When I went into this whole soap-making venture, I swore that I would have an ingredient list that was understandable. On further research, some ingredients sound intimidating and actually look similar to other ingredients generally considered to be questionable when in truth, one ingredient is actually not so bad and helps to create a better and quality end result.
What are all of these SLSs? They are surfactants or surface active agents. Alrighty then. What does that mean? In terms that you understand, surfactants may act as detergents, wetting agents, emulsifiers, foaming agents, and dispersants. So basically, they are a neccessity in order to make products that you use on your body, in your washing machine, in your dishwasher, and in dish soap to name a few. There are many such surfactants, but I am only going to be talking about the SLSs.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS), sodium lauryl sulfate (SLES), and sodium lauryl sulfoacetate (SLSa) ingredients that sound and look similar, but are, in fact, completely different items. SLS has a small molecular structure and therefore, penetrates the skin easily. SLS, as well as its close relative SLES, are esters of sulfuric acid. Both are known skin irritants. SLES is often contaminated with dioxane, which is a known carciogen. Although SLES might be somewhat less irritating than SLS, it is unable to be metabolized by the liver, which means its effects are much more long lasting. These are generally used in dish detergent, laundry detergent, and other harsh detergents that are used on a day-to-day basis, and also on items not used on skin.
SLSa is derived from coconut and palm oils. SLSa is a safe, skin friendly cleanser that offers rich lather without the irritation potential of some of the other good foamers. Because the molecular size of this surfactant is large it doesn’t penetrate the skin or the mucuos membranes, so it does not cause the skin irritation as other sulfates, making it an excellent choice for soaks and facial cleansers and any other gentle cleansing products.
Why are these particular surfactants, namely SLS or SLES used? The simple answer is that they are cheap. In so many commercial formulations and ingredients, the bottom line is the bottom dollar. These big commercial companies, and even not so big companies are in this to make money, which leaves you, the consumer with a cheap, well-disguised and well-advertised product that is meant to entice the unknown consumer.
So be vigilent and read labels. Don’t just stop at sodium or sodium lauryl, but read on to see which of these SLSs are actually in the product as not all SLSs are created equal! Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate IS considered to be a better choice product when a surfactant is required where as sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate are both questionable ingredients and tend to cause more skin irritation with ingredients known to cause cancer.
Hope this clears up some confusion!