Ingredient of the Week: Introduction and Sulfates, SLS, and SLES

safe beauty guide: ingredient of the week

So excited to kick off this new Ingredient of the Week series here on Visions of Vogue! I think this might be one of the things I was personally most excited for in 2018. If you are health focused and love beauty products, this series is for you!

So what is this series about? Why did I start it? I first learned about “safe beauty” when I worked for Beautycounter. My day job was in finance it was a regular job, I just happened to be working for a beauty company. This is where I first took an interest in the toxic chemicals that go into our personal care products – from every day hand soap to a bold red lipstick. The amount of stuff they put into products that actually causes harm is shocking. I don’t say this to scare you, it’s just important to be reading the ingredients in your products.

I wanted to start this series for just this reason. It’s overwhelming and scary to navigate the world of personal care products. US based companies can pretty much put anything they want in products. And I mean anything. Not only that, but they can put the words “natural” or “organic” on whatever they want (no matter how toxic it is). The FDA doesn’t regulate the use of any of those words. So how do you know what you can use safely? Read the ingredients.

I have a pretty good foundation of knowledge but I wanted to start this Ingredient of the Week series to learn more. The goal is to break ingredients down one by one each week so that you learn about them and know what they do. Think of it as small, bite-sized pieces of info that you can learn a little at a time. I know how overwhelmed I got studying for chemistry tests in school with all those crazy words! It’s hard to keep everything straight! It’s even harder to pronounce the words on the back of these labels! Have you ever tried?

My goal of this series is to educate myself and also be a resource to you guys. If you’ve ever messaged me on Instagram, you know I love answering DMs and chatting about this! One ingredient by one, we will figure this out! And if you ever forget or need a “glossary” of the ingredients, you can visit this page. It will be alphabetized for easy searching so bookmark it for quick reference. Whenever you’re reading the ingredients on the back of a label, just have this page up to help you make sure it’s safe! If you need more detail, you can click to see the full post.

So let’s kick this off! The first ingredient or group of ingredients I wanted to start with is SLS and SLES.

What to look for. 

SLS and SLES can be easy to scan for on the packaging (on the actual product or on the box) because they are in capital letters. Occasionally, brands will spell them out too so just make sure to scan for both throughout.

SLS: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

SLES: Sodium Laureth Sulfate 

ALS: Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate 

Other names include Sodium Pareth Sulfate,Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulphate, Sodium Laureth Sulphate, Sodium Coco-Sulfate.

What is it?

SLS/SLES are cheap but effective foaming chemicals. If you have a product that “suds”, you might want to check the back of the label or the box. It basically breaks up water and helps get that beautiful lather effect.

Why do brands still use them? 

They are trying to keep the cost of their products down. That way, they can sell them to us (the consumers) for less. Generally speaking, less expensive products (think of the drugstore makeup aisle) are the most toxic although there are exceptions. Also, because no one is regulating them or forcing them to stop. Why would they make a change to a more expensive ingredient or more expensive process if they don’t have to?

What products usually contain SLS/SLES?

Anything that foams or suds. The most common products are soap, detergent, shampoo, bodywash, and toothpaste.

What it does to you.

Skin irritation. The most common thing is irritation. Like many soaps and detergents, SLS/SLES tends to irritate human skin especially if you have sensitive skin. From chatting with you guys, it seems like most of you are finding this in your shampoo which is causing scalp issues. Think dandruff, dermatitis, eczema, or some other scalp issue you’d rather not admit you have. It’s embarrassing!

Dry skin. Since these chemicals often are used to dissolve corrosion, you can imagine the impact this has on your skin. They often leave your skin dry and flakey, stripping it of essential oils. While dry skin isn’t life threatening and none of us are strangers to it, it’s annoying. If you can prevent it, why not?

Hormone imbalance. The residue from SLS/SLES left on your internal organs (brain, lungs, heart) from using a shampoo or toothpaste can cause a hormone imbalance. Think PMS, menopause, or male infertility. Like many toxic chemicals, if you use one tube that contains SLS/SLES, the risk to your long term health is low. It’s the build up of years and years of use that results in much higher levels of toxins in your body and therefore a higher risk to experiencing these issues.

Eye development in children. In addition to everything else, SLS/SLES can result in eye irritation as well as poor eye development. Children are more susceptible to toxic chemicals.

Cancer and birth defects. SLES, while similar to SLS, is also often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane which is usually a carcinogen depending on the manufacturing process. Your liver cannot metabolize dioxane so it stays in your system for a long time. It’s been linked to cancer and birth defects in numerous studies by the EPA. It can also cause diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Again, it’s not the one time use that poses a threat, it’s consistent use over the span of your life.

Some safe alternatives. 

When it comes to shampoo and conditioner, this is one of my favorite collections. I talked more about the line in this post on how to protect your hair from being dry and damaged. While it’s on the pricey end, it lasts for a long time as a little goes a long way. It’s also a small price to pay to avoid awkward dandruff situations or dermatitis.

For body wash, this is a really great option and it’s incredibly affordable. It actually fights body odor as well long after the shower. I always notice a difference when I’m traveling and don’t have this body wash with me. It’s one of the most amazing Amazon finds.

On hand soap, I’m still struggling to find a great option that’s also affordable. Beautycounter makes one that I trust but it is more expensive especially for me who washes my hands incessantly. Mrs. Meyers contains multiple sulfates and Method does as well in addition to a few other chemicals I’d rather not be putting on my hands 30+ times a day. Attitude and Everyone both make one that is somewhere in between price wise but I’m still working on finding something more affordable. The Seventh Generation one looks pretty good and is reasonably priced.

We’ve also been using Seventh Generation detergent for years which I really like. I don’t notice that much of a difference in the cleanliness of our clothes.

What did you think of this first ingredient of the week post? Do you have any safe alternatives that you love? Please share!

4 thoughts on “Ingredient of the Week: Introduction and Sulfates, SLS, and SLES

  1. I’m so excited for this series! I just did a post earlier this week about starting my non-toxic journey. I definitely recommend the Think Dirty app. It’s been a great tool to help with quick research when I’m trying to find safer products. It’s seriously scary and eye opening once you start digging into the crap in most products!

    xo Amanda

  2. Loved your first post for Ingredient of the Week! It’s amazing the number of chemicals that are in beauty products that we’re not aware of. Looking forward to more of your posts on this series!

Let me know what you think!