Sodium lauryl sulfate is a surfactant, detergent, and emulsifier used in thousands of cosmetic products, as well as in industrial cleaners. It is present in nearly all shampoos, scalp treatments, hair color and bleaching agents, toothpastes, body washes and cleansers, make-up foundations, liquid hand soaps, laundry detergents, and bath oils/bath salts. Although SLS originates from coconuts, the chemical is anything but natural. The real problem with SLES/SLS is that the manufacturing process (ethoxylation) results in SLES/SLS being contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogenic by-product,5.
Sodium lauryl sulfate did not start off as a detergent that was meant for use in consumer products. It was initially sold as an industrial strength detergent primarily used for heavy duty cleaners and degreasers. It is now found in products which are in close and frequent contact with human skin.
SLS is the sodium salt of lauryl sulfate, and is classified by the EWG Cosmetics Database as a “denaturant, surfactant cleansing agent, emulsifier and foamer,” rated as a “moderate hazard.” Similar to sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is sodium laureth sulfate (short for sodium lauryl ether sulfate, or SLES), a yellow detergent with higher foaming ability. SLES is considered to be slightly less irritating than SLS. Ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS) is another surfactant variation commonly put into cosmetics and cleansers to make them foam.