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What's the difference? SLS vs SLES

If you are a conscious beauty lover, you may already be familiar with the abbreviations SLS and SLES. Despite how similar they sound, there’s a big difference between SLS and SLES. SLS stands for Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and may also be known as SDS, Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate. Meanwhile, SLES is short for Sodium Laureth Sulfate and sometimes may be written as Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate.

SLS and SLES are both surfactants added to many health and beauty products to create foam and offer a cleaning action.

What is SLS?

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is found in lots of everyday health and beauty products as it lathers up to create a cleansing foam. Many hand soaps, face washes, shaving creams and even toothpaste owe their foaming quality to SLS.

SLS sounds like a lovely cleansing ingredient, right? SLS is deemed as ‘safe to use’ by many regulatory bodies including The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA) and The Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel (CIR). Yet, despite being marked as ‘safe to use’, SLS has been identified as a skin irritant if left on skin for prolonged periods of time.

Reported Issues with SLS

If you suffer with sensitive skin or skin conditions such as dermatitis, then you’re going to want to steer clear of products containing SLS. SLS affects the everyday purpose of skin proteins which causes damage to the outer layer of skin resulting in cracked, dry and tender skin.

In similar news, if you suffer with whiteheads and blackheads, it could be as a result of using face and body care products that contain SLS.

Shampoos containing SLS has also been linked to being responsible for weakening hair and causing hair loss. This is because the SLS will often remain in hair follicles long after washing, causing them to weaken over extended periods of time.

What is SLES?

Now that we have a better understanding of SLS, let’s talk about SLES, baby. Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) is derived from SLS through a process called ethoxylation (where ethylene oxide is introduced to change the compound).

Fun fact: any ingredient ending in -eth has also been through ethoxylation!

This process means SLES is safe to use in bath and body care products and is gentler on skin than its predecessor, SLS. Unlike SLS, Sodium Laureth Sulfate won’t aggravate your skin or strip it of any excess moisture.

Skincare products containing SLES will be just as cleansing, foaming and emulsifying as SLS but they will also benefit your skin after use by leaving it feeling silky soft, smooth and nourished.


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