The world of skin care can be confusing, can’t it?
We try to be careful about what we put on our skin. We purchase products from reputable companies. We read ingredient labels, and avoid anything that sounds too chemical or harsh.
But there are exceptions to the rules. Sometimes our first instincts are wrong. Take the following two ingredients, for example:
- Sodium lauryl sulfate
- Sodium lauryl glucoside carboxylate
They look similar, right? And they both look, well, chemical. Which means bad, right?
Not necessarily. In fact, one of these ingredients is a sheep in wolf’s clothing, and a very good-for-your-skin sheep at that.
Do you know which one?
What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate?
This is a common ingredient in cleansing products. You’re likely to see it in standard brands of facial cleansers, body washes, shampoos, and other similar items. Called “SLS” for short, it’s a surfactant made by treating lauryl alcohol (from coconut or palm kernel oil) with sulfur trioxade gas, oleum (fuming sulfuric acid), or chlorosulfuric acid to produce hydrogen lauryl sulfate, which is then neutralized with sodium hydroxide or sodium carbonate to produce SLS.
This product is an effective cleanser but is too harsh and irritating for skin. It’s highly corrosive, which means it can remove oil and grease—but do you want that effect on your skin? Despite its irritating nature, it’s used in the cosmetic industry as well as in laundry products, engine degreasers, carpet cleaners, car wash soaps, and in other industrial cleaning applications.
Studies have verified that this ingredient can be damaging. In the International Journal of Toxicology, researchers noted that it had a “degenerative effect on the cell membranes because of its protein denaturing properties,” and that it could cause skin irritation and corrosion. Researchers later wrote, “The longer these ingredients stay in contact with the skin, the greater the likelihood of irritation, which may or may not be evident to the user.”
They add in their discussion of the study that the ingredient was found to cause “severe epidermal changes” where it was applied, and that it could also damage the hair follicle (when used in hair-care products).
Even worse—a solution containing a 1-5 percent sodium lauryl sulfate caused acne! The researchers wrote:
“These two problems—possible hair loss and comedone [pimple] formation—along with proven irritancy, should be considered in the formulation of cosmetic products.”
Their conclusion was that as long as SLS is included at less than one percent and is rinsed off immediately, it appears to be safe. That’s not good enough for most of our customers, especially considering that we use cleansing products a couple times a day, every day, for most of our lives. This is an ingredient that with repeated use can cause hair and skin damage.
So the first ingredient is definitely a no-no. But what about the second?
- Sodium lauryl glucoside carboxylate
What is Sodium Lauryl Glucoside Carboxylate?
This ingredient has to be similar to SLS, right? Potentially just as damaging?
Nope. And this is where skin care can get confusing.
It’s a similar name, and it’s also a cleaning ingredient, but it’s much nicer to skin. To begin with, it lacks the “sulfate” part of the name, which identifies an ingredient as a salt of sulfuric acid. We don’t have any acid going on in this ingredient. So goodbye harsh irritant!
Lauryl glucoside belongs to a class of ingredients called “glucosides” which are made by bonding the base group with sugar (instead of sulfuric acid).
Salicylic acid, for example (found in anti-acne skin care products), comes from salicin, which is a glucoside—a combination of salicyl alcohol and glucose (and found naturally in willow bark).
To make sodium lauryl glucoside carboxylate, lauryl alcohol—an essential fatty acid derived from coconut—is combined with glucose to produce lauryl glucoside, a mild, gentle cleanser that doesn’t dry skin or strip it of it’s natural oil.
Ideal for use in facial cleansers and hair care products, it’s listed on the Safe Cosmetics Database and the GoodGuide database as being extremely safe. In addition, it’s approved for use in certified organic cosmetics by both the Organic Food Federation and EcoCert.
The nice thing about this ingredient is that even though it’s non-irritating and gentle, it has an excellent performance profile in cleansing products, getting skin clean without damaging it. Sodium lauryl glucoside carboxylate is a “sodium carboxymethyl ether” of lauryl glucoside, which simply means that it is a derivative of lauryl glucoside that’s a more economical form of the ingredient.
Did We Clear It Up?
We hope that this explanation clears up the difference for our readers! When you see the word “glucoside” in any ingredient, remember that it comes from glucose (sugar), and that is a much better source than sulfuric acid!
As we move towards using INCI names on our products, we feel it's important to inform you about that these long ingredient names mean. Often we're told 'if you can't pronounce the ingredient, you probably shouldn't use it,' but this is of course an oversimplification.
The International Journal of Toxicology - 7 Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate
The Center for Investigative Reporting - SLS
Cosmetics & Toiletries Science Applied - Sodium Laurylglucosides Hydroxypropyl Sulfonate for Sulfate-free Formulations
Surfactant Science Series - Sugar-Based Surfactants