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What are SLS and SLES and Why Should We Avoid Them?

SLS and SLES have come to be the “poster chemicals” for dry skin. We can outrightly say that this is true. But it’s also important that you understand why. So if you’re looking for healthier options or struggling with sensitive skin, dive deep into the reasons why you need to keep an eye out for these ingredients. 

What are sulfates? 

Sulfates are salt compounds that form when sulfuric acid reacts with another chemical. It’s an umbrella term that includes sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate 

SLS is a chemical surfactant that is made of a hydrocarbon chain (palm oil, coconut oil or petrol), attached to an acid (sulphuric) and bonded to an alkali (Sodium Hydroxide). In simple terms, a surfactant is a chemical compound that makes things slippery by lowering the surface tension between two materials. 

Basically, SLS is a degreaser, which is the main reason why it’s a dependable cleaner. It can break down fats and grease so they are easily washed away. 

This chemical compound was originally developed to take the place of soap—the original surfactant. It goes back to World War II when soap was rationed to save oils and fats for food production. This leads to the use of other ingredients in soap that can take the place of its cleaning abilities. 

While SLS was already used in washing powders way before that, the rationing during the war introduced synthetic ingredients into soap-making. Since then, it has become an ubiquitous ingredient in our personal care products. 

Sodium Laureth Sulfate 

SLES is derived from SLS through the process called ethoxylation. It’s a process where ethylene oxide is introduced to change the compound to make it less harsh. As such, it is used in a large number of personal care products such as soaps, shampoos, body wash, liquid hand wash and toothpaste. 

Ethoxylation has been known to produce 1,4 dioxane as a by-product of the chemical reaction. It is known as an irritant to the eyes, nose and throat, and in large doses, it is attributed to kidney damage, liver damage, and DNA damage. 

SLES may be slightly gentler on the skin than SLS but it’s closely similar in its cleansing and degreasing properties.

The main use of SLS and SLES in the products you love 

SLS and SLES are workhorses of the skincare industry. They are primarily used in everyday personal care products for their foaming properties. Many love a rich lather because we’re used to the idea that more bubbles equal better cleansing power. But foam and lather are not necessary to clean your skin, teeth, or home! 

These chemicals continue to be the darlings of manufacturers of skincare products because they’re cheap and they perform a simple task really well. However, despite being standard ingredients, there’s a lot of controversy behind SLS and SLES. And for that reason, many have chosen to go sulfate-free, and it’s something you might want to consider too. 

Why SLS and SLES are bad for your skin 

First, we must understand that the skin’s surface hosts a natural ecosystem called a microbiome—a community of micro organisms that is invisible to the human eye. It is made up of trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. On average, over a thousand species of bacteria thrive in the skin microbiome—some are good, and some are bad. 

As a surfactant, they bridge the barrier between oil and water. SLS and SLES break down most fat and grease, and that includes the natural grease your skin produces called sebum. In which case, the gaps between the cells that are filled by these natural oils are made bare allowing water to escape. As a result, the skin ends up dry and prone to skin conditions. 

Regular use of surfactants disrupts the delicate balance of microbial diversity. Just as they are effective in washing off dirt, oil and grime, they also remove the natural peptides, proteins, and water-proofing oils our biomes create. Consequently, your skin’s capacity to fend off foreign organisms and the ability to regulate hydration is affected. As such, it can lead to redness and irritation. 

People with sensitive skin and other skin conditions already have an imbalanced microbiome. Therefore, skin becomes more susceptible to irritation and inflammation from harsh ingredients.

Are SLS and SLEs carcinogenic? 

SLS has been vilified when word got around it’s a cancer-causing ingredient. But there is no scientific evidence to support these claims. If anything, SLS and SLES are much known as irritants that can cause skin redness and dryness with prolonged use. However, SLES, which while being slightly gentler than SLS, produces small amounts of 1,4 dioxane, which is a potential carcinogen. 

What are your other options? 

Luckily, science has  progressed past the harsher chemicals of the 1900s. In which case, health-conscious consumers can now choose among sulfate-free products that are safe and gentle for the skin. 

If you have sensitive or problematic skin, there are products that are not only formulated without SLS and SLES but also other nasties like parabens, fragrances, and preservatives. With gentler formulas, you can avoid flare-ups and skin conditions. 

So, try going sulfate-free for a week and see if it makes a difference for you. Also remember to read your labels and choose products that are suited for your skin. 

Why should you choose Suu Balm? 

In line with ensuring that you keep your skin safe and healthy while you cleanse it, Suu Balm has a range of products that can do the job. All our products are sulfate-free, so you can stay fresh and clean while caring for your skin.

Since your skin is your biggest organ, it only makes sense to apply ingredients that you’d be confident to use on your body. We, therefore, take great care in formulating our products to minimise potential irritation and still deliver effective cleansing action. 

The key is in striking the right balance. We formulate gentle products to wash away the dirt on your skin without stripping away its natural oils and good bacteria. We also make sure that the formulation matches your skin’s pH without having to add potentially irritating ingredients—so it’s safe for all skin types. 

Our Suu Balm Dual Cooling and Moisturising Cream Body Wash, for example, is formulated with ultra-gentle ingredients that keep the skin soothed and moisturised. It contains five moisturising ingredients: shea butter, sodium hyaluronate, hydroxy acetophenone, caprylic/capric triglyceride, and betaine.

Our Gentle Moisturising Facial Cleanser is also an option that is specifically formulated for those with dry or sensitive skin. It has the ideal acidity that restores a healthy skin barrier. We leave out harsh ingredients for a rich and creamy formula that is enriched with the moisturising benefits of shea butter with every wash. 

So, if you’re ready to rid yourself and your family’s skincare from harmful sulfates, you have safer options with Suu Balm. Our products are formulated to support your body’s natural ecosystem without damaging its biological function. 

You can wash up and cool down in this hot and humid  climate without compromising your skin barrier. Go through our list of healthier options, here, with zero-interest installment payments!