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Soaps and Sulfate


Soap. You’ve probably been taking a long shower once and got bored during it. Sure the hot water and nice steam feel blissful, but you need something to think about, something to do. You pick up one of the bottles of soap your shower has and take a look at it. You read the Label and text the company put on there to advertise it. After a while, you get to the ingredients list and are shocked by all the weird names. However, one part stands out above the rest. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. You recall Sulfur being the same thing used in explosives and wonder, “What is this ‘Sodium LaurylSulfate’ stuff and what the heck does it do to help my body?” Today, we answer that question.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is not only a common part of most modern soaps, but they’re also often found in other things. Toothpaste, bath bombs, and other cleaning products like laundry detergent. This is because it works well to remove oil. You probably know that water and oil don’t mix, so when normally washed with water it can be much harder to get the oil off of yourself. That’s where Sulfates, specifically SLS or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate “A surfactant allows the oil and water molecules to bind together – it’s what’s found in soaps and detergents so we can wash our oily faces or dishes with water and get the grime to disappear.” (Ginta)  This binding ability makes for a better clean on most things. Gets the oils from our bodies out of clothes, cleans dishes and other kitchen utensils if you’ve had a fatty pork chop, or cooked with any oil/fat, and it helps get the oil off our body.  However, there can be more than meets the eye when it comes to SLS.

The problem that arises with SLS is that it can be harmful to the skin. Its power can irritate some people’s skin and cause them problems. “Researchers from Germany tested 1,600 patients for SLS irritancy and found 42% of the patients tested had an irritant reaction.”

(Mohammed) This harm it causes is problematic but as the study shows it only hurts a certain amount of people . . . Right? Well, not exactly. SLS is such a known irritant in human skin that it’s used in testing as a “Positive control” (Mohammed). It is such a well-known irritant to the skin that they use it to test and compare the irritation of other chemicals. You might be wondering why companies keep putting this in our hygiene products. Two reasons, cost, and effectiveness.

The ease of production and cost of SLS is very low, while also being incredibly effective at cleaning the oil off the skin. So why would any profit-driven company that needs to sell soap or anything of the like get rid of such a golden goose? They wouldn’t. Also, SLS is only bad with prolonged contact or if you have specific skin sensitivity issues. 

To review, SLS can be harmful to the human skin under certain conditions. However, in most cases, you should be fine as long as you don’t have prolonged contact with SLS, or products that use SLS. However, if you do you should switch away from SLS as soon as you can and seek out SLS-free products. You should also avoid leave-in products such as moisturizers or things that shape your hair if they have SLS, as you will be in prolonged contact with them


Work Cited
Mohammed, Yousuf. “What Is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Is It Safe to Use?”, 1575, 

Ginta, Daniela. “Should You Be Going Sulfate-Free?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 22 Mar. 2017,

Bondi, Cara A. M., et al. “Human and Environmental Toxicity of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): Evidence for Safe Use in Household Cleaning Products.” Environmental Health Insights, vol. 9, Jan. 2015, p. EHI.S31765,

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Wyatt Stone, Staff Reporter

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