Sodium laureth sulfate is a sodium salt produced by adding ethylene oxide to dodecyl alcohol. This produces an ethoxylate which is transformed in to a half ester of sulphuric acid and neutralized to achieve sodium laureth sulfate. Sodium laureth sulfate is a popular detergent, surfactant, and emulsifier found in many toiletries, cosmetics, and skin care products.
As a detergent, sodium laureth sulfate is found in many skin and hair cleansing products, including facial washes, cleansing gels, shampoos, shower gels and body scrubs. The chemical properties of sodium laureth sulfate enable it to bind to dirt and grime particles, enabling them to be washed away from the surface of the skin or hair. Detergents, such as sodium laureth sulfate, have greater cleansing power than soap in hard water areas. This is because the cleansing action of soap is hampered by the minerals found in hard water, such as calcium. Detergents do not react with these minerals in the same way, allowing them to carry out their cleansing function more effectively.
Sodium laureth sulfate is a surfactant and, as a result, is often included as an ingredient in products which work more effectively when they produce foam or suds. This includes products such as bath foam, shampoo, and soap. Surfactants are able to join water and oil molecules, which would otherwise repel one another, enabling them to create bubbles. Sodium laureth sulfate’s surfactant properties make it extremely useful in hair cleansing products, such as shampoo. The particles of dirt, grime, and environmental pollution that accumulate on the hair are trapped in the natural protective oils that coat each hair shaft. Water alone does not effectively clean off this oily residue, as oil and water molecules naturally repel one another. Sodium laureth sulfate forms a bond between the oil and water, enabling the dirt and grime to be rinsed off with the shampoo.
Toothpaste works more effectively when it can foam up. This is because the foam is able to enter the small spaces between the teeth that cannot be entered by the bristles on a toothbrush. For this reason, sodium laureth sulfate is included as an ingredient in some toothpastes.
The emulsifying properties of sodium laureth sulfate make it a useful ingredient in cosmetic products, such as mascara and lip plumper. Sodium laureth sulfate is also used as an emulsifier in some fragrances and perfumes. As an emulsifier, sodium laureth sulfate helps mix other ingredients together and prevents them from separating during transit or as the products settles. This prolongs the shelf-life of the product.
Sodium laureth sulfate is also used as an ingredient in a number of household items, including dishwasher detergent and laundry detergent, due to its cleansing and surfactant properties.
Sodium laureth sulfate is generally well tolerated by the majority of the population, making it a very safe ingredient. However, some individuals with sensitive skin may find that products containing sodium laureth sulfate cause their skin to become dry, irritated, and red. This irritation can arise because of the surfactant and emulsifying properties of sodium laureth sulfate. Sodium laureth sulfate is extremely efficient at dissolving the naturally occurring oils that form a protective layer on the surface of the skin. When these oils are dissolved, they can be washed away, leaving the skin unprotected from environmental irritants.
Individuals who are sensitive to sodium laureth sulfate may not be able to use toothpastes that list it as an ingredient. For a small number of individuals, sodium laureth sulfate in toothpaste can cause the formation of sores. These sores will heal if use of the toothpaste containing sodium laureth sulfate is discontinued.
A myth arose around sodium laureth sulfate after a hoax email was circulated on the internet. The email claimed that sodium laureth sulfate was a carcinogen that had been found to cause cancer. However, the content of this email was untrue. Despite its lack of accuracy, this email claim has lingered and references to it can still be found on the internet.
Sodium laureth sulfate is sometimes referred to by the abbreviation SLES. Sodium laureth sulfate can also be found listed under other names, including sodium lauryl sulfate ethoxylate, sodium laureth-3 sulfate, PEG-8 lauryl ether sulfate sodium salt, and polyethylene glycol sulfate monododecyl ether sodium salt.