SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) can come in many forms. It’s a detergent that’s long been used in shampoos and other personal care products, but there’s a whole range of ways to use it in skin care products—in particular, you may not know about the “SLS-Free” category.
What is SLS?
SLS is a salt derived from Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) and Sodium Chloride (NaCl). (This is also why you’ll find SLS in laundry detergents that use Oxonol.) This is an important distinction: while SLS can sometimes be added as a natural constituent of many soaps, it doesn’t occur naturally in skin care. Instead, SLS is derived from chemicals that are used in the processing of sodium hydroxide, which then becomes concentrated in the final soap.
SLS is extremely effective at removing dirt, oil, and sebum, so its use in personal care products is fairly typical. It helps to cleanse and exfoliate the skin without feeling overly harsh or drying out.
What is “SLS-Free”?
SLS-free skin care products do not contain SLS. While this may seem like a good thing, it’s an important distinction. SLS has been around for a while, so there are lots of companies making SLS-free products. As a result, the product formulation may be slightly different or different than traditional products. For example, some SLS-free products use moisturizers and preservatives, whereas others don’t.
That said, the vast majority of SLS-free products don’t make any claims about their “SLS-free” nature. It’s the companies behind them that have to label their products as such. For consumers, it means they don’t necessarily have to be concerned about SLS in their products, but they shouldn’t expect them to be “SLS-free” in any meaningful sense.
Why care about SLS?
SLS may seem like it doesn’t matter because you don’t use it directly on your skin. While it’s not commonly used in everyday products, it’s found in a range of cleaning products that you can use in your home, as well as on your skin. This means that if SLS is something you want to avoid in your skincare products, there are plenty of places where you can find it.
The truth is, though, it’s probably not a good idea to use SLS-free skin care products if you’re looking to be a part of the SLS-free community. SLS-free products often contain the same preservatives and moisturizers as other products, so they don’t have the same benefits as their “SLS-containing” counterparts. For instance, you can wash your skin with an SLS-free product and then use a cleanser or lotion containing salicylic acid (as SLS-free lotions often do). But you can’t wash your skin with an SLS-free product and then use a cleanser containing salicylic acid because SLS may interfere with its ability to remove your dirt.
It’s probably better to avoid SLS if you don’t have to use it. It can be challenging to find skin care products that are free of SLS. And even when it’s available, the ingredient isn’t always easy to spot.
SLS-free products are easy to spot
By contrast, many SLS-free products have a lot in common with their traditional counterparts. That means that they’re usually recognizable by their basic formulations. The first thing that comes to mind when you think of an SLS-free product is probably this simple, common list of ingredients:
SLS-free products have other things in common, too. For example, they usually include something that’s considered to be an “emollient,” an ingredient that acts as a moisturizer. And they usually have something similar to sodium hydroxide in their recipe. (Sodium hydroxide is something like baking soda, but it’s more concentrated—and it doesn’t contain that familiar scent that baking soda often does.)
Because chemical-free beauty products may have similar ingredients, they’re easy to spot if you know what to look for. And some of the products that have been formulated to be SLS-free are much easier to recognize because they’re based on a traditional formula that’s commonly seen in the ingredient list.
Why the confusion?
Part of the confusion surrounding SLS comes from its ability to show up in so many products. You might have seen “SLS-Free” appear on the ingredient list, even if you didn’t know that the company was making an SLS-free product. That’s because SLS is added in some ways other than in the list of ingredients, so it’s not uncommon to see the ingredient in a product that doesn’t use it.
Also, even though SLS-free skin care products can look like normal products, it’s important to keep in mind that they may use ingredients that are derived from chemicals that are used in the manufacturing of SLS. The result is similar: the product has a cleaning and/or cleansing effect on your skin. That’s why you should look for the word “soap” in ingredient lists since it’s often used to refer to products that use sodium hydroxide.
The same thing can happen with “SLS-free.” In some cases, the word chemical-free beauty has been applied to a product that contains salicylic acid, as long as it doesn’t say anything about SLS. In other cases, SLS-free skin care products have been formulated to look like normal products. The same product, for example, can be made with or without SLS.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the claims made for chemical-free beauty products are often a bit different than their regular counterparts. This is partly because SLS-free products tend to contain similar ingredients as regular products, so they often get some of the benefits of being more “natural.
This is a very important issue when choosing the best vegan skincare products. Skin sensitivities may be caused by using a product that contains a certain ingredient, but, if the ingredient can’t be avoided in skincare, it might be wise to choose an alternative. Some people find that the ingredients used in mainstream brands work well for them, whereas, for others, other ingredients may cause skin irritations. It’s all about trial and error – try using products for a week or so and see which ones you find work for you, and which ones you just can’t live without like the best vegan skincare!
If you’re using the best vegan skincare routine, but want to use moisturizers, check for ingredients that are specifically targeted at sensitive skin. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a mixture of skin irritants and moisturizers.
This is not always a problem as some mainstream cosmetic brands do come in cruelty-free product packaging. The ingredients themselves are also not necessarily bad – some moisturizers, for example, can work well for dry or sensitive skin.
It’s also a good idea to look at the company’s cruelty-free products. It’s not so important whether or not the company uses cruelty-free products, but they must be compassionate towards animals – not just towards them, but also towards the environment.