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Let's talk 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? 

What is SLS?

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.”

In fact, recent additions to our ranges feature Sodium Coco Sulfate, a great alternative that has been put to work to create a more gentle lather that won’t strip the hair and skin of needed moisture while it cleans. We’re still working on making the change, but we’re closer than ever before with bath, shower and haircare ranges that include this fabulous foamer.

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 sulfate 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, Cynthia Sylvia Stout shampoo contains ALS along with beer and lemon juice to give your hair a glossy sheen, while Rehab shampoo contains ALS along with olive oil to add strength to hair, while fresh pineapple and papaya juice means this clarifying shampoo cleanses oil and enhances shine.

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.”

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 Sleepy. The majority of our soaps no longer contain SLS.

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


Comments (73)


about 9 months ago

I feel absolutely frustrated after many years using your Shampoo bars thinking that they were natural, and having a big skin problem in my scalp. I trusted Lush and assumed you would not use SLS in your products, such an harmful chemical ingredient for any type of skin, and absolutely aggressive for people with skin conditions. You are trying to sell something unreal, it is very dissapointing!

Lush Customer Care

about 9 months ago


From the beginning, part of our statement has been that "We believe in making effective products from fresh, organic* fruit and vegetables, the finest essential oils and safe synthetics." Although SLS is an ingredient we are slowly moving away from as per the full traceability of the ingredients within may be connected to palm oil. Our newer shampoo bar formulas are made with SCS instead. You're welcome to reach out if you would prefer a replacement product without this ingredient. - Ros


about 1 year ago

Please Lush, stop using SLS. I love your products and ethos but you are going against what you're selling here! When I go into your shop and buy your products, I place trust in you that your products wouldn't have harmful ingredients in! I am hugely affected by SLS. I've been using your shampoo bars since December, I've brought 3 now as I was convinced that they just didn't suit my hair type. So here I am 8 months on, my hair has been continuously drying up and falling out, to the point where I've had a huge load of my hair cut off to help. And I come on here to read that you use SLS in the shampoo bars and you're not even bothered about it and try to act like it's essential?? It's not essential at all. There are many other brands that make SLS free shampoo bars, that have amazing reviews. Why are you doing this to your trusted customers? It's not okay, we pay more for a service that's supposed to be good, so you should sort it out.

Lush Customer Care

about 1 year ago


Thank you for your feedback, please be reassured we have taken this onboard. We do care lots about the ingredients we use and are finding alternatives to SLS. If you wish to learn more please contact Customer Care on the contact details below. Thanks ~ LauraO


about 2 years ago

I am Evgenii from Russia. I love your products, and have been using it since 2006. The question about Soap for Breakfast is fine and VEGAN and the smell is good and does not dry the skin. I have read so many reviews here, there are already more than 69 of them, and I ask myself: do you not know how to make a NATURAL SOAP without SLS? Here is an example : Ingredients: sodium salts of oils (cocoa, coconut, palm, olive, castor), essential oil of orange and cinnamon, red clay, water, sodium lactate. Price : 2 $ USA However, only 2 questions to manufacturers LUSH : 1) why should Sodium Lauryl Sulfate surprise be added to soap; PAV - cleanser, foaming agent. It can be obtained both from refined petroleum products and from natural raw materials. He is added to cheap shampoos and gels for foam, in soap then why is he? It and so foam well crying 2) Why in solid soap Tetrasodium Etidronate? May cause irritation and allergic reactions to mucous membranes and skin. Does not decompose in nature. Pollutes the environment


about 2 years ago

I have just watch Stink on Netflix and begun my own research. I have just bought £260 plus worth of Christmas presents and I am returning them all as most have SLS and other dodgy ingredients. Read this Until harmful chemicals and palm are removed I am not shopping in Lush any more.

about 2 years ago

Just switch to alpha olefin sulfonates... they aren't sulphates and can easily go 1:1 on most things.


about 2 years ago

LUSH, I have to say I'm saddened to hear about the use of palm oil-derived SLS products you keep producing....these ingredients are so harsh for the skin and scalp, any professional hair stylist would tell you this is what is stunting hair growth, causing inflamed skin, and drying out hair. Not only this, but palm oil in and of itself is horrible to use in your products. The environment depends on companies like yours, who care so much about the planet, to STOP using it altogether! I love LUSH to death but I really want your board of directors to consider stopping this practice. Renpure Organics, Giovanni Cosmetics, Mill Creek, Shea Moisture, and many more companies have SLS-free and palm oil-free products. even L'Oreal (an extremely corrupt company) has a sulfate-free haircare line! I know you guys can get rid of it, and I promise you your customers will love you for it. Your haircare products WILL sell just as much without it, if not more. <3


about 2 years ago

Well said Sarah!


about 2 years ago

Not only does SLS / SLES can contain Palm Oil, it's used as an IRRITANT in clinical science studies... mainly because it is! All ionic surfactants have protein denaturing properties causing irritation... just read this article: