SLES: Uses & Hazards

Sodium laureth sulfate is also called sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES). Commercially, it’s available as a mixture of the general formula CH3(CH2)10CH2(OCH2CH2)n-OSO3Na, where “n” varies but represents an average value or a mean. While it is both a detergent and a surfactant, it’s especially known as a foaming agent. The use of sodium laureth sulfate in consumer products, such as toothpaste, is controversial. does not consist of one molecular formula.

Detergent manufacturers use sodium laureth sulfate in products because of two reasons: this chemical can be easily acquired and has a strong amphiphilic base. This means the chemical compounds are compatible with both water and fat. Thus it easily mixes with water and acts a formidable stain exterminator. Sodium laureth sulfate forms the basic ingredients of various surface cleaners. Even cosmetic companies use this chemical in frugal amounts in cosmetic products.

However, the use of SLES is not limited to detergent cleaners only. Various types of cosmetics like soaps and cleansing milks have sodium laureth sulfate as a component. This chemical makes detergents and cleaning agents powerful and strong on stains and hard grease, also effectively wiping them out of existence if sodium laureth sulfate based cleaners are applied.

SLES can be used to stop several viral infections. Herpis simplex and HIV virus infections can be prevented with SLES. It has been clinically proven that SLES is effective as a microbicide and studies are underway to establish a method which will use this chemical to curb infections. Other than keeping viruses at bay, SLES(CAS No. 68585-34-2) is also prevalent in laxatives, medicine for heart disease and in aspirin.

Effects To Environment
Despite of the above uses, the manufacturing process alters the natural ingredients with ethoxylation. Ethoxylation is a process that uses ethylene oxide, which is a known human carcinogen. The surfactant becomes contaminated with byproducts of the manufacturing process.

According to the David Suzuki foundation, depending on manufacturing processes, sodium laureth sulfate may be contaminated with considerable amounts of 1,4-dioxane. 1,4-dioxane does not degrade easily and may remain in the environment long after it is rinsed down the shower drain.