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Don't stress about SLS

Industry experts agree that sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) is safe and effective, so why are we working so hard to remove it from Lush products? 

Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) is a chemical that’s commonly used in soaps, shampoos, shower gels and toothpaste. It works as a surfactant, trapping oil-based dirt so that it can be rinsed away with water. It’s also an effective foaming agent — it turns liquids into foam, creating the rich lather that most of us expect and enjoy when we’re washing our face, hair and body.

Despite being used safely and successfully since the 1930s, SLS has a bad reputation. Although experts agree that it’s safe to use, SLS can be drying. This is more likely to be an issue for those who have dry, processed or afro hair, or suffer from skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis or psoriasis — so we’re committed to offering alternatives.

We’re particularly keen to reduce our use of safe synthetic ingredients like SLS because palm oil is used in their production. Since 2008, we’ve been trying to remove palm oil from our supply chain due to the devastating impact its cultivation has on the environment. To produce palm oil, tropical forests are razed to make way for palm tree plantations, displacing indigenous people, destroying wildlife and disrupting the delicate ecosystem in the process. However, boycotting palm oil is easier said than done.

“Finding a suitable palm-free SLS is challenging not only because there isn’t a large market but, when found, it often doesn’t work or the manufacturer doesn’t follow our non-animal testing policy,” explains Mark Rumbell, Lush’s Ethical Buyer.

We’re still working hard to reduce our palm oil print, as this helps us to preserve natural habitats and protect human rights. “At the moment, SLS goes into 52 of our products,” explains Mark. “We’re looking for materials that can either replace SLS or be used alongside it to reduce our overall usage and create a better product. The aim is to get rid of palm-based SLS altogether.”

Should you be stressed about SLS?

In recent years, there has been increased negativity towards products that contain SLS, partly because reports have incorrectly linked it to cancer. Nicola Smith, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, told us: “There’s no evidence to suggest that sodium lauryl sulphate causes cancer. Cosmetics are under tight regulation in Europe and have to be shown to be safe before they can be sold. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unfounded rumours on the internet about cosmetics causing cancer but they simply aren’t backed up by convincing scientific evidence.”

It’s likely that these concerns stem from confusion surrounding the manufacturing process. The SLS that we use is derived from coconut and/or palm kernel oil, both of which are rich sources of lauric acid. This lauric acid is processed into SLS by adding sulphuric acid (from petroleum) followed by neutralisation with sodium carbonate (a natural mineral). Some reports have claimed that this process produces chemical compounds known as ‘nitrosamines’, of which 90% are believed to be carcinogenic. However, it’s chemically impossible for nitrosamines to be found in SLS.

“For years, sodium lauryl suplhate has been developing a negative reputation with consumers due to flawed interpretations of the scientific literature that continue to be perpetuated,” says Cosmetic Chemist Kelly Dobos. “Sodium lauryl sulfate is produced by the sulfation of lauryl alcohol. No chemicals used in the synthesis contain nitrogen so the resulting SLS contains no nitrogen and therefore no possible presence of nitrosamines.”

There are also concerns about the impact that SLS can have on marine life, since all soap and shampoo products are released into the environment via household water waste. According to Kelly, we don’t need to worry. She explains: “The ability of a chemical to decompose into simple, nontoxic components under normal environmental conditions within a short period of time (96 hours or less) means that it is biodegradable. SLS has been shown to be readily biodegradable not biopersistant. By the time personal care product ingredients reach natural waters, they are mostly degraded. Ecotoxicity studies have determined that these low concentrations of SLS would be essentially nontoxic to fish and other aquatic life.”

Getting in a lather

Many of us don’t feel completely clean unless we use lather up with soaps and shampoos. However, the sulphates which are responsible for producing this luxurious foam can be harsh and drying, leaving hair frizzy. Although dryness is a common concern, irritation is unlikely, even among people who have sensitive skin, provided that the foam is rinsed off thoroughly. In fact, the risk is so small that there are no EU limits on the usage of SLS in wash-off products, as irritation only occurs with products that are left on the skin.

“Most people can use products containing SLS without worrying about skin or scalp irritation,” says Dr Stefanie Morris, Dermatologist & Medical Director at European Dermatology London. “This is because it’s a rinse-off product — the contact time is short and, after rinse-off, there is extremely little SLS (if any), which stays on the skin/scalp.”

If your hair is dry, delicate, damaged or processed, you’ll be happy to hear that the majority of Lush liquid shampoos are SLS-free, and contain the gentler surfactants ammonium laureth sulphate (ALS) and sodium alkyl sulphate (SAS) instead. For example, Curly Wurly shampoo contains ALS along with coconut and jojoba oil to nourish curly hair, while Blousey shampoo contains ALS along with bananas, cocoa and cupuaçu butters to soften hair and restore moisture.

Alternatively, shampoo bars are an excellent option for sensitive scalps, mainly because of the way they are used. A single shampoo bar is the equivalent to three 200ml bottles of liquid shampoo, so although they contain a very high concentration of SLS — up to 90% — the risk of irritation is very low because only the foam is applied to the hair and scalp. We recommend shampoo bars to customers who want to reduce their SLS usage because the amount that you apply is easier to control. There’s no need to squeeze a large dollop of shampoo onto your scalp. Instead, you prepare the product in your hands first, before distributing it evenly through the hair.

“This is quite a dramatic difference,” explains Lush co-founder and herbal trichologist Mark Constantine. “When you use a liquid shampoo you apply the neat material to your scalp, but you don’t get that with a shampoo bar — you only get the foam that comes off the material, which means that even people with the most sensitive scalps can use it.”

If you’re sold on shampoo bars but want a lower-SLS alternative, try Jason And The Argan Oil shampoo bar; it’s made with agar agar, a cleansing seaweed extract, which enables us to use 23% less SLS.

Raising the bar

In 2017, we launched our reformulated gourmet soap range using our own in-house soap base. Our base has been palm free since 2006, but now that we don’t need to add SLS or sodium stearate we can guarantee that the entire soap, and all its ingredients, don’t include any traces of palm.

This in-house soap base is made from a blend of Fair Trade organic cocoa butter, extra virgin coconut oil and organic castor oil, mixed with sodium hydroxide to induce a reaction called saponification. This creates the lathering solid base of the soap on which infusions, juices or oils are added to benefit the skin and provide fragrance. It can also be blended with other soap bases made with different ingredients such as olive or argan oil, to create a greater range of textures and lathers.

We’ve since reformulated some of our most popular soaps too, including Honey I Washed the Kids, Coalface and Rock Star. These are currently only available on our website and, as a result, the majority of our soaps no longer contain SLS.

This means that customers now have even more choice, making it easier to find the products and ingredients that work best for you.

 

Comments (62)
62 Comments

spita7hotmailcom

about 2 weeks ago

I am disappointed that you do not provide more natural ingredients instead of using derived from products. This does not mean it's natural. SLS has had multiple studies whereby it shows its link to decreased fertifility and other hormonal changes in humans as well as massive effects on wildlife and sealife. Please provide alternatives and products that are much more natural. Lots of other vegan companies achieve shampoo bars with no SLS/SLES or ALS why can't yours?

about 2 weeks ago

Having suffered from mouth ulcers for years, plus sensitive skin on my hands which regularly cracked and bled, I finally traced the issue to SLS in my toothpaste, shampoo, and in almost every handwash I encountered. I work in a research lab, so washing my hands regularly and thoroughly is contractually obliged, and as I am the only person in the lab with an SLS-sensitivity I'm allowed to bring in my own handwash. I had hoped to buy something from LUSH, but it feels awful to stumble across this page instead. It's really demoralising to have your pain and irritation dismissed as "fuss", especially when all of your stats are stating that "most people" don't have an issue with SLS. This means that some people do! Some people really struggle to find products which suit their skincare needs, and I really would have thought that LUSH would be respectful and supportive of all customers who want to use their products. Please consider re-phrasing some of your statements, and try not to be so contemptuous of people whose hands literally bleed when they was with SLS soaps.

natzmolina

about 1 month ago

I don’t know how companies can use palm oil with no conscious.. it’s NOT needed. Companies like yours are the reason orangutans, elephants, leapards and other species are DYING. Literally on the verge of extinction. Please do something. Make it your top priortory. Your company will be a lot more attractive to customers if we see you making a difference and taking a stand to the deforestation problems.

aflameinside

about 1 month ago

I naively assumed that you weren't using SLS, and so was puzzled when I had a reaction to a couple of products. I was horrified to find that they contained not only SLS, but also SLES. Not only do they do the same job, so there surely shouldn't be a need for both, but my dermatologist informed me that, when combined, they can increase sensitivity to other ingredients that cause a mild personal reaction. I have found this to be true, as I definitely get more of a problem with products containing one or more ingredient that irritates me

susanm.clarke_6688430

about 2 months ago

I can’t use products with SLS or ALS in them as these chemicals cause my eczema to flare up. Shame you use this in your products. Saying these chemicals (basically detergents) are “derived” from coconut oil and palm oil doesn’t help. These oils are so chemically processed, they near no relation to the original. Why not find a natural alternative? I don’t need to chemically strip my hair of all its natural oils with detergent just so I can see foam/suds. I’d rather no suds and clean hair, which is achievable.

ptarzan80_6685909

about 2 months ago

SHAME ON YOU. You say SLS, which you derive from palm oil, is safe. This couldn't be further from the truth. Even if it is safe for humans - and that's a big if - it is certainly not safe for the countless species that are being driven to extinction for its production. Your customers should know that SLS derived palm oil, which you've admitted yours is, is a leading cause of tropical rainforest destruction, and is largely responsible for the rapidly declining numbers of Sumatran rhinos, tigers, orangutans, Asian elephants and countless other plant and animal species. Half the global orangutan population alone has been wiped out in just the past 16 years, largely due to palm oil production. As the global demand for palm oil rises, the unchecked large scale expansion that dominates the industry will keep pushing species to the brink of extinction, while destroying watershed and forest resources locals depend on, and exacerbating climate change by pumping greater amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere of a quickly overheating planet. Given the rapidly expanding global marketplace, it is increasingly important to be a conscious consumer and stop supporting companies that use SLS derived from palm oil. Lives literally depend on it. I contacted LUSH directly, and was told that they will not stop using palm oil because customers are happy with it, and to change would be bad business. NO. You know what's bad business? Pretending to be a responsible company, deceiving your customers, destroying rainforests, and driving countless species to the brink of extinction for profit. Once again, SHAME ON YOU.

London-SE17

about 2 months ago

Well done Lush, for raising awareness over spy cops who have cross the line and conned women to get sex and spy on them. Police using deceptive practices and lies to get sex clearly amounts to rape. The use of dead children's identities is also extremely disturbing and is an absolute scandal. It's horrific to think women thought their partners were someone who they not only trusted but knew, only to find out at a later date these men were actually police spies. An inquiry must release these files and the names of those spying on victims of state snooping.

thelondonhealthcentre_6660694

about 3 months ago

Shame on you LUSH! You seem to have employed a very smart PR agency helping you defend and justify the use of SLS. The ONLY reason you use it is because it creates loads of 'fake' foam plus it's extremely cheap - just like chlorine they use to disinfect our drinking water. The description 'safe' is used for chlorine and SLS and many other undesirable toxins. However, safe is not necessarily the same as being non-harmful to the human organism. Concerned about your long-term health? Time to get real!

BioLogic

about 4 months ago

This short report presents references to studies that suggest that SLS is indeed toxic for human health. There are also environmental effects presented. http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/SLS/SLSh.htm Additionally, when a sentence starts with "Industry research states" that does imply that there may be conflict of interests.

ampeters100

about 6 months ago

Please stop using SLS in your bath products, I'm in a lot of pain after using Bright side bubble bar and I don't see the need for it. SLS used to give me constant mouth ulcers and always causes itching if it's in my bath or shower products so for a large number of your customers, it is indeed harmful, despite the rinsing off. Please find an alternative quickly or at least make it easier to search- Whether in store or online I have to carefully read every single item and most have it, even having staff help me isn't ideal as there is so many to read. Restaurants have allergen books could you possibly have similar guides in stores so customers could scan the lists not read ingredient list on every single product? (Not ideal in a busy store or scrolling a long time online).
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