Last week on the Green Conscience blog, we discussed some of the harsh chemicals that are found in mass produced products, and the way in which they effect us when released into our environment, usually through off-gassing or consumption.  Today, I'd like to shine a little light on one of the more egregious chemicals found in bath and cosmetic products, namely, sulfates.

Sulfates are commonly occurring ionic salts, mostly derived from sulfuric acid. They have a wide variety of industrial applications, and can be found in differing forms in applications as diverse as construction materials and home health products.  The natural mineral form of hydrated calcium sulfate is gypsum, used to make the plaster in drywall.  Iron sulfate is found in mineral supplements designed for both humans and animals, while copper sulfate can be used to kill algae.  Epsom salts are a common form of magnesium sulfate, and lead sulfate is used in car batteries.

The form of sulfates used in home care products is most often a sodium laureth sulfate, or SLES.  These chemicals are cheap foaming agents, found in many soaps, shampoos, and toothpastes.  They are surfectants, used in cosmetic products for cleansing and emulsifying properties (They bond to oils on your skin and allow them to dissolve in water). Along with sodium lauryl sulfates, a slightly more powerful variation, SLES is a known irritant, an effect that increases with concentration.

While sulfates are naturally occurring, the real issue stems from a manufacturing process,
ethoxylation, which results in sulfates being contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogenic by-product. A leading groundwater contaminant, 1,4 dioxane is referred to by the CDC as "probably carcinogenic to humans," toxic to the brain and central nervous system, kidneys, and liver.

A major problem with sulfates is fact that they are absorbed through the skin and membranes.  Since our bodies don't have the proper enzymes to break the chemicals up and metabolize them, contamination is a gradual but cumulative process.  This is a major source of confusion when reading studies on SLES: High levels of exposure are unusual, yet repeated, slight exposure, combined with repeated subjection to other chemicals in health and beauty products, has been linked with a number of negative effects in humans.

According to Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database (which is seriously worth browsing time), SLES/SLS have been linked to:
  • Irritation of the skin and eyes
  • Organ toxicity
  • Developmental/reproductive toxicity
  • Neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, ecotoxicology, and biochemical or cellular changes
  • Possible mutations and cancer
Mercola relates that consumers can ingest and absorb up to five pounds of chemicals per year.  The consequences of exposure often don't show up until years later. In some cases, effects remain dormant but are revealed in offspring. 

Lest you think that your hands are tied, however, there is much that you can do to protect yourself from harmful effects. With increased public awareness comes a new generation of products aimed a chemical-wary consumers, though some have other drawbacks. Sulfate-free shampoos and soaps, for instance, are commonly marketed, although some contain other harsh chemicals.

It's always a wise idea to investigate what products you're using, and in the age of the internet, we have resources like Skin Deep and Good Guide to help us make our way through the sea of information. Bookmark those sites and use them next time you're thinking of buying a product.  I promise you'll be happy you did (added benefit: Good Guide is awesome for evaluating food products as well).

Also, when you are investigating products and reading labels, pay attention to the order in which they're listed. Manufacturers are required to list ingredients in descending order by volume, so the first few things you see are the most prominent in that product. As a good rule of thumb, if the first few ingredients are things you can't pronounce, you probably don't want them in your body.

SLES and SLS are distinct, yet related.
When investigating products, pay attention to the order in which ingredients are listed: manufacturers are required to list them in descending order of prevalence.
Foaming handsoaps are not only harmful if they contain SLES, but also help to "train" bacteria to be resistant to treatment.
SLES is found in a number of cosmetic products, including toothpaste, and can be absorbed through the skin or membranes.


10/04/2014 6:42pm

We can live consciously, keeping in mind the basic role of our existance and produce good results in all walks of life. Last but not the least, education gives us an opportunity to advance further in life, also help others in achieving their life targets through a proper guidance.

10/09/2014 5:03am

I like your site and your post

10/14/2015 11:44pm

With increased public awareness comes a new generation of products aimed a chemical-wary consumers, though some have other drawbacks.

12/29/2015 8:14pm

After reading the article above in depth, so I now understand the meaning to be conveyed. Thanks authors.

01/03/2016 12:29pm

Bicycle professionals can and abode aberration accumulation diminishments from the banks/moneylenders, we see accessible to us upwards of 10 adjustment ponders conceivably all the included now and against the day's end allurement for that we accede business to their case or bread-and-margarine foundation.

01/11/2016 12:59am

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me to start my own BlogEngine blog now. Really the blogging is spreading its wings rapidly. Your write up is a fine example of it.


Wow, you know a lot about sulfates.

03/08/2016 1:02am

wow, great, I was wondering how to cure acne naturally. and found your site by google, learned a lot, now i’m a bit clear. I’ve bookmark your site and also add rss. keep us updated.

06/30/2016 7:57am

What would happen when sulfates overdose?

07/18/2016 4:52am

happy with what I saw and I read here, the information that I can quite make me satisfied,
For I already know on this page mengatkan I can only thank you.

08/02/2016 2:15am

If you have to get much from this bit of creating then you have to apply such frameworks to your won site page.

08/10/2016 12:50am

Thankful you an astonishing course of action for such an amazing weekend I had send with Juneau Taxi and Tours. I concider your visits as the best one, everyone ought to endeavor it

08/13/2016 11:30am

Interesting article, quite satisfactory.


To optimize your business website, writing articles is a good strategy to opt for. This is great for those businesses that don't have heavy marketing budgets to promote their business on the web.

11/12/2016 12:43am

Advance correlation organizations can spare you hours of seeking on the web as whatever you do is visit one site and sort in all your credit necessities. The site then gives you various credits from various moneylenders, giving you financing costs and the aggregate cost of the advance over the reimbursement time frame.

11/12/2016 8:57am

Remember, in the event that you can legitimize getting, that the "average rate" may not be the rate that you will be advertised. By law a "normal rate" must be offered to at least 66 for each penny of affirmed borrowers, which leaves a staying third that may well be charged a higher rate.

11/13/2016 2:06pm

Keep in mind, in the business world, achievement is checked in real money. Consistently cash spends in your records receivable is a day where it could have been in your grasp as money. Give careful consideration to these client records and ensure you are gathering them on an auspicious premise.

12/05/2016 3:28am

I think you have to improve a bit the design and usability of your blog.

12/23/2016 2:23am

The type of sulfates utilized as a part of home care items is frequently a sodium laureth sulfate, or SLES. These chemicals are shabby frothing operators, found in many cleansers, shampoos, and toothpastes

01/06/2017 8:50am

Above all recollect that your washroom configuration ought to be useful for everybody, except it is your outline. Do what you need with it, simply ensure it has resale esteem

01/07/2017 9:19pm

I am so impressed with the way you write this story... It's so simple yet can be easily understood.


Thank you for taking the time to publish this information very useful!

03/06/2017 8:26am

Story of this blog is well written. The writer kept in consideration the grammar very well. Level of English also very well. Lot many new words has been used while writing content of this blog.

03/07/2017 6:33am

Masonry work is an art and consists of constructing, adding, repairing concrete, stone, or brickwork. When we think of a Mason, so many times we think of patio, driveway, reinforced walls, additions to our homes, and then of course the surrounding areas of our pools. When searching for a legitimate mason to contract with, there are many considerations one should be aware of.

03/10/2017 6:05am

Real-time and placement focused Software Testing training in chennai determined to provide end-to-end Software Testing Training Course in Chennai for Students and Professionals


Leave a Reply