Can Sodium Lauryl Sulfate be Used Safely in our Products?

When we examine the labels of all the lotions and potions we apply to our skin and scalp each day, is there reason for concern – yes?  Where does one turn to obtain the facts?    We turned to an expert; David Hanen.   David Hanen has been in the beauty industry for over 33 years. He currently owns Innovative Salon Products Inc. A personal care manufacturer in Monroe, WA, where they’ve been manufacturing naturally based hair, skin and aromatherapy based products for over 20 years. As a member of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, Mr. Hanen travels the world educating consumers and salon professionals on “honest chemistry” to help clear up all the hype from the internet.
So here’s our treasure trove of information from our one-on-one conversation with Mr. Hanen.

When asked, “Why are sulfate-free products so popular?”  Mr. Hanen replied, “Sulfates have been around since the 1940’s and they’ve been very effective cleansers over a period of time.  However, over the last five to ten years information has become greatly distorted over the internet.”  There’s a company called Pureology that was established by a man named Jim Markham. That is the first company to market sulfate-free products.  This really brought sulfates to the awareness of the public.  For a couple of reasons sulfates have been linked to hair color fade-age.  The number one response to, “why I want a sulfate-free product” is a good majority of the clients use hair color and sulfates will strip the hair color.  It’s those who color their hair that I believe represents 75% of the marketplace today and the other 25% is related to the Safe Cosmetic Act, which is starting to look at the volatility of how sulfates are affecting the body from a health perspective.  So there’s the awareness of color fade-age and the awareness of how sulfates affect our immune and reproductive systems, because testing has become more complete over the last five to ten years.

When asked,” Do you feel that sodium lauryl sulfate can be used safely in products?”  Mr. Hanen replied, “That’s an interesting question – I believe yes and no.  I have a daughter who is eight years old and she takes a bubble bath every other day. When we’re taking a shower or bath, the water and heat open up the pores of the skin and the cuticle of the hair shaft making it easier for these ingredients to enter our blood system.”  So can it be used safely?  According to Mr. Hanen, yes it can if there are other “non-harmful” ingredients to balance out the effects of sodium lauryl sulfate.  In today’s market there are approximately 85- 90% of the products that contain sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate, so they’re found in our shampoos and body washes. According to Mr. Hanen, when you process or make sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate there is a by-product ingredient called 1,4 dioxane.  Now 1,4 dioxane is a by-product of the process of making sodium laureth sulfate and it’s not required by the FDA to list in the ingredient listing. When you look at the actual chemistry of sodium lauryl sulfate, it’s predominately water and sodium lauryl sulfate then they put preservatives in there and the chemical by process to make sodium laureth sulfate from sodium lauryl sulfate – it’s the by-products that are harmful.  The raw material company taking palm oil and making it into a surfactant and processing it a few times the by-product from the heating and chemistry that’s going on in their processing tanks form a different chemical compound in which we’re finding is becoming a health risk.

So sodium lauryl sulfate combined with other “safe ingredients” are safe with a normal amount of use.  However, if we’re talking about young immune systems, such as babies in particular, it has been proven that it’s the ingredients in sodium lauryl sulfate that are not listed on the labels that are not safe for the human body particularly for young children and babies.   So a lot of the “baby shampoos and baby washes” actually contain ingredients that I feel if used long term are absorbed into the body and could have a long term negative effect on both male and female children.  These facts must be taken into consideration particularly for the young immune system.

According to Mr. Hanen, one of the simplest ingredients that we use all day long, we ingest and we put it on our food is salt.  Mr. Hanen stated, “Salt is used in making cheap shampoos.”  Salt artificially thickens a low percentage of sodium lauryl sulfate and makes it look thick and rich.  The negative, salt is a mineral binder and it attaches to the oil on the skin – the sebum, which is naturally secreted from our pores.  Salt mixed with sodium lauryl sulfate strips the hair color, shortens the life of chemical relaxers and it dries out the skin.  So if someone looks at a shampoo label that says, “sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium chloride” that combination is drying on the skin and hair.  Mr. Hanen stated, “If they’re using a less healthy preservative system combined with sodium lauryl sulfate it’s a less healthy solution both for the skin and the hair.”  Therefore, salt is a negative and the wrong preservative is a negative.  What helps to counteract the negative effects of sodium lauryl sulfate is using a moisturizing ingredient such as jojoba oil, this will counteract the harshness.  The biggest negative about sodium lauryl sulfate is it’s drying to the skin and hair.  According to Mr. Hanen, there’s a positive side to sodium lauryl sulfate. If you have oily skin and hair you want to break through the oil, so a sodium lauryl sulfate based cleanser is going to be effective.  However; dry skin and hair, sodium lauryl sulfate is not effective because it’s adding to the dryness.

According to Mr. Hanen, the best way a consumer can protect themselves from these products is to search for the truth.  Also the consumer needs to define their skin and hair care needs.  Do they have normal, oily or dry skin or hair?  Mr. Hanen stated, “Sodium lauryl sulfate works effectively on half of the population and on the other half it doesn’t work effectively.”

Mr. Hanen stated, “We have a few major salon brands using the term “sulfate-free” on the front of their bottles.  However, they’re using alpha olefin sulfonate which is a close cousin to sodium lauryl sulfate.   There’s just a slight twist of chemistry and it doesn’t mean it’s any milder or gentler than sodium lauryl sulfate.”  Mr. Hanen stated, “At Innovative Salon Products Inc, we’ve been manufacturing a product for years that contains a taurate based cleanser and isethionate.  These ingredients are as far away from sodium lauryl sulfate that you can get, and they’re very moisturizing to the skin.

So consumers beware, just because it states, “sulfate-free” it doesn’t mean it’s any milder or gentler to the skin and hair.

For more information about David Hanen and Innovative Salon Products Inc., you can visit their website at or contact them at  For more information about the ingredients found in the products you use, visit

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