Soap is something most of us use every day without thinking twice. But some concerning ingredients, like SLS, may be lurking in your soap. Should you be worried? Here’s the truth about SLS in soap and whether you need to avoid sodium laureth sulfate.

SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) is a common ingredient added to many soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, and more. It’s known for making products foamier and helping dissolve oils and dirt. However, SLS has gotten a bad reputation as a skin irritant and possible health hazard. This article covers the facts about SLS to help you decide if you should avoid sodium laureth sulfate in your soap and other products.

What is SLS, and Why is it Used in Soap?

SLS stands for sodium lauryl sulfate. It’s a surfactant, meaning it reduces surface tension between substances, allowing oil and water to mix together. This is why SLS makes a great cleaning agent in soaps, shampoos, dish liquids, and more. It helps bubble up a rich lather that dissolves oil and grease.

Many consumers associate lots of foam with better cleaning power. So companies add SLS to their products because it makes them foamier and appears to clean better. However, SLS doesn’t really add anything to a soap’s cleaning ability—it just generates more bubbles!

Is SLS Bad for Your Skin? Side Effects and Safety Concerns

Although SLS makes soap foamier, it can cause side effects for some people. Studies show that SLS is a skin, eye, and respiratory irritant and sensitizer. Frequent use can strip away natural oils and disturb the skin’s protective barrier. This allows other chemicals to penetrate deeper.

Some research also links SLS to organ system toxicity, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and contamination concerns.

Due to these potential health risks, even the FDA requires warning labels on toothpastes containing SLS. And Europe has restrictions on using SLS in cosmetics.

What About Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)? Is it Safer?

You may also see “sodium laureth sulfate” on ingredient lists rather than SLS. Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) is a milder compound derived from SLS.

Manufacturers put it through extra processing called ethoxylation to make it less irritating. However, SLES may still trigger problems for those with sensitive skin. And contamination with the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane is also a concern with ethoxylated chemicals like SLES.

So SLES is generally regarded as safer than SLS, but it isn’t without risks. Those with very sensitive skin may still wish to avoid it.

Signs Your Soap Is Irritating Your Skin

How can you tell if an ingredient like SLS is irritating your skin? Signs of irritation include:

  • Redness
  • Dryness or flaking
  • Itchiness
  • Tightness or stinging
  • Increased sensitivity

The skin may also look inflamed or have tiny bumps. In severe cases, cracking, swelling, burning, and peeling can occur.

Pay attention to how your skin looks and feels before and after using a particular soap. Problem areas like the hands, face, underarms, and groin are especially vulnerable.

How to Find Sulfate-Free Bar Soap

Luckily, it’s gotten much easier to find sulfate-free soap alternatives. Many natural brands now formulate their products without SLS or SLES.

What should you look for? Check the ingredient list on your soap’s packaging. Stay away from anything listed.

  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Sodium laureth sulfate
  • Ammonium lauryl sulfate

Stick to simple, natural bars with ingredients you recognize. Castile soap made from olive oil is a great option. Or look for soap made with oils like coconut, jojoba, shea butter, or sunflower oil.

You can even find SLS-free options from major brands like Dove, Dr. Bronner’s, Kiss My Face, Tom’s of Maine, and Desert Essence.

Is SLS-Free Liquid Hand Soap Any Better?

Liquid hand soaps also often contain sulfates, along with preservatives and synthetic fragrances. This makes them potentially irritating as well.

Fortunately, you’ll also find sulfate-free liquid soap from many natural brands. Check out castile liquid soap or options with plant oils and gentle botanical extracts instead.

What About Shampoo? Does SLS Cause Hair Loss?

SLS is very common in most drugstore shampoos. And there’s definitely some evidence that it may contribute to hair damage over time.

Some people do report thinner, drier, and more brittle hair after switching to a sulfate-free shampoo. It’s unclear whether SLS directly causes hair loss. But minimizing damage can keep your locks healthier overall.

Should You Avoid SLS in Toothpaste?

SLS is also added to most mainstream toothpastes to make them foamier. And as an effective plaque remover.

However, some studies link SLS in toothpaste to mouth ulcers, inflammation, and irritated taste buds in sensitive individuals. Even small amounts swallowed over time might harm organ tissues.

If you have recurring canker sores or mouth irritation, try changing to an SLS-free toothpaste for a while. See if your symptoms improve.

Final Verdict: Should You Avoid SLS?

While more research is still needed, there’s reasonable evidence that SLS in soap and other products may contribute to skin and health issues. People with sensitive skin seem most vulnerable, along with those who use such items multiple times per day.

Fortunately, there are now lots of inexpensive SLS-free brands available. So if you’re experiencing skin irritation or discomfort from your current soap or shampoo, try switching to a gentler formula. Pay attention to any changes once you stop using products with sulfates.

Many people (including those without sensitive skin) report preferring sulfate-free toiletries because they feel less dried out or irritated after use.

Of course, everyone’s body chemistry is unique. As with any change in product, monitor your individual symptoms and go with what works best for your own skin!

Should You Make Your Own SLS-Free Soap at Home?

With more awareness about the ingredients in commercial soaps, many people are interested in making their own natural soap at home.

Is it feasible to DIY sulfate-free soap? Or is it too complicated for beginners?

What’s Involved in Homemade Soap Making?

The basic process seems simple enough:

  1. Mix oils and fats, lye, and water.
  2. Allow it to go through saponification.
  3. Add scents/colors/extras
  4. Pour into molds and let them cure.

However, there’s definitely an art and science to making homemade soap, right? You’ll need to:

  • Use exact measurements of oils, lye, and liquids.
  • Maintain specific temperature ranges.
  • Stir correctly to reach “trace.”
  • Understand the stages of saponification.
  • Allow adequate cure time before use.

So while it’s a rewarding hobby, DIY soapmaking has a learning curve. Beginners may end up with soap that’s too drying, flaky, soft, crumbly, etc. if the recipe isn’t formulated just right.

Is Making Your Own Safer and More Natural?

If done properly, homemade soap can avoid harsh detergents like SLS. You control all the ingredients.

But you do still need lye, a highly caustic chemical, to transform oils into soap via saponification. Proper handling is critical to avoid chemical burns.

Commercially made castile soap goes through the same saponification process, using only vegetable oils. Except for large manufacturers, they have more safety regulations and precision equipment.

So for beginners, buying natural liquid castile soap bases to customize at home may be easier and safer than making soap totally from scratch.

Should You Give Homemade Soapmaking a Try?

While preparing soap at home does take some skill, many find it a calming and rewarding hobby. If you’re up for careful learning, it can be a way to control the ingredient list.

Just be sure to use proper safety gear when handling lye. And don’t rely on the first batch for daily use until the process is perfected. Doing your homework will set you up for success!

Key Takeaways: Should You Avoid Sodium Lauryl Sulfate?

  • SLS makes soap foamier but may irritate skin and cause other health issues with high exposure.
  • SLES is a milder alternative but can also be problematic for some.
  • Signs of irritation include redness, dryness, stinging, bumps, and increased sensitivity.
  • Look for bar soap and body washes without SLS, SLES, or ammonium lauryl sulfate.
  • Many mainstream brands now sell sulfate-free shampoo, toothpaste, and hand soap.

What’s your stance on using products with sulfates, like SLS? Have you had issues in the past or made the switch to sulfate-free? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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