Commonly known as SLS, Sodium Lauryl Sulphate is a chemical surfactant used in all sorts of cosmetics and cleaning products. It can be derived from petroleum, palm oil or coconut oil.
It works by turning liquids into a foam and you’ll usually find it in things like toothpaste, body wash, soaps and detergents. It’s also an ingredient in industrial strength cleaners, bath salts and even make-up.
In a nutshell, the frothy lather your shampoo produces is usually thanks to SLS.
Some people choose to avoid SLS and opt for more natural ingredients in their beauty products, but why? We will explain all.
SLS is a ‘surfactant’ – an agent that lowers the surface tension between different ingredients, e.g. between two liquids, a gas and liquid, or a liquid and a solid.
When it comes to beauty products, its main benefits include:
One common concern with SLS is that it is used in both beauty / self-care products as well as household cleaners – where it performs a very similar function.
If you have a look at the labels of products under your kitchen sink or in your bathroom, chances are you will find some SLS. It is used in many common household products, like:
SLS is also used as a thickener or emulsifier in some foods, like some marshmallows, and dried egg products.
Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) is another surfactant that acts in the same way as SLS, however, they are not the same.
SLES is derived from SLS by a process called ethoxylation and tends to be gentler than SLS.
Both SLS and SLES have been proven to be safe for human use, but SLS has been found to irritate the eyes and skin of some people.1
There has been a lot of bad press about SLS and its properties, but is SLS bad? And why?
Many people who live with sensitive skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis choose to use products that do not contain SLS or other synthetic ingredients as they believe that they are kinder to their skin.
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) have approved SLS and SLES safe for use, however that comes with a few caveats.
SLS has the potential to irritate the eyes and skin, especially if it is not formulated correctly or is left on the skin for prolonged periods of time.2
You can find SLS-free body washes, soaps, bath creams, and many more beauty products that use different agents to ‘foam up’ and clean your skin.
Many people also choose to use natural products as they are just as effective as those that contain those man-made ingredients – and come with their own unique benefits.
Natural products benefits include:
Handpicked content: The ultimate guide to natural beauty for your hair, body and face
SLS can also appear on product labels as:
Here at H&B, we like to use natural alternatives to make those bubbles, therefore, all of our beauty products no longer contain SLS. (No need to check our labels!)
If you do choose to shun SLS and opt for natural, clean beauty products, there are many soaps and toiletries out there that use milder alternatives to provide the same bubbles.
The following natural ingredients derived from sugar3 are just as effective at getting products all foamed up and giving you a good clean:
We have selected 4 top-of-the-range products that do not include SLS in their formulation.
What our customers think:
Ines A – Absolutely love this! – 5/5 stars
“I was skeptical about switching to a conditioner bar as my hair can get quite dry/frizzy ends and I thought it wouldn't work as well as liquid - but I'm totally sold.
I use conditioner quite liberally, and still have plenty of the bar left almost 5 months on! My hair feels great and I feel less guilty about throwing away empty plastic conditioner bottles regularly.”
Microbeads have been a hot topic in the press with the ban of them in all toiletries for 2018 due to the concern of them entering our oceans and harming the environment. We banned them from all our products for this exact reason.
Handpicked content: What are microbeads?
Parabens, a preservative to increase the shelf life of products.
Handpicked content: What are parabens?
Last updated: 18 March 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Mar 2019
BSc (Hons) in Biomedical Science
After completing her BSc in Biomedical Science, Doaa worked in Research and laboratory for 3 years. Doaa was also a member of a product development team in a manufacturing company specialising in sun care and personal care products, researching and providing regulatory advice regarding international regulations.