Does Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Cause Hair Loss?

Updated July 11th, 2018          Written by a Staff Member of Hair Loss in Women

sodium lauryl sulfate causes hair loss

What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate?

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a detergent found in many shampoos, body washes, toothpaste, and other beauty products.

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 wash to separate dirt and oil from your skin or hair and get rinsed away.

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), which are also found in personal care products. SLES’s are much milder and cause less skin irritation.

What are the dangers of using SLS Shampoos?

According to the American College of Toxicology, any concentration above 2% will cause irritation of your skin and may cause dandruff. Most shampoos have between 10% to 20% concentration of SLS.

A cleaning solution which has SLS in it can be used to de-grease a car engine. Obviously, a cleaner used on a car engine has a higher concentration of SLS compared to shampoo, but it is important to note that if SLS can de-grease a car engine, then even in small concentrations of shampoos it can do more than just remove dirt and oil built up on our scalp. If you are washing your hair daily with shampoos that have SLS, you’re putting quite a bit of stress on your scalp and hair.

National Toxic Encephalopathy Foundation says that SLS can deposit in your hair follicles if not washed away, and it can slow your hair’s growth and cause your hair to thin. It can also cause new hair to take 8 times longer to grow than normal. The salt used in conjunction with SLS can also dry your hair, making it more brittle, which leads to more breakage.

Washing away excess oil and dirt from your scalp is necessary to keep your hair follicles open and healthy and allow for growth. Unfortunately, SLS can strip away too much oil, which acts as a protective barrier on the skin. Removing that can result in a very dry and irritated scalp. Too much dryness may also contribute to hair loss.

There also is the concern that SLSs can be absorbed by the skin and then the question is, are there any long-term health concerns?

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 it 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). 

Image result for sls deposit in hair follicles

Your safest bet is to avoid shampoos with SLS. There are 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 the 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
  • Lauryl sodium sulfate
  • Monododecyl sodium sulfate
  • Monododecyl ester
  • N-dodecyl sulfate sodium
  • NALS
  • Natrium laurylsulfuricum
  • Natriumlaurylsulfat
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • 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
  • Sodium Lauryl ether sulfate

Some shampoos that we recommend are:

Foxbrim Argan Oil + Shampoo

Boudica Volume Sulfate Free Shampoo & Nourishing Conditioner

OGX Shampoo, Nourishing Coconut Milk

Puracy Natural Shampoo

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.

Comments 8

    1. Great question Sheryl! It’s not common knowledge that it can cause hair loss. We’re not sure if the shampoo makers are aware.

  1. I have tried several different kinds and they all make my hair fall out They are better for my hair but I loss a lot of hair. Wynn left me with a huge bald spot. After I stopped using it the hair grew back

    1. Carol, was there anything else that chnaged in your lifestyle that may have contributed to the hair loss, such as stress or change in diet? Thank you for sharing your experience.

    2. Carol….do you mean the shampoos without the sulfates are causing your hair loss? I switched to one without sulfates for the last 6 months and my hair is thinning considerably. I am switching back to my old shampoo to see if it stops. I wonder what is in the sulfate free shampoos that is causing the thinning?

  2. My hair is falling out and I just switched shampoos I used shea moisture and I had 6 hairs fall out when I washed it compared to the handfuls I been getting with cheaper shampoos

  3. About 5 weeks ago I stopped using regular SLS shampoo and began using only conditioner. Then recently began using an SLS-free shampoo and omg my hair is already starting to thicken up and I have a ‘fuzz’ of new growth all over. I’m really excited. I’ve experienced high fall rate with my hair all my life which has prevented me from growing my hair to any decent length except when I was pregnant when my my hair grew like grass (Alas 6 weeks after childbirth hair began to fall out again)
    I’ve just always had to keep my hair short otherwise it would just end up fine and sparse at the ends and it looks awful.
    I think there’s definitely a link to SLS and hair loss.

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