SLS and SLES - Are they bad for our skin?

What is SLS?

SLS is the foaming agent in most conventional shampoos, body washes, cleansers and even washing up liquid. 

SLS, or sodium lauryl sulphate, is a synthetically produced chemical surfactant, which works by stripping bacteria away by turning liquids into foam. 

Not only is SLS harmful the the health of our skin and hair, the chemical process of producing SLS typically involves either palm oil or petroleum, both of which have serious negative impacts on the environment. 

Why is SLS bad for skin?

SLS works by removing surface bacteria and oils from your skin and hair, but one of the unfortunate side effects of using SLS is that your skin and hair’s healthy natural oils are also stripped away in this “cleaning” process. These oils, which are naturally present on your skin, are there for a good reason! Our skin’s oils are naturally antibacterial, help to keep us hydrated, and are the skin’s first line of defence against outside aggressors such as pollution and bacteria. Without these important oils:

  • The skin is much more prone to breakouts and those breakouts spread more easily 

  • Your skin shows up fine lines and signs of ageing much more without hydration

  • Your skin can look dull or congested

  • Your skin overproduces oil and becomes shiny as it desperately tries to rehydrate itself

This last point is why sometimes skin can sometimes look really oily but feel dry, because through using foaming face washes, we are continuously drying out our skin to the point that it starts to overcompensate.

Other effects of SLS

The effects of using SLS are more noticeable on your face, but will affect your hair and body too. Hair protein removal over time is one of the biggest risks to your hair's health. This is why we always suggest opting to use a natural shampoo!

SLS has also been linked to some worrying health issues, including cancer. While there is not yet enough evidence to prove this claim, there are known links to irritation of the lungs, eyes and mouth when using high amounts of SLS.

It has also been suggested that the chemicals that make up SLS can build up in your system over time, as they have the ability to sink deep into the skin and be absorbed into your body. This particular claim is supported by the fact that SLS is used as the "carrier" for nicotine patches, to help the nicotine reach the blood stream.

While we do not yet have complete knowledge or the potential damage that SLS can do to our skin and body, we do know that there are risk-free ingredients available, which we prefer to use in our products.  

The science


Effect of SLS on the environment 

Now, there are also many environmental issues to consider when using chemicals such as SLS. The sulfates in SLS are usually derived from petroleum, and are often controversial due to their origin. The biggest concern is the long-term side effects of sulfate production. Petroleum products are associated with climate change, pollution, and greenhouse gases. Where SLS is not derived from petroleum, it is usually derived from palm oil instead, which is also a huge topic of concern (look out for a later post on this). Sulfates are also toxic to fish and other aquatic life, with long lasting effect.

If all of this wasn’t enough, there are also health issues worth mentioning. We mentioned earlier that SLS and SLES can have damaging effects on your health, including irritation of the eyes, skin, and lungs, especially with long-term use. During its production, SLES is often also contaminated with a substance called 1,4-dioxane, which is known to cause cancer in laboratory animals. It is also said to exacerbate common inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and rosacea. 

These are some of the reasons why our products always have been and always will be 100% free from SLS!


SLS was introduced into household cleaning products and toiletries in the 1930s, a period defined by a global political and economic crisis, which culminated in the second World War. Until this point, natural soap made using natural oils and fats had been the norm, but these ingredients were in short supply and were saved for food rationing. Synthetic detergents including SLS were consequently introduced as an alternative. Unfortunately, once these natural oils and fats were once again readily available, cleaning products did not return to their natural roots. 

Alternative skincare

Why do companies continue to use SLS? The answer is simple - because it's cheap.

Since its introduction into most households, washing has become synonymous with foam and bubbles, but at quite a cost to our health, our skin and the environment.

Below you can see an example of an SLS shampoo recipe versus a natural shampoo. This demonstrates just how much cheaper it is to produce a synthetic based product.

We strongly believe that part of the reason our skincare - and skincare form other natural companies! - gets such wonderful feedback from you all, is due to the fact our products do not strip the skin of its natural oils. We are all about nourishing your skin, keeping oil balanced and helping your skin do what it should naturally. 

 Much love,

Team Suneeta xx


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