washes, toothpastes, and other beauty products. High concentrations of SLS are found in industrial cleaning solutions such as engine degreasers and floor cleaners. It’s different from sodium laureth sulfate (SLES).
In shampoo, it is the agent (in combination with salt) that creates the later and foam that we associate with washing your hair. Sulfates are surfactants, which is a mixture of molecules that can attract both water and oil, which allows soaps, shampoos, and body washes to separate dirt and oil from your skin or hair and get rinsed away.
According the American College of Toxicology, any concentration above 2% is will cause irritation of your skin, and may cause dandruff. Most shampoos have between 10% to 20%.
To put it in perspective, if SLS is used to degrease a car engine, it can reduce your bodies’ natural oils on your scalp and hair. The concentrations used to degrease a car engine are much higher, but if your shampoo contains SLS, and you’re washing your hair daily, you’re putting stress on your scalp and hair.
National Toxic Encephalopathy Foundation says that SLS can deposit in your hair follicles if you don’t wash it out, and it can slow your hair’s growth and cause thinning. It can also make new hair growth 8 times slower than normal. The salt used in conjunction with SLS can also dry your hair, making it more brittle, which leads to more breakage. SLS also causes inflammation of the scalp, which can also contribute to hair loss.
As far as health risks, the American Cancer Society says that there’s no evidence that SLS causes cancer. The Environmental Working Group’s website has a page dedicated to SLS. They don’t list SLS as a cancer risk, however, they do list is as high concern for irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs; a moderate concern for non-reproductive organ toxicity, and a low concern for ecotoxicology (harmful to the environment).
Your safest bet is to avoid shampoos with SLS. There now many shampoos without it. SLES is safer and less of an irritant, so it’s a better option (although it’s more expensive).
If you don’t want to switch shampoos, make sure that you thoroughly wash your hair to get rid of the SLS deposits and salt. And remember that the longer that the SLS is in contact with your scalp, the higher chance of irritation.
If you do switch to a shampoo without SLS, you’re not going to get the intense lather that you get with a shampoo with SLS. But creating more lather and foam doesn’t clean your hair any better; people just associate it with clean hair. It’s safer to not risk damaging your hair.
To find shampoos without SLS, you can read labels at whatever store you shop at for shampoo. Keep in mind that SLS can also be labeled as:
- Dodecyl sodium sulfate
- Dodecyl alcohol
- Hydrogen sulfate
- Sodium salt
- Dodecyl sulfate sodium
- Dodecyl sulfate sodium salt
- Sodium salt
- Lauryl sodium sulfate
- Lauryl sulfate sodium
- Lauryl sulfate sodium salt
- Lauyl sodium sulfate
- Monododecyl sodium sulfate
- Monododecyl ester
- N-dodecyl sulfate sodium
- Natrium laurylsulfuricum
- Sodium lauryl sulphate
- Sodium dodecyl sulfate
- Sulfuric acid
- Sodium salt
- Sulfuric acid monododecyl ester sodium salt
- Sulfuric acid dodecyl ester sodium salt
- Sodium monododecyl sulfate
- Sodium monolauryl sulfate
- Sodium n-dodecyl sulfate
- Sodiumlauryl ether sulfate
Do you suspect SLS as a cause of your hair loss, or is there another chemical you think might be causing it? Please leave a comment below.