SLS and Other Harmful "Hair Care" Ingredients

SLS and Other Harmful "Hair Care" Ingredients

Joined: January 13th, 2003, 7:14 am

April 15th, 2003, 10:46 am #1

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Other Harmful Ingredients

What product ingredients are harmful to your hair and health? This commonly asked questions is hard to answer. Depending upon the source of the information you seek, the answers can vary greatly! Natural hair care companies strongly avoid the use of any synthetic ingredients, while salon lines promote the great lather and cleansing power of their synthetic products. After doing a lot of research on this, I've come to the conclusion that for some, these ingredients can indeed be harmful by causing scalp irritations like dandruff, dry scalp that produces an itchy feeling, oily scalp and dry hair. For others, synthetics products create no noticeable problems at all, leaving them with healthy looking hair. If I were to make a list of all the ingredients that could possibly be harmful to your hair and health, you would never reach the end of this article. In order to make this is a little easier, for both you and me, I am going to list the more common ingredients we find in our products and give you some great links to start some research of your own! In order for you to understand these ingredients we'll start with some basic background work. This may seem a little technical, but don't stop reading! You are going to learn some interesting things!


According to the information I found at:

The major types of surfactants are:
Anionic (an-eye-ON-ick)
Cationic (kat-eye-ON-ick)
Nonionic (non-eye-ON-ick)
Amphoteric (am-fo-TERR-ick)

Surfactants with a negative charge are called anionic. A surfactant with a positive charge is cationic.

Anionic (an-eye-ON-ick)
Anionic Surfactants (Negatively charged ion) Anionic surfactants are the most widely used detergents in the cosmetology profession. They are inexpensive, simple to prepare, and excellent cleaners. They also rinse easily from the hair. A major disadvantage is that they can be harsh and irritating to the scalp. Frequently, other surfactants and ingredients are added to reduce skin irritation.

Cationic (kat-eye-ON-ick)
Cationic Surfactants (Positively charged ion) Cationic surfactants are rarely used in high concentrations in the cosmetology profession. Many types are dangerous to the eyes but are safe and useful in low amounts. Until recently, their positive charges prevented them from being mixed with negatively charged anionic surfactants. Newer types, however, eliminate this incompatibility.

Look at the label!!! Here is a guide to how gentle your shampoo is according to the surfactant used:

Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate - very, very, harsh
Ammonium Laureth Sulfate- very harsh but better than the above
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate- better than the above, but still a little harsh
Sodium Laureth Sulfate-gentle, great pick!
*TEA lauryl Sulfate-good pick
TEA Laureth Sulfate-good pick
* See diethanolamine (DEA) section

Diethanolamine (DEA)

The U. S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Office of Cosmetics Fact Sheet dated, December 9, 1999 found the following information:

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) completed a study in 1998 that found an association between the topical application of diethanolamine (DEA) and certain DEA-related ingredients and cancer in laboratory animals. For the DEA-related ingredients, the NTP study suggests that the carcinogenic response is linked to possible residual levels of DEA. The NTP study did not establish a link between DEA and the risk of cancer in humans. Although DEA itself is used in very few cosmetics, DEA-related ingredients are widely used in a variety of
cosmetic products.These ingredients function as emulsifiers or foaming agents and generally are used at levels of 1 to 5% of a product's formulation.

FDA takes the results of the NTP study very seriously and has made the assessment of public health risk one of the highest priorities for the cosmetics program. To determine whether or not the NTP findings
suggest a risk to human health, FDA is in the process of carefully evaluating the studies and test data to determine the real risk, if any, to consumers. This evaluation includes laboratory studies to measure the degree to which DEA penetrates human skin and the amount of DEA found in commercial products.

The Agency believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be alarmed based on the use of these substances in cosmetics. However, consumers wishing to avoid cosmetics containing DEA or DEA-related ingredients may do so by reviewing the ingredient statement that is required to appear on the outer container label of cosmetics offered for retail sale to consumers.

With the exception of color additives and a few prohibited ingredients, a cosmetic manufacturer may use almost any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient. The following are some of the most commonly used ingredients that may contain DEA:

Cocamide DEA
Cocamide MEA
DEA-Cetyl Phosphate
DEA Oleth-3 Phosphate
Lauramide DEA
Linoleamide MEA
Myristamide DEA
Oleamide DEA
Stearamide MEA
TEA-Lauryl Sulfate

If FDA's evaluation of the NTP data indicates that a health hazard exists, FDA will advise the industry and the public and will consider its legal options under the authority of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act
in protecting the health and welfare of consumers.

Hypertext updated by cjm/dms 1999-DEC-21

"PEG," "Polyethylene," "Polyethylene glycol," "Polyoxyethylene,"
More from the FDA:
Cosmetics containing as ingredients ethoxylated surface active agents, including detergents, foaming agents, emulsifiers and certain solvents identifiable by the prefix, word, or syllable "PEG," "Polyethylene,"
"Polyethylene glycol," "Polyoxyethylene," "-eth-," or "-oxynol-," may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane. It may be removed from ethoxylated compounds by means of vacuum stripping at the end of the
polymerization process without an unreasonable increase in raw material cost.
Restricted or Prohibited Ingredients:

The following ingredients, because of the dangers they impose, are either restricted or prohibited by regulation for use in cosmetics:

mercury compounds
vinyl chloride
halogenated salicylanilides
zirconium complexes in aerosol cosmetics
methylene chloride
chlorofluorocarbon propellants
methyl methacrylate monomer in nail products
Mineral Oil & Propylene Glycol :
Mineral oil is derivative of crude oil (petroleum) that is used industrially as a cutting fluid and lubricating oil. Mineral oil forms an oily film over skin to lock in moisture, but traps in toxins and wastes, and hinders normal skin respiration by keeping oxygen out.

Propylene Glycol - A cosmetic form of mineral oil found in automatic brake and hydraulic fluid, and industrial antifreeze. In skin and hair are products propylene glycol works as a humectant, which is a substance that retains the moisture content of skin or cosmetic products by preventing the escape of moisture or water. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) warn users to avoid skin contact with propylene glycol as this strong skin irritant can cause liver abnormalities and kidney damage.



There's a great debate going on over the use of silicones. Some feel that they do wonders for dry, frizzy hair, and other have concerns over silicones for much of the same reasoning as with mineral oil. Some silicones seem to seal out moisture and with long time use tend to dry out the hair. I would avoid the use of heavy silicones and opt instead for those which are lighter and water soluble when using "cones". When using any "cone" product, be sure to do a little research and learn about it. Try using a build up remover (recipes on the build up page) on a regular basis to help illiminate any excess build up of this type of ingredient.

"Aubrey Organics" Thoughts on SLS:
In order to better understand why some hair care companies avoid the use of these synthetic ingredients, I contacted one of the best natural hair care companies around, Aubrey Organics. They were kind enough to explain their thoughts when I asked them why they avoided using SLS and ingredients like it.

"Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is an inexpensive white powder used as a detergent, emulsifier, and surfactant in cosmetic products.It is a strong degreaser that dries the skin and hair. It is a primary irritant in high concentrations and is classed as a strong or harsh detergent. It can cause eye irritations, skin rashes, hair loss, scalp scurf similar to dandruff and allergic reactions.It is not a natural product even though sometimes it is said to be "derived from coconuts". In the production of SLaurylS fatty acids of coconut oil, primarily lauric acid are hydrogenated, and then esterfied with sulfuric acid (sulfated), and the resulting mixture of alkyl bisulfates(alkyl sulfuric acids) is converted into a mixture of sodium salts by reacting with an alkali under controlled conditions of Ph3. Obviously the coconut oil has been adulterated with chemicals in the production process. The primary objective of SLaurylS is creating lots of lather.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate is chemically similar to SLaurylS although it is a yellow liquid and a bit milder. It is also classed as a strong detergent and primarily used in shampoos. It is also produced by similar methods as the SLaurylS and can be expected to produce similar reactions as the SLaurylS.

The Coconut Oil based soap that we use in our shampoos is not treated with any such chemicals. The coconut oil is converted into soap through a saponification reaction with salt."

Sandie Coretti
Consumer Product Consultant- Aubrey Organics

For more information on hair care ingredients that Aubrey Organics finds harmful, go to:

"Trusted Care" On Synthetic Ingredients:

Another company that creates products for infants, Trusted Care, states the following on their website: "Unlike many commercial products, Trusted Care baby products contain no synthetic ingredients to harm or irritate your baby's tender skin and eyes. This is comforting news in light of recent medical findings which point to Mineral Oil, Cocomide, DEA, SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate), Talc, and other common ingredients, as being harmful to a baby's health. Trusted Care products are made without Mineral Oil, DEA, SLS or Talc.

Mineral Oil, which is contained in most popular diaper rash ointments and lotions, has been found to clog babies' pores and actually deplete skin nutrients. Common soap ingredient DEA is a proven skin and scalp irritant. Meanwhile, SLS which is found in 90% of all baby shampoos, has been linked to a variety of conditions including eye damage in infants and young children who are particularly susceptible to improper eye development.

Closing Thoughts:

As with many things, there is and will continue to be a great debate on what ingredients are safe, healthy, and helpful, or harmful, unhealthy, and damaging. Only you can be the best judge of what does or does not work for your hair type and condition. I encourage you to learn more about the products you use and the effects they can have on your hair. For more information on product ingredients visit the links that have been posted with the information given, as well as the following site links.

Links: For information on safe and unsafe colors used in hair cosmetics terms ingredient information from "natural" hair care source - additives page for food and cosmetic products - product sale page, but has interesting ingredient information -Glossary of ingredients -ingredient dictionary ... ction.html - Aubrey Organics ingredient dictionary

Special Thanks:

Special thanks to Sandie Coretti of Aubrey Organics for taking the time to personally respond to my questions about SLS! We appreciate her sharing her time and knowledge with us.


17/33/35+ - Bangs at 15 inches - Type 2CMii (3B underneath layer) Somewhat fine, slightly wavy (with curls on the underneath layer), light brown with gold and red highlights. To see more pictures, click on the gallery link found here:
Just Fox...

You can also find me here: The Long Hair Loom

"Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Choose your words, for they become actions. Understand your actions, for they become habits. Study your habits, they will become your character. Develop your character for it becomes your destiny." -John MacArthur

Products Used:
Aubrey Organics S&C
Vinegar/herbal rinses
Oils: Jojoba, Sweet Almond, Virgin Oil de Coco Creme, Monoi, Castor, Meadowfoam Seed & essential oils
Shea Butter (from which I make my own leave-in)
MP Popular Mix Brush
Wood and Horn combs
Vitamins/Minerals/Herbal supplements
Starting my growing journey all over again after health issues took a major toll on my hair.
17/25.5/35+ - Type 2C-3bMii Somewhat fine, wavy (with corkscrew curls on the underneath layer), natural color is light brown with gold and red highlights. Previously used henna for years, but had it highlighted out over a couple of years. Currently trying to decide what to do as far as continuing with that to keep up the roots or doing something different.

Products Used:
Aubrey Organics S&C - my most favorite, but currently using Neways Second Chance Shampoo, SheaMoisture's High Porosity Moisture-Seal Masque,
Sally Beauty Generic Value Product's version of Matrix Biolage conditioner (as a leave in, not rinsed out)
Aubrey Organics Chia Gel
Vinegar/herbal rinses
Oils: Jojoba, Castor, Coconut & essential oils
MP Popular Mix Brush
MP & Madora wide tooth combs
Vitamins/Minerals/Herbal supplements

"Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Choose your words, for they become actions. Understand your actions, for they become habits. Study your habits, they will become your character. Develop your character for it becomes your destiny."