Sodium Laurel Sulfate - The Dermatology Review

Sodium Laurel Sulfate



Sodium Laurel Sulfate in Skin Care

Have you ever seen sodium laurel sulfate on the ingredient label of a shampoo or soap, and wondered what it does? If you have, you’re not alone. This compound is added an essential ingredient in many shampoos, body washes and many other skin care products because of its ability to produce foam and remove oils from skin. Sodium laurel sulfate is usually extracted from the fatty acids in coconut oil or palm oil, and is known as a common surfactant (it’s effective at breaking down oils). However, some skin care companies manufacture this synthetic detergent product through extraction from petrolatum or other sources. What makes sodium laurel sulfate a relatively common ingredient in skin care products is its milder nature when compared to its sister chemicals for producing foam, such as sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES) and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS).

History of Sodium Laurel Sulfate

Sodium laurel sulfate is thought to have been used in shampoo products of various brands since as early as the 1930s. It is often manufactured through a catalyst reduction process whereby palm or coconut oil is broken down into chains of alcohols. At first the fatty acids in the oil are extracted using a distillation process to obtain the lauric fatty acid. A reduction reaction is then performed to transform it into lauric alcohol, which can then be treated with sulfuric acid and then neutralized to produce sodium salt. However, the oil-fighting properties of sodium laurel sulfate have made it a popular ingredient in industrial application as well, with the ingredient being used in a variety of high intensity floor cleaning agents and degreasers.

Sodium Laurel Sulfate Skin Benefits

Sodium laurel sulfate is thought to be helpful in extracting dirt and oils from the skin and scalp more effectively than simple soap or basic facial cleansers. The skin care products with this ingredient also provide a strong lather and are good cleansing options during summer, when the amount of oil secretions increases on the skin. A good facial cleanser with a surfactant like sodium laurel sulfate, or similar compounds, may be helpful to get rid of acne in such situations. However, it will not be effective on its own, as it does little to break down the sebum in already-clogged pores the way salicylic acid does.

Products Containing Sodium Laurel Sulfate

Sodium laurel sulfate is mainly used in toothpastes, shampoos, soaps, and facial cleansers to produce a fine lather effect and trap dirt. The chemical is also considered somewhat of an emulsifier, and can help ingredients in the bottle stay mixed because of the compound’s ability to mix with either water or oil. This made the ingredient popular with manufacturers because it allowed to achieve several desired product properties with just one chemical – thus making products somewhat cheaper. But the concentration of the substance is comparatively lower in the skincare products compared to the cleaning agents, and sodium laurel sulfate is still better known in its industrial applications.

Side Effects of Using Sodium Laurel Sulfate

Practical experiences and studies have shown that despite being milder than the SLES, sodium laurel sulfate can cause skin irritation during and after use of a product. The chemical can cause itching, pain and redness when it comes in contact with the eyes, and strong concentrations of the compound in skincare and hair care products can also cause excessive dryness. In some cases, the presence of sodium laurel sulfate in toothpaste can even lead to development of mouth sores. Although there is little risk of bioaccumulation issues after using products with this chemical, meaning that side effects should not last for significant amounts of time. However, the presence of sodium laurel sulfate in hair coloring products can dry out the hair strands, making them brittle, and difficult to repair quickly, which can become a nuisance for those with long hair.


  • Isohexadecane

    Isohexadecane is a synthetic ingredient used as a cleansing agent, skin-conditioning agent, and a te...


  • Stearyl Alcohol

    Stearyl alcohol is a natural fatty alcohol that is used as an emollient, emulsifier, and thickener i...


Recommended Articles