An increasing number of consumers are becoming more aware
of the dangers of certain chemicals to our health and are therefore making an effort to read ingredient labels on food and personal care products. On average, an individual uses about ten different personal care items on a dailly basis each of which may contain at least two ingredients that are now known to pose potential health risks that include sulfate (SLS or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, SLES or Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate and ALS or Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate), parabens, phtalates, fragrance, triclosan, talc and petrolatum. A number of scientific studies have strongly indicated that these chemicals are hormone disrupting toxins that can potentially increase someone's risk of developing serious health problems. These negative effects of chemicals on our health which can range in severity do not occur overnight. They are a result of repeated, long term exposure to those toxins that gradually pollute the system and contribute to acute and even chronic diseases.
Although the skin is almost waterproof and is designed to protect the human body against infections and mechanical damage, it is still able to absorb toxic substances and materials which end up in the bloodstream and in major body organs like the liver, lungs, kidneys, and the brain. With the rising incidence of chronic diseases that are suspected to be caused either primarily or secondarily by environmental factors and certain exposures, it is becoming more important to educate ourselves about the health hazards of even the most common product ingredients that were once believed to be safe and unable to penetrate the skin. For now, I'm going to discuss SLS and its cousins which are one of the most common ingredients present in many cosmetics, cleaning, and personal care products.
SLS is an inexpensive synthetic surfactant and detergent that is used as a lathering or foaming, cleansing and emulsifying agent in a lot of products including shampoos, face and body cleansers or washes, liquid soaps and soap bars, bath salts and oils, bath powders, bath bomb fizzies, toothpastes, and laundry detergents. SLS has been widely scrutinized by both scientists and health advocates and for good reasons. There have been scientific findings strongly linking SLS to certain health problems such as:
1. Skin, scalp, oral, and eye irritation
2. Cataracts in adults
3. Delayed eye development in young children
4. Eye irritation and blindness in animals
5. Neurotoxicity involving nerve tissue damage and cognitive dysfunction
6. Endocrine disruption and reproductive toxicity
7. Possibly Cancer despite claims it is not carcinogenic
SLS is a systemic chemical agent that can penetrate and be retained in vital body tissues or organs. Several studies involving SLS found that it is rapidly taken up and accumulated by eye tissues and that it causes changes in some eye proteins, a strong indication that this surfactant has potentially harmful long-term effects on the eyes of both children and adults and even among animals that may include acute or permanent corneal damage.
SLS is an irritant that causes damage to oral mucosa and skin. A lot of toothpastes and mouthwashes contain SLS for more effective cleansing of the teeth and mouth. Susceptible individuals may experience desquamation and burning of the mouth's mucous membranes that may persist with repeated use and lead to the formation of ulcers. These localized ulcers can become infected and the infection can potentially become systemic that would require extensive therapy. Personal care products like soaps, cleansers, shampoos and other bath and body products that have SLS as a degreaser strip the skin of its protective oils and moisture leading to excessive skin, hair and scalp dryness and the damage may even extend beyond the outermost layer of the skin, penetrating circulation and causing long-term systemic effects. These effects are similar to those caused by sulfate contained in laundry detergents where sufferers may complain of skin itching, redness, rash, and possibly inflammation. This process of damage to the skin is called denaturation of the skin's proteins which results in disruption of skin cell's activity and, ultimately, cell death. This process also allows SLS to be absorbed into the body and mimic the activity of the hormone estrogen which may lead to reproductive health problems including infertility, menstrual symptoms among women, breast cancer in both men and women, and other potentially serious disorders. Hormonal levels reach an uncontrollable state resulting in a turmoil of endocrine function.
These potentially adverse effects of sulfate on our health are a major concern. They wouldn't be so highly controversial unless there isn't cause for worry. With the growing incidence of certain diseases, it makes us wonder if what we put on our body goes in our body and either helps or ruins its proper functioning. My guess is that IT DOES! Take control of your health and use products that are free from sulfate and other unnecessary chemicals. You could even make your own at home using ingredients you normally use in the kitchen. There are unlimited resources available for homemade recipes for personal care products. The peace of mind you get out of trying to live healthfully could make a huge difference in your life.