Sodium lauroyl lactylate is a type of salt formed from the fatty acid lauric acid. A white, powdery solid, lauric acid is found in high concentrations in coconut oil, laurel oil and the milk of cows and goats. The fatty acid is also utilized by the human body and is contained in breast milk, where it accounts for 6.2 percent of the total fat content.
Although sodium lauroyl lactylate is derived from natural substances, the ingredient is not found in nature. The salt belongs to a class of organic compounds that were first developed during the 1950s as an alternative to a chemical that was at that time the primary preservative used to prevent bread from going stale. This class is known as the lactylates and includes a variety of different substances, including calcium stearoyl lactylate and sodium stearoyl lactylate.
To manufacture sodium lauroyl lactylate, lauric acid derived from coconuts is combined with lactic acid. This natural sugar is found in milk and can also be produced by fermenting other types of sugars like glucose and sucrose. Typically, the fermentation route is chosen over rendering lactic acid from milk, so that products that contain sodium lauroyl lactylate are safe for those who are lactose intolerant. Although sodium lauroyl lactylate must be manufactured industrially, the ingredient is completely biodegradable and environmentally friendly.
One of the most common uses of sodium lauroyl lactylate is as an emulsifier. In skin care products, the salt keeps the water-soluble and oily-soluble ingredients well mixed, so that they do not separate. Its inclusion in a product helps to ensure that the skin care formula is effective and that all of its ingredients are dispensed from the bottle, tube or jar upon application.
Sodium lauroyl lactylate is also a mild skin-conditioning agent that helps to fill in the spaces between dry skin cells to make the tissue suppler and softer. The salt's moisturizing abilities are not large enough for it to function as an active ingredient in moisturizers and body lotions, but sodium lauroyl lactylate may be included in these types of products as a supportive ingredient.
Due to its chemical and physical properties, sodium lauroyl lactylate is useful for performing a variety of supportive functions in beauty products. The ingredient may be included as a thickening agent or a foaming agent to improve the texture of products. In a small number of perfumed lotions, sodium lauroyl lactylate is added to make fragrances last for longer periods of time. Additionally, some manufacturers include sodium lauroyl lactylate in skin care formulations because the salt has the ability to deeply penetrate the skin and can draw active ingredients further into the skin tissue as a result.
In addition to serving as an emulsifier, a skin conditioner and a minor supportive ingredient, sodium lauroyl lactylate also functions as a surfactant when used in higher concentrations. A surfactant is any ingredient that reduces the surface tension of a liquid. For hair and skin care products, surfactants like sodium lauroyl lactylate are used to make oil molecules less rigid, so that they will mix with water and can be washed away. Products that include sodium lauroyl lactylate for its ability to function as a cleansing agent include shampoos, body washes, bar soaps, bubble baths, shower gels and facial cleansers.
Sodium lauroyl lactylate has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in cosmetics and skin and hair care products. The FDA classifies the ingredient as "Generally Regarded as Safe" and also allows for its use as a preservative or additive in foods. Studies have found that sodium lauroyl lactylate and other lactylates are non-toxic, and the salt is not known to have any cancer-causing properties. In clinical trials, no evidence that the ingredient causes skin irritation has emerged.
It is important to note that sodium lauroyl lactylate is not the same ingredient as sodium lauryl sulfate or SLS. Although SLS is also used as a surfactant and their names are somewhat similar, it is not related to sodium lauroyl lactylate and is instead derived from sulfuric acid. Unlike SLS, which has come under fire as studies have found it to have the potential to damage the hair follicles when contained in shampoo, sodium lauroyl lactylate is not known to have any adverse effects upon the hair.