08:30 Grooming & Personal CareNatural Living & Health

WTF Is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate?

These days, trying to read the label on personal care goods can be like trying to crack a Nicholas Cage in National Treasure-level code. There are so many weird words, and a ton of crazy-sounding chemicals, it’s brutal. It’s important to know what types of ingredients are in the products you’re using and, more importantly, how you can avoid the bad ones, but researching them can be really tough. Great news though, we’re here to lend a Squatch-sized hand. Let’s start by focusing on one of the most common harsh chemicals found in a ton of generic personal care products, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, and why you want to stay away from it. You’re on your own with the whole stealing the Declaration of independence thing though.


What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate? How does it work?

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and its close cousin, Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), are two widely-used chemicals that can be found in nearly every generic personal care/household product on the market. They’re found in pretty much anything that foams or lathers, like shampoo, body wash, toothpaste, dish soap, laundry detergent, and others. We’ll group them together because they are often utilized together and have similar functions. 

Technically-speaking, SLS and SLES are what’s known as surfactants, or chemicals that aid in washing oils off surfaces, like your skin, your dishes, your countertops. They are made up of  dual part molecules with a hydrophilic (“water-loving”) head and a hydrophobic (oil-loving) “tail” that work together for cleaning Put simply, these chemicals are super-efficient at removing dirt, oil, and grime and produce great foam. They are also added to many products to help with emulsification, which allows oil and water-soluble ingredients that don’t typically mix, stay mixed. They’re so widely used because they do their job well and are very cheap to use in the manufacturing of these products. But just because they are cheap and effective doesn’t mean they are good.

Are SLS and SLES bad?

TL, DR: You bet. Despite how common they are, these types of surfactants can have harmful effects. First and foremost, these chemicals are harsh detergents that are much better suited to washing your dishes than they are to gently cleansing your skin. If your skin or scalp has ever felt dry, tight, or sensitive after showering with generic soap, body wash or shampoo, that’s those nasty fellas SLS and SLES at work. They can cause this dryness because they strip the moisture and important natural oils from your skin when they clean. Plus, because products with SLS/SLES are so harsh on the skin they can also lead to irritation as well.


What safer and healthier ingredients can be used instead?

At Dr. Squatch we’re dedicated to using only the best Mother Nature has to offer in all of our personal care goods. That means we absolutely avoid surfactants like SLS and SLES and are committed to using natural ingredients that are both effective and aren’t linked to potential skin issues. So how do we create products that perform well and meet the demands of men just like you? Great question. To start, we focus on using only gentler/milder surfactants that remove the unwanted dirt and oil efficiently but not harshly. We create products that clean effectively while maintaining the oil balance of your scalp and skin, so you feel clean and refreshed but not dry or irritated. Here are a few examples of natural ingredients we use in place of SLS/SLES and what types of products we use them in:

  • Shampoo: We opt for Coco-Glucoside and Decyl Glucoside 
  • Soaps: In our soaps we use Saponified Oils
  • Toothpaste: For toothpaste we choose Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate

We choose these ingredients because they’re not only safe but also extremely effective in doing their jobs without the potential for negative effects. If you want to take a deeper dive into more of the natural ingredients we use in our products and why we strand so firmly behind them, check out our Ingredients Glossary.


At the end of the day, surfactants are a crucial part of personal care products, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for generic products with harsh chemicals like SLS and SLES. We go the extra mile to prove that natural products can be both safe and effective, giving you the quickest, healthiest path to raising the bar on your whole personal care routine.

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