What are Laureth Ingredients?



What Is Laureth-23?

Laureth-23 is a synthetic ingredient that is used in many different cosmetics and skincare products to improve the texture and feel. 

Laureth ingredients are produced through a process known as ethoxylation, a chemical reaction in which ethylene oxide is added to a substrate. In this case, the substrate is lauryl alcohol. Lauryl alcohol is obtained from lauric acid, a saturated fatty acid with a 12-carbon atom chain that can be found in palm kernel oil or coconut oil. The number associated with the laureth -23 indicates the average number of repeating ethylene oxide units in the molecule. As the numerical value of laureth ingredients increases, the thickness or viscosity increases until they become white, waxy solids.

Laureth- 23

the good:Laureth-23 is used to improve the texture and stability of products.

the not so good:It doesn’t  provide any specific benefits to the condition of the skin.

Who is it for?All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.

Synergetic ingredients:Works well with most ingredients

Keep an eye on:As laureth-23 is produced through ethoxylation there is some controversy over its safety. However, laureth-23 is considered to be safe if it is used in the guidelines. More on this later.

Why Is Laureth-23 Used?

In cosmetics and skincare products, laureth-23 functions as a surfactant and emulsifier. It can be found in bath, cleansing, hair, and sunscreen products. It is also used in cuticle softeners, deodorants, and moisturizing products.

As a surfactant, laureth-23 works by lowering the surface tension between two substances, such as two liquids or a liquid and a solid. A surfactant molecule contains one end that is hydrophilic or attracted to water and one end that is lipophilic or attracted to oil. This allows surfactants to attract and suspends oils, dirt, and other impurities that have accumulated on the skin and wash them away. Due to these properties, laureth-23 can be found in many different cleansers and body washes.

Emulsifiers are necessary when a formulation contains both water and oil components. When water and oil-based ingredients are mixed together the two ingredients often separate or split. To address this problem, an emulsifier like laureth-23 can be added which helps to produce a stable product.

Is Laureth-23 Safe?

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel evaluated the scientific data and concluded that the laureth ingredients were safe as used in cosmetic products only when formulated to be non-irritating. This is because the laureth ingredients have the potential to irritate the skin. Laureth-23 is declared safe as used in concentrations up to 6 percent. 

Despite the approval of laureth-23 by the CIR Expert Panel, there are concerns about the presence of ethylene oxide in this ingredient. This is because the process of ethoxylation may lead to contamination with 1,4-dioxane, a potentially dangerous by-product. In fact, 1,4-dioxane is a known animal carcinogen that penetrates readily into the skin. This ingredient has also been linked with skin allergies. However, manufacturing and purifying processes and guidelines ensure the safety of ingredients that are produced via ethoxylation. 

References:Robinson, V, et al., 2010. ‘Final Report of the Amended Safety Assessment of Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Related Salts of Sulfated Ethoxylated Alcohols’, International Journal of Toxicology. 


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