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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Beauty basics

Things you should know about sodium laureth sulfate
The Straits Times - July 29, 2011
By: Karen Tee
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What is sodium laureth sulfate and why is it bad for the skin?

Sodium laureth sulfate (SLS) is a cleansing chemical that is commonly added to soaps, shampoos and cleansers to make them foam.

However, it also removes the layer of protective oil on your skin and may cause skin irritation with repeated use.

But before you toss out all your bodycare products containing SLS, Dr Derrick Aw, consultant dermatologist at the University Dermatology Clinic at the National University Hospital, says SLS causes irritation only after prolonged contact with the skin.

Since body cleansers and shampoos are meant to be washed off almost immediately, skin irritation is unlikely. Just be sure to rinse thoroughly.

Those with eczema, however, should take note.

'SLS can dry up skin where moisture is already compromised and cause more itch,' says Dr Aw.

Such patients should use SLS-free cleansers so as not to aggravate their condition.

Dr Aw offers a few tips for those who may experience a slight itch after using cleansers with SLS:


  • Pick cleansers and shampoos that are targeted for sensitive skin as these contain SLS in lower concentrations.


  • You can relieve any irritation by applying a moisturiser immediately after cleansing to lock in moisture.


  • Look out for cleansers with moisturising ingredients, such as glycerin, as these will neutralise the drying effect of SLS.

    Another common chemical found in these cleansers is 1,4 dioxane, a by-product formed during the manufacturing process. There is a process to remove this chemical from cosmetics but trace amounts may remain.

    Studies have shown that 1,4 dioxane is an animal carcinogen, which means it causes cancer in animals when it is eaten; it is also a possible human carcinogen.

    But the United States Food and Drug Administration, which monitors the levels of this chemical in cosmetics, has said that the trace amounts are not hazardous to human beings.

    Dr Aw notes that there is no evidence to prove the chemical causes cancer when used on the skin.

    There is also no cause for concern as potentially harmful chemicals are screened by the Health Sciences Authority.

    Other common chemicals that can cause skin irritation include parabens, which are used as preservatives, diethanolamine or DEA, which gives creams and lotions their creamy texture, and artificial fragrances and colouring, says Dr Yeak Hwee Lee, medical director of Singapore Medical Group's Singapore Aesthetic Centre at Novena Medical Centre.

    If you want to err on the side of caution, go for organic brands or products that use natural ingredients, she suggests.

    Brands that are certified organic contain plant ingredients grown in eco-friendly ways to minimise pollution and without the use of artificial fertilisers or chemicals.

    Brands that use natural components also contain plant-based ingredients but may not necessarily be certified organic.

    Most organic and natural cleansers, however, do not contain chemicals such as SLS, 1,4 dioxane, parabens and artificial fragrances and colourings.

    To be sure, check the ingredient labels.


    Intelligent Nutrients' Total Body Cleanser
    $64.15, from Level 2 Tangs Orchard

    All the products by this American brand are certified organic and do not contain any added chemicals.
    This cleanser can be used on the hair and body and contains jojoba, sesame, coconut and shea butter to moisturise at the same time.

    Leonor Greyl Bain TS Shampoo
    $56, from Escentials, B1-142 Marina Bay Sands

    This organic French haircare brand has a range of chemical-free shampoos and conditioners that suit different hair types.
    This shampoo is suitable for those who have an oily scalp but dry ends, a common problem many experience in this hot and humid weather.

    Avalon Organics Vitamin C Refreshing Cleansing Gel
    $27.50, from Watsons

    This drugstore brand has a full range of face, body and hair care products that are free of SLS, parabens, artificial fragrances and colouring.
    This facial cleanser is enriched with vitamin C, an antioxidant, to neutralise the ffects of free radicals.



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