Spotlight On: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

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I must admit, most of the time, if the FDA approves an ingredient, I am reassured after reading studies and expert opinions that it is fine. However, I was recently surprised to find that sodium lauryl sulfate, a very common detergent added to cleansers largely for the bubbling effect, is in fact a known skin irritant. According to Dr. Leslie Baumann’s Cosmetic Dermatology text, “[Sodium lauryl sulfate] is such a consistent irritator for skin with an impaired barrier that it is actually used in ‘challenge patch tests’ to evaluate the barrier function of skin…it strips the natural lipids from the skin, disrupting the barrier and rendering it more susceptible to external irritants.” In The DERMADoctor Skinstruction Manual, dermatologist Dr. Audrey Kunin further advises that sodium lauryl sulfate has been additionally blamed on “chapped lips and perioral dermatitis, a rash around the mouth.” For this reason, Kunin advises those with skin irritation around the mouth to use a toothpaste without sodium lauryl sulfate, like Squigle Enamel Saver Toothpaste ($8.00, Amazon.com).

In addition, sodium lauryl sulfate can also be damaging to the hair, as reiterated in this 1999 study amongst hairdressers. For this reason, shampoos not containing sodium lauryl sulfate or similar irritants are advised, like Phillip Kingsley Moisture Balancing Shampoo and Conditioner. After trying this sodium lauryl sulfate-free shampoo, my hair felt very clean and looked shiny, although it was more smooth and sleek than voluminous. If smooth and sleek is what you seek (haha), then this may be a good sodium lauryl sulfate-free formulation for you. (P.S.- Although this shampoo and conditioner do contain some other potential irritants, they appear to be lower than the concentrations listed below for potential irritation.)

According to the journal Contact Dermatitis, the following ingredients were said to display “similar” signs of irritation to 2% sodium lauryl sulfate:

  • 5% sodium C12-15 pareth sulfate
  • 5% sodium cocoyl isethionate
  • 10% disodium laureth sulfosuccinate
  • 10% sodium cocoamphoacetate
  • 10% cocamide DEA
  • 10% cocamidopropyl betaine
  • 10% lauryl glucoside

For this reason, if you have sensitive skin or have noticed irritation from a skin care product recently, try an alternative without sodium lauryl sulfate or any of the above listed alternatives. Hopefully it will be the solution! :-)

by Nicki Zevola

17 thoughts on “Spotlight On: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

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  5. Joyce says:

    I’m using Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser and it has sodium lauryl sulphate. It seems this cleanser is not so gentle for me after all.

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