Sodium Lauryl Sulphate - Why you should avoid it when fighting cancer

If you wash you are probably using sodium lauryl sulphate (or one of its derivatives). The next few short paragraphs will explain why it is particularly bad for you if you have cancer. I finish with some guidance for avoiding SLS and its derivatives.

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) is an industrial strength degreaser - a harsh detergent. It is an irritant that DAMAGES the surface of the skin. Yet it is the major constituent (after water) in most soaps, cleansers and shampoos.

As explained previously, chemical damage can set the healing process going and in a poor, unbalanced metabolism that can lead to cancer.

Even if SLS isn't itself carcinogenic (more on that below), it makes sense not to add to your body's damage if you are already fighting cancer and its side effects. You need your dietary anti-oxidants and other bodily defences working on the cancer (and perhaps chemotherapy side effects), not 'wasted' on limiting SLS instigated damage.

The Problems with Sodium Lauryl Sulphate

The exact chemical compounds or combinations that trigger ovarian damage leading to ovarian cancer seems unknown. There are so many chemicals in our environment that the 'toxic combination' may never be found for certain.

I do not believe it is scaremongering to say that you should avoid as many unnecessary chemicals as possible. it is just logical and application of the precautionary principle:

  • Absence of Proof of Damage is not the same as Proof of Safety; and
  • If there is a known safer alternative (that is practical and affordable) use it

Studies^1 have shown that SLS causes actual damage on a number of levels:

  • SLS in shampoos could retard healing and prevent children's eyes developing properly (especially for the under 6's)
  • SLS can cause cateracts in adults and delay healing of corneal abrasions
  • Highly absorbable, the build up of SLS in heart, liver, lungs and brain can cause problems in these areas
  • SLS causes skin to flake and separate, leaving substantial skin roughness
  • SLS disrupts the skin's biological functions
  • SLS corrodes hair follicles and impedes hair growth
  • SLS is routinely used to irritate the skin for testing the effects of other substances^2

So, far from there being an 'absence of proof of damage', the damage is well documented and yet Sodium Lauryl Sulphate is still the major constitutent in most soaps, shampoos, dish washing up liquid and laundry detergents.

A short study and description of SLS published by Bristol University^3 commented:

"There are many health dangers associated with SLS, which is surprising considering it's in the majority of most personal care products:

  1. Organ system toxicity, in animal studies.
  2. It's highly irritant to skin, eyes, respiratory system if inhaled.
  3. Very toxic if swallowed probable oral lethal dose 0.5-5 g/kg.

Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES)

SLS continues to be used because it is cheap. To make it less harsh industry uses a process called ethoxylation to make it less abrasive. This gives sodium laureth sulphate

The problem is that ethoxylation process can create 1,4-dioxane. This is very harmful - it is a hormonal disrupter and is implicated in a number of cancers.

Additionally 1,4-dioxane is an oestrogen (estrogen) mimic, the presence of which is thought to increase the risks of breast and endometial cancers (as well as lower sperm counts).

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and Cancer

The Bristol University paper notes studies that claim that SLS can combine with other nitrous compounds creating carcinogenic compounds (specifically nitrosamines). I don't think those authors should dismiss the possibility so lightly - there are now too many chemicals in use in the west and in the environment for science to prove that such combinations don't happen.

Whilst the American Cancer Society's ("ACS") support for SLS is noted, other authors and the American Cancer Prevention Coalition are highly sceptical of ACS's over-close links with the chemical and pharmaceutical industry.

(Notes: ^1. Vance, Judi Beauty to Die For published by Promotion Publishing 1998

^2. Study cited by The Wall Street Journal, 1st November 1988

^3. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate - Molecule of the Month)

So - How to Avoid Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and its derivatives

These are my tips for avoiding SLS and the contaminant 1,4-dioxane:

  1. TAKE your reading glasses when you go shopping (as I have to now - put vanity aside for your health's sake!)
  2. READ the small print (this isn't just the lawyer in my saying this) - you have to see just what is in the products you are going to buy
  3. IGNORE the fancy descriptions, they are misleading (eg. one product describes itself as "Extra Gentle Cream Wash" presumably because it contains 25% shea cream, but SLES was still the main ingredient after water!)
  4. IGNORE claims about environmental approaches - SLS can be produced from palm oil as well as petroleum! If there's no list of ingredients don't buy it!
  5. RECOGNIZE ingredients most likely to be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane. These include ingredients with the prefix word or syllable PEG, Polyethylene, Polyethylene Glycol, Polyoxyethylene, eth (as in sodium laureth sulfate), or oxynol.^4
  6. IF that's too much like hard work, then follow the recommendations of Dr Samuel Epstein (see note below) and others and buy from a company dedicated to safer home products - as I now do. Contact me for information about the company.

(Notes ^4. Taken from leading toxicologist and chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition Dr Samuel Epstein's book Safe Shopper's Bible)

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