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Home » Ethics

SLS and SLES Spot the difference?

Submitted by on May 27, 2010 – 3:46 pm2 Comments

sudsSuma, along with many other companies, aims to use gentle and natural ingredients in their products, but sometimes there can be confusion around ingredients. SLS and SLES are often contained in cleaning products and its not obvious what they are, what they do, if they’re good or bad or the same as each other.

  • SLS is sodium lauryl sulphate
  • SLES is sodium lauryl ether sulphate (aka sodium laureth sulphate).

Simply put, SLS can be processed further to substitute ethoxy (ether) molecules onto the lauryl chain to form SLES.  In both cases the source of the lauryl product is from renewable resources, generally coconut.  SLS is a powerful degreasant and can cause the oils from the skin to be stripped out. It can be sensitizing to many people. SLES is also a degreasant but is less sensitizing to the skin. That is not to say nobody will find it sensitizing. Suma ecoleaf cleaning range uses SLES not SLS.

Some companies may claim they do not use SLS or SLES when in fact rather than use the sodium salt they use the ammonium salt. It is a bit of a con because the main degreasing action still comes from the lauryl or laureth chain but it looks different on the label.

In ecoleaf handsoap we use lauryl glucoside which is totally different to SLS and SLES. It is made from sugars and coconuts/palm shells. The cost of the alternative ingredients is much greater. If we used these ingredients in the ecoleaf washing up liquid, for example, it would be very uncompetitive in price.

One of the other functions of the SLS or SLES in cleaning products is thickening. Whilst we have ingredients in there that are viscous, none of them are in sufficient concentration to give a satisfying thickness. It should be noted that a thicker product is not necessarily better at cleaning, soapier or that you need less than a thinner product. However, you do need washing up liquid to be thick enough not to come out of the bottle too quickly!

It is a balance of functionality, cost, effect on skin, perception and effect on the environment.  The ecoleaf range have erred on the side of gentler ingredients which in turn means that the ingredient had one more processing step.

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