Something we like to keep in mind when we are thinking about what we put on our skin or our hair, or on our kids’ skin and hair: products that go ON your body can be worse than food that goes IN your body. Why is that? Well, chemicals on your skin can get absorbed right into your bloodstream without filtering and can pass directly to your organs. That’s right. They do not stop, they do not pass go. Additionally, many of these chemicals can bioaccumulate over time. According to SaferChemicals.org, “many bioaccumulative chemicals are fat-soluble so that they tend to reside primarily in fat deposits or in the fatty substances in blood (see our post on Obesogens). But bioaccumulative substances may also be deposited elsewhere, including bone, muscle, or the brain.” Many of us often focus primarily on what we are eating to determine whether we are living healthy. We just want to point out the fact that products you use can be equally or more harmful to you than what you eat! So, let’s tackle SLES first.
What is SLES?
Sodium Laureth Sulfate, aka Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate, is a surfactant, detergent and emulsifier used in thousands of cosmetic products, as well as in industrial cleaners. Surfactants give you that nice, sudsy lather you’ve come to expect in shampoo and soap, for example.
What does SLES do?
SLES is a known irritant and toxicant (see EWG's article). When SLES is manufactured, the process to create SLES is called ethoxylation. This process creates a by-product called 1,4 dioxane, a proven contaminant to groundwater and described by the CDC as a “probable human carcinogenic.” Ethylene oxide is added in that ethoxylation process to make the resulting SLES act like a surfactant…nice & sudsy. And guess what, this ethylene oxide is classified on EWGas a cancer-causing toxic substance. Nothing good here, that’s for sure.
Where can you find SLES?
SLES is present in shampoos, hair color, toothpastes, body washes, cleansers, makeup foundations, liquid hand soaps, laundry detergents and bath oils/bath salts.
What’s the fuss, you might ask. Aren’t these relatively small levels of SLES in our daily products? We don’t know how much SLES is actually in each of our products. But the bigger problem is that we have NO IDEA about the long-term effects of using this ingredient (or many other chemicals) in so many products, each and every day, over time. What will SLES do to us over time? Truth be told, we don’t know exactly. How does this ingredient interact and build up with all of the other chemical ingredients we use? Again, it’s unclear. What we do know is that the process of making SLES is toxic and there is enough evidence to treat this chemical as harmful and err on the side of caution.
SLES is straightforward: do not use. This brings us to our second chemical of the day, SLS. There is a lot of misinformation and confusion about this particular chemical. EWG gives it a good score, and there are no proven links between SLS and cancer. Do we avoid or use? Let’s take a closer look.
What is SLS?
Like SLES, SLS is a foaming agent often used in soaps and detergents. However, the manufacturing process used to create SLES (you know, the one with the hazardous by-products) is not used on SLS. So while SLS gets a lot of bad press, we just haven’t seen enough evidence that SLS should be considered toxic. Since SLS has similar properties with its toxic cousin SLES (it can be a skin irritant), we will use it with caution and never for people with sensitive skin. Our goal is to use products that don’t include SLS. We always think it’s smart to seek out less processed, more natural products.
At the end of the day, there just aren’t any studies that capture the information we really want—how do all of these chemicals add up over time to impact our lives? Although the chemical industry would have us continue to use chemicals until they are definitively proven guilty, at Veritey we try and take the opposite approach. We are consumed with using the best, purest, and safest products and refusing everything else.
So let’s kick SLES to the curb!
How to avoid SLES:
1.) Buy organic. Many products, not just food, do carry the USDA Organic Seal. Look for it!
2.) Stay away from fragrance, which often contains many unlisted chemicals. Manufacturers can stuff in a lot of chemicals under the “fragrance” umbrella.
3.) Streamline. Get rid of stuff. You definitely don’t need all those products hiding in your cosmetic bag and under your sink!
4.) Buy Veritey. We are SLES free and proud! We do all the time-intensive ingredient checks so you don’t have to.