Sodium lauryl sulfate
What is it?
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is the sodium salt of lauryl sulfate. It typically appears as a white or cream coloured crystal or powder. It may also be called sodium dodecyl sulfate; dodecyl sulfate, sodium salt; and sodium n-dodecyl sulfate.
Sodium lauryl sulfate is frequently confused with sodium laureth sulfate, but the two are distinct ingredients.
What does it do?
SLS is frequently used as a surfactant which is a foaming agent. It may also serve as an emulsifier, helping oil based and water based ingredients to stay mixed. In many of our toothpastes, SLS is used as a surfactant and helps to properly disperse the ingredients during brushing, and ensures easy rinsing and removal of debris (i.e. food particles).
How is it made?
Sodium lauryl sulfate may be derived from either petroleum based or vegetable based sources. The SLS Tom’s of Maine uses is entirely derived from the vegetable sources of coconut and/or palm kernel oil. The oils can be split into glycerin and the component fatty acids, one of which is lauric acid. The lauric acid is isolated and then hydrogenated to form the lauryl alcohol. Alternately, the whole oil can be esterified and then hydrogenated to form the fatty alcohols of which lauryl alcohol would be isolated by fractionation. The lauryl alcohol is then combined with sulfur which then forms the salt, sodium lauryl sulfate.
Alternatively, the whole oil can be esterified and then hydrogenated to form the fatty alcohols of which lauryl alcohol would be isolated by fractionation. The lauryl alcohol is then combined with sulfur which then forms the salt, sodium lauryl sulfate.
What are the alternatives?
Many other surfactants exist, including synthetic alternatives and other naturally derived ones. Many of these ingredients would not be considered by Tom’s of Maine because they fail to meet our Stewardship Model guidelines. We use SLS in many of our products because of its long history of safe and effective use, and because of the volume of scientific substantiation for its safety.
Is this the right option for me?
We use SLS only at the levels needed to deliver its intended purpose. Individuals who are prone to mouth ulcers or who have a known sensitivity to SLS should seek an SLS-free alternative.
Of all the ingredients we use, Tom’s of Maine tends to receive the greatest number of questions about our use of SLS. This may partly be fuelled by the volume of misinformation currently available on the internet. Sodium lauryl sulfate is used in a variety of products, and has a long history of safe use.
Tom’s of Maine recognizes that no two people are alike, and even with naturally derived ingredients, some individuals may develop an allergic reaction that is unique to them. As with any product, be sure to discontinue use if you experience discomfort or other indications that the product may not be appropriate for your individual body chemistry.