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What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate?

By Y. Chen
Updated May 21, 2024
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When manufacturers mix sulfuric acid, monododecyl ester, and sodium salt together, they can, surprisingly, come up with an everyday product that is used by much of the general human population. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), is a chemical compound used as a detergent in many beauty, household, and industrial products. In a pure state, it is known to emit toxic fumes in the presence of excessive heat because of thermal decomposition. But when mixed into diluted concentrations, it can be bottled and sold as a brand name skin care product or cologne.

This compound's role in these products is usually that of a foaming or a dispersal agent. For example, toothpaste or bubble baths that foam when used contain sodium lauryl sulfate, as so products that need its components dispersed homogeneously, such as fragrance oils in body spray.

However, the use of sodium lauryl sulfate has been a subject of lot of controversy. It has arguably been called one of the most dangerous ingredients in products today. Household essentials like cosmetic cleansers, bath gels, shampoos, and dishwashing detergents contain up to 15% of the compound. Also adapted for industrial applications, it is present in higher concentrations when used in floor scrubbing and degreasing solutions, due to its corrosive and grease-fighting properties.

One thing about sodium lauryl sulfate that had a lot of animal rights activists protesting is its use in clinical testing. The chemical is employed as a primary skin irritant in trial tests on animal or human subjects. Usually, after the compound is applied to the skin, a rash is likely to develop. The product itself, usually intended to heal skin irritation, is then tested for its effectiveness.

Besides subjecting human and animal test subjects to different degrees of discomfort, critics claim that sodium lauryl sulfate is retained in organ tissues like the heart, liver, and brain. In lab animals, testing has been blamed for causing mutagenic effects. If it remains in the eyes for too long, it may also lead to the development of cataracts. Because sodium lauryl sulfate is corrosive by nature, it can dry out skin by stripping the protective lipids from the surface, weakening the body's natural moisture regulation mechanisms. If it eats away at the follicle, hair loss may also be induced.

In extreme cases, sodium lauryl sulfate is argued to be carcinogenic, though not by itself. When exposed to other nitrogen-bearing ingredients of a skin product though, the oxidation reaction that results may form nitrosomines, which are carcinogenic nitrates. Opponents of this argument claim that the percentage of the compound in such products is usually not enough to cause cancer in humans. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) are all research-based organizations that have rated it as non-carcinogenic.

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Discussion Comments
By anon938815 — On Mar 10, 2014

Thanks anon for sharing your experience and for your time on making all this info available to us. You said it well. Good for you!!! I don't consider anyone who is cautions about their health and responsible for it, to be paranoid. You know what? I consider you a higher human being with pure intelligence, maybe even a highly spiritual being just by your beautiful disposition. Thanks for enlightening me and I hope others are enlightened, too.

By heroay — On Jan 31, 2014

@anon59030 Post 5: Being born and lived all my life in a dry area, at age 6 I developed 'allergies'. And by (unrelated) age 15 I developed migraines. I hated both. But in a short span of month and a half, my migraines stopped til this day, and my allergy to Bermuda grass mainly, is also gone.

I took B-15, two tabs a day. And today, still as 'maintenance'. Plus a dozen other bad things that B-15 helps to remedy, by helping the liver function more efficiently. Calcium Pangamate, the Russian Formula. Good'n'Natural brand. Very inexpensive.

Also, to your child, get a good natural Children's Multivit, high in Bioflavonoids, or buy an extra bottle of C with Bioflavonoids. Don't addict him to worthless pharma drugs, when the solution has been at hand for several decades already.

By heroay — On Jan 31, 2014

@anon92438 Post 10: If your mom's problem is because of thyroid dysfunction, please read online all you can about symptoms and possible non-pharma solutions.

A medical discovery from 100-200 years ago, was the proper combination of potassium and iodine. The one manufacturer in the US until a few years ago, was made to run out of the country, but established in Ecuador (!!). i could buy (to experiment) Potassium Iodine through the Internet, and did receive my concentrated supply.

The thyroid stores iodine, needs iodine, and blood circulates every 17 minutes through it, and iodine disinfects it. With suppressed iodine in our thyroid, we are exposed to germ warfare, like, from 'our' government (WMD, 4 in 1, Lab made, Novartis patent, "Swine Flu").

Or, on the possibility of 'accidental' nuclear radiation or nuclear waste/spill, Potassium Iodide is essential to remove nuclear contamination. Is that why that company was made to go? O.K., conspiracy theory, but I' rather trust these theories, than the bolsheviks squatting at the D.C. Latrine.

By heroay — On Jan 31, 2014

@anon126867 post 13: "supposedly causes... human race still here... convenient links... overpriced "natural" products... easily duped... not saying either side... stop being so freaking paranoid".

An experience not lived, is 'freaking paranoid belief', won't you say so? Human 'species' (not 'race') is still here, because the 'gods on earth' decided in 1974 they had the 'power' of disinformation, plus military might, to exterminate 80 percent of the world's population (today, 95 percent). Agenda 21 failed only because we have the Internet to expose 'them', and which 'they' cannot suppress. Henry Kissinger ring a bell?

As for 'overpriced', it costs money to manufacture these products. But the leftovers of the New World Order bosses' petro-chemical poisons are cheap, instead.

Regardless, why insist on putting all these poisons in our food and water supply without OUR approval? Agenda 21. To deny it is 'freaking ignorant'. Or, 'complicit'?

By heroay — On Jan 31, 2014

To anon140923 Post 18: "A powerful lobby with many industries including pharmaceuticals."

Right on. Inform yourself and spread it to the four winds: "Agenda 21"; "New World Order"; "Agribusiness"; "CFR"; "Bilderbergers"; "Fiat money"; "Federal Reserve"; "World Bank"; "International Monetary Fund"; Rockefeller; Rothschild, and the beast from Babylon will show its ugly face.

By heroay — On Jan 31, 2014

anon133898 Post 16: It's really sad to hear people complaining about some ailment, or bad products, or robbery prices, when we have available manufacturers and suppliers with consumers in mind, rather than profits in their pockets. Good health to you!

By heroay — On Jan 31, 2014

@anon147723 Post 19: My sympathy for you. I used to buy three bottles of analgesics at a time for my migraines which started at age 15, eons ago. In a month and a half of taking B-15, Calcium Pangamate, the Russian Formula, but not 'DMG' (doesn't work the same), I got rid of my migraines forever! Yes, eons ago. Best source, Good'n'Natural brand. Best!

If these 'sores' are due to common (80 percent of population) herpes (find out), start consuming extra virgin coconut oil, long suppressed (like B-15), but now more readily available at the local health food stores, and even local food markets. Download various free PDFs about coconut oil benefits. The amino Lysine will also help control, while the infection is destroyed.

As for your conclusions at your early age on the why of SLS everywhere, they are astounding. You are on top of the nail. 'They' (not 'idiots', criminals. Read, "Agenda 21") but sure are trying to kill 95 percent of the world's population: Chemtrails, fluoride, aspartame, GMOs, irradiated 'food', hormones, pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, mercury, aluminum, BSP, DU, and of course, 'their' never ending wars. We die, not 'them'! Until payback time, as prophesied in Revelation.

By heroay — On Jan 31, 2014

To amypollick Post 20: Besides using baking soda on your toothbrush, a potent alkaline compound, you could possibly use Peelu, the natural cleansing toothpaste. It contains a natural fiber abrasive for gentle cleansing of plaque, and a safe array of ingredients.

By heroay — On Jan 31, 2014

@anon162853 Post 21: I feel sorry for your undeserved situation. Your best bet is to dump all pharma products in the trash bin. Research the Net for natural healing products and providers. Hit these world class criminals in their pockets and ill profits. And inform yourself about Agenda 21 (for the 21st century) by the wanna-be "gods on earth", who claim there is overpopulation and it needs to be 'reduced', by 95 percent. Yes, by these 'gods'.

By heroay — On Jan 31, 2014

@anon189701 Post 24: "Bayer, slow-kill, inactive ingredient, China, Kosher." Right on the button, but with "Nazi slow-kill products", you are way off. There are no Nazis today, but plenty of Bolsheviks everywhere, especially in the government, including the FDA and all the other letter soup agencies.

If you check online about Agenda 21, and the infamous Henry Kissinger behind it since 1974, plus 'their' forced fluoridation of water, chemtrails in our atmosphere, food poisoning (SLS, GMOs, pesticides, aspartame, included), plastic ingredients in dog food, mercury and aluminum in 'vaccines', LIVE pathogens in Flu (WMD) 'vaccines' (actually, carriers), to name a 'few', you can see who is actually doing the slow killing of the world population. Until they get kickbacks from us.

By heroay — On Jan 31, 2014

@anon191948 Post 26: Reading only what you like about that SLS poison? It's a chemical, cheap surfactant, used at the car wash. I am not a car and none of the present posters are either, that I know of.

But even when used in shampoo, the scalp readily absorbs it, it goes into the bloodstream, and the liver is put to a task to 'metabolize' it. Or, destroy it to get rid of it. SLS is everywhere, because the Agenda 21 agents have to poison us any which way they can. It's all over the Net and for at least a decade, that I found out. Manufacturers using SLS without our consent, should be jailed and their licenses removed for life. And one day soon they just might.

By heroay — On Jan 31, 2014

@anon348550 Post 31: Dump your 'medicines', and pain drugs. Take two B-15 and six Garlic and Parsley caps (Good n Natural BEST product, and LuckyVitamin.com BEST source.) daily. Calcium Pangamate, the Russian Formula, B-15, suppressed back in mid-eighties, but 'miraculously' 'released' by the powers that not be, around 2006, that I know. I have not only personal but family and friends' testimonials. Fix your problem. Do not treat the symptoms.

You may also want to reinforce your whole bone system, including your teeth. Take fermented cod liver oil with ghee (butter oil). There is only one manufacturer in the US for the oil, but several providers are online.

And the FDA (Freak Deception Agents) won't listen to you -- only to the Pharma Mafia. They are against you. 'They' are killing us, really. Do not believe anyone saying otherwise. They are disinformation agents for Big Pharma and the AMA.

By anon348550 — On Sep 18, 2013

I am also concerned with the addition of SLS to prescription and OTC medications. I get a mouth full of canker sores each time I have to take painkiller. Since I am dealing with osteoarthritis, that amounts to a lot of canker sores.

I have gone to the FDA website and added a comment. Maybe if enough Americans voice their concerns, the FDA will pay attention.

By anon325681 — On Mar 17, 2013

My angel food cake mix also contains sodium lauryl sulfate as a whipping agent. Why does this pass FDA rules?

By anon320853 — On Feb 20, 2013

I just want to say I live in Britain and I am on a low salt diet. I have been taking iron tablets for a while. Lately, I have been feeling really ill, with sickness, dizziness etc., and had very bad headaches.

I checked my medicines and they have changed and the new iron tablets contain SLS. It's really sad that tablets make you more ill than you were in the first place.

I feel that people who understand all these chemicals should stand up and say something. There are a lot of ill and vulnerable people out there who unwittingly take what the doctors prescribe.

By anon296468 — On Oct 11, 2012

SLS is in Doxasin tablets that are probably taken by most people with high blood pressure - and this is in the UK.

By amypollick — On Jun 29, 2011

@anon191948: I don't make a habit of jumping on the "chemicals bad" bandwagon, but I cannot have SLS in my toothpaste. It gives me mouth ulcers. Something about that stuff irritates the lining of my mouth and I'll get a mouth ulcer every time. They are painful and annoying, and I'd just rather toothpaste didn't contain this stuff. I get aggravated having to pay $6 for toothpaste that doesn't have it, just so I don't have to deal with the mouth ulcers.

I wish it was just used in shampoo, etc. It has no business in toothpaste.

By anon191948 — On Jun 29, 2011

To all posting negative comments about SLS: did you guys read that it is non-carcinogenic? I do get if you have skin irritations, or are ingesting it, but it is fine for use in shampoo, conditioners, etc, because those are not designed to be left on the skin, and irritation showed when it was left on the skin for extended periods of time, but it is a lathering agent, which would irritate skin if left on too long. it's a safe synthetic, people!

By anon189702 — On Jun 23, 2011

Barbasol shaving cream contains sodium lauryl sulfate as well. I'll use soap from now on.

By anon189701 — On Jun 23, 2011

Bayer aspirin contains sodium laurel sulfate, as well. Time we took matters into our own hands and end the slow-kill now. There is no aspirin on the market without this inactive ingredient. If you know of one, well then say so, please. Liquid hand soap has it, but Dial glycerin soap does not.

Manufacturers: overwhelmingly from China! Do a search.

As well as Penta Manufacturing, who claim to make Kosher products! More like Nazi slow-kill products. This is anything but kosher.

By anon172021 — On May 02, 2011

Celebrex and Macrobid (nitrofurantoin) contain SLS.

By anon162853 — On Mar 25, 2011

I was prescribed iron tablets for anemia and have been taking them for a year. Only recently I noticed the list of ingredients and was horrified to see that the tablets contain sodium lauryl sulfate.

I asked the pharmacist if I could look at alternative iron tablets and each one she showed me also contained it. For years I have avoided this chemical by not using skin care products or shampoos where it is present. Now I have found out that I have, unknowingly, been ingesting it for years. I cannot understand why a cleaning agent and foaming agent needs to be put into tablets.

By amypollick — On Jan 31, 2011

I have been known to get mouth ulcers, so I have to be very careful about my toothpaste, since SLS seems to trigger them.

I have found that using Rembrandt toothpaste for canker sores (mouth ulcers) really, really helps me. According to the website, the canker sore formula is SLS free. When I use it, I don't get the mouth ulcers. Highly recommended.

By anon147723 — On Jan 30, 2011

Ugh! I took Advil and got like, five of worst mouth ulcers imaginable! Plus the fact I only weigh like 69 pounds(I'm 11). I'm too scared to take it for fear of an overdose.

The people who put SLS in stuff are idiots! What are they trying to do? Kill us? Exterminate the human race?

They must, because that's what they're doing.

By anon140923 — On Jan 09, 2011

Advil does contain SLS. it's listed on the label and on their website. when i take Advil i get a severe rash and itching all over my arms. when i use shampoos with SLS my scalp breaks out with an itchy rash.

SLS is in toothpaste and even brands that market themselves as "natural" so read labels. the manufacturers of SLS must have a powerful lobby with many industries including pharmaceuticals.

By anon137591 — On Dec 28, 2010

Is sodium lauryl sulfate known by any other name? I have extremely painful, cracked skin on my fingers, which bleed. Another article that I read suggested that sls in various products could be the underlying cause.

So, I checked my shampoo, hair conditioner, hand lotions, shower gel, etc. and none of them had sls listed in the ingredients. Since it is so widely used in these types of products, I'm thinking it must be listed under an alias. Does anyone know?

By anon133898 — On Dec 12, 2010

I also found SLS in a Kirkland vitamin brand from Costco!

By anon128595 — On Nov 19, 2010

I'm 47 and recently saw my local GP about some dizziness and nausea I was experiencing. He prescribed Stremzine 5 mg x 3 times daily. Seeing how I have used this medical center, and the nearby chemist, I usually feel very safe when they ask me if I want a 'cheaper brand.' it's a small community, same staff for yonks etc. They know I have asthma! They know I have crohn's! So why the hell would they give me something with SLS in it?

By anon128495 — On Nov 19, 2010

If anyone would like to know the long-term effects of SLS, I welcome you to read on. I speak from personal experience. At the beginning of 2010, I wound up in the ER with uncontrollable vomiting. It was not food poisoning, but the doctors were not sure what was causing it. A month prior, I had just started a new medication. I decided to call the FDA and they advised me to look up the ingredients of the medications I was taking online. Well, I did. The one thing that all of the medications I was taking had in common was SLS.

Several months later, when thinking about a health problem that I had following six IVF treatments, it occurred to me to look up the vaginal progesterone that I had been prescribed, and I found out that it too, contained SLS. I was furious. I have since stopped all medications and have been feeling a thousand times better.

One thing I did not mention was the fact that I had to take massive amounts of acid reflux medications over the 10-year period that I was taking the different medications containing SLS. Since stopping all of those meds, I have not had to take any acid reflux meds. Coincidence? I don't think so. Think about that for a moment. I have since done a lot of research on SLS and I am horrified at the amount every human being is exposed to on a daily basis. Not only is it in medications, it is also in our food supply (and not readily obvious). The fact that this is allowed is heinous!

Bottom line: live consciously. Read every label and make better choices. That is the only way to get the message across, that we will not sit back and allow this. When at all possible, stop buying the products that use SLS as an ingredient.

P.S. I do not work for any company that sells natural products and I do not have anything to gain or any hidden agenda. I'm just a concerned citizen looking out for my own health and in doing so, hope I enlighten someone else enough to convince them to make better decisions when it comes to their own health. Don't just exist, live well!

By anon126867 — On Nov 14, 2010

Like everything else that is studied, tested or examined, it supposedly causes all these deadly problems, but interestingly enough, the human race is still here.

I find it even more interesting that on all of these pages that tout the evils of these chemicals, they have convenient links to other pages that sell all the various overpriced "natural" products.

People are easily duped. I'm not saying either side is right or wrong, I'm just saying people need to stop being so freaking paranoid already.

By anon111866 — On Sep 18, 2010

SLS is also in a fiber source called Citrucel, tablets. Label says, smart fiber?

By anon107424 — On Aug 30, 2010

The doctor prescribed me calcium citrate with vit D and after a few days i developed a swelling on my eyes. When i checked the ingredients of the RX i saw the word sulfate.

Because I am allergic to sulfa i checked in my computer and i found the information about this ingredient. I know now that the lauryl sulfate is the reason for my face being swollen. Why does the FDA let the pharmaceutical companies kill people?

By anon92438 — On Jun 28, 2010

My mother is taking Levothyroxine for her thyroid and I have been checking its side effects. One of the inactive ingredients is "sodium lauryl sulfate", among others. My mother's health is very bad. She says her legs and hands feel dead. No wonder. The Journal of American College of Toxicology, Vol.2,#7, 1983 "Has a degenerative effect on the cell membrane because of its protein denaturing properties." My mother can only stand for a few moments. This is very sad.

By anon89181 — On Jun 09, 2010

I have been avoiding SLS for some time now - much to my daughter's irritation (she's 15 and wants to use all those products her friends use). However, I have a slightly different attitude from the above article. There are plenty of chemicals (both natural and man-made) that are extremely powerful and damaging if used in concentration that we use every day without thought so the fact that SLS is one of those chemicals is not reason enough to avoid it.

I always check the ingredients of anything taken internally and I have never come across medication with SLS in, so I'm guessing that the above posters are from the USA? So I think in Britain we must have regulations preventing it.

The two things that concern me are the synergistic effects. I have no idea what items in my bathroom have nitrogen in them, and the accumulative effects. Could someone enlighten me?

Sarah - a less wise geek

By anon81569 — On May 02, 2010

Killing viruses just creates super-bacteria and super-viruses that shall soon be immune to everything we have to throw at them.

SLS is in Clorox's Green Works® products - scary!

By anon64401 — On Feb 07, 2010

FYI: a brand of aspirin or acetylsalicylic acid called Truly contains sodium lauryl sulfate. Read the ingredients. --Linda

By anon59169 — On Jan 06, 2010

"Why on earth would the pharmaceutical industry put a detergent in a medication?" because they want to kill you? and because they want your money?

By anon59030 — On Jan 05, 2010

Here's a good one. My 8 year old son takes a generic Zyrtec (Cetirizine Hydrochloride)for allergies which we buy from the pharmacy. It is less expensive than the over the counter generics.

This last time we got a bottle and I noticed that this was from a different manufacturer than all of the previous bottles we've had.

He started developing a rash around his mouth, which ended up looking like a burn-at the same time he really was having asthma flare ups.

I wasn't sure what was up-- I thought maybe he had eaten something over the holidays or his body was just run down and was having trouble fighting the allergens off.

Going over all the "what's so different" possibilities, I remembered that the medication was different. I checked the bottle and saw SLS in the inactive ingredient list!

Why on earth would a drug manufacturer put an ingredient which is known to cause skin rashes and compromise organ tissues in an allergy medication?!! Hello! Talk about stupid!

By anon57342 — On Dec 22, 2009

The risk is not worth it. purchase a brand name instead of generic medicine because it is where you will find most Sodium lauryl sulfate as a filler. So people, generic drugs are not always the same.

By anon55049 — On Dec 04, 2009

I am sure it kills viruses, seriously.

By anon54622 — On Dec 01, 2009

We are importing Aspirin BP 75 mg dispersible tablet manufactured by Hamold Ltd. (the name of the company is "Care" to be used by the general public (procured by the public sector).

This product contains sodium lauryl sulfate. Since thousands of people are chronically using this product, I really am concerned about the danger this chemical may impart on the health of those people.

We all know that this chemical may pose great problems when used in skin care products including shampoos and hair products. What would we expect if it is taken internally (systemically)?

I know very well since I was a student in the school of pharmacy (mid eighties) that sodium lauryl sulfate as a surfactant should only be reserved for external use and now scientists are telling us not to use even in external products. I know why manufacturers are including it in a dispersible tablet, but is it worth it if we jeopardize people's health?

A concerned pharmacist

By anon47681 — On Oct 06, 2009

I read the non-medicinal ingredients in the medication Advil, and found that it contains sodium lauryl sulfate. I was taking Advil for a headache over a few days and developed a stomach ulcer which took a long time to heal. Why on earth would the pharmaceutical industry put a detergent in a medication?

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