Understanding Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and Finding the Right Beard Shampoo for You

Understanding Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and Finding the Right Beard Shampoo for You

Beard shampoos free of SLS or SLES have become a popular trend in men's grooming products. As consumers grow more health-conscious, they are paying closer attention to the chemicals present in everything they utilise, ranging from food to personal care items.

Is SLS that bad? What is Sodium Lauryl Sulphate? Should we seek an alternative?

Hopefully, this article will help you understand a little bit more about what SLS is and what it does.

What is Sodium Lauryl Sulphate?

SLS stands for Sodium Lauryl Sulphate. SLS is a common ingredient in many personal care products, such as shampoos, soaps, and toothpaste. It is a surfactant, which means it helps to break up oils and dirt, creating a lather that allows the product to clean effectively. However, some people may experience irritation or sensitivity to SLS, and therefore, opt for SLS-free products.

SLS is a synthetic chemical compound, but it is derived from natural sources. SLS is typically made from the fatty acids found in coconut or palm kernel oil, which are natural substances. However, during the manufacturing process, these fatty acids undergo several chemical reactions, including sulfation and neutralization, to create Sodium Lauryl Sulphate. So, while SLS is derived from natural sources, it is considered a synthetic ingredient due to the chemical processing it undergoes.

Is Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) bad?

Some potential drawbacks of SLS include:

  1. Skin irritation: SLS may cause skin irritation, dryness, or redness for some people, particularly those with sensitive skin or pre-existing skin conditions such as eczema or dermatitis.
  2. Eye irritation: If products containing SLS come into contact with the eyes, it can cause irritation or discomfort.
  3. Stripping natural oils: SLS can strip the skin and hair of their natural oils, leading to dryness and potential damage. This is a concern for people with dry or delicate hair.
  4. Environmental impact: Although SLS is considered biodegradable, there are concerns about its production process, which involves palm kernel or coconut oil. Palm oil production has been associated with deforestation and habitat destruction.

It is essential to note that reactions to SLS vary from person to person. Some individuals use products containing SLS without any issues, while others might experience adverse effects. Not everyone will be allergic to SLS. If you have concerns about SLS, you can look for SLS-free products or consult a dermatologist or healthcare professional for advice tailored to your specific needs.

How is Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) made?

  1. Extraction of fatty acids: The fatty acids are extracted from the plant source, usually through a process called hydrolysis. This involves breaking down the triglycerides found in the oils into their constituent fatty acids and glycerol.
  2. Production of lauryl alcohol: The extracted fatty acids are then converted into lauryl alcohol (also known as dodecanol) through a hydrogenation process. Hydrogenation involves adding hydrogen to the fatty acid molecules under high pressure and temperature, in the presence of a catalyst.
  3. Sulfation: Lauryl alcohol is reacted with sulphur trioxide (SO3) to produce lauryl sulphate. This reaction, called sulfation, involves adding a sulphate group (SO4) to the lauryl alcohol molecule.
  4. Neutralization: Finally, lauryl sulphate is neutralized with an alkali, such as sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or potassium hydroxide (KOH), to produce Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) or Potassium Lauryl Sulphate (KLS), respectively.

Are there alternatives to Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)?

There are several alternatives to Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) that can be used in personal care products as surfactants or foaming agents. If you are seeking an SLS free option, then some of the below will be what to look out for.

Some of the more common alternatives include:

  1. Sodium Coco-sulphate (SCS): This surfactant is derived from coconut oil and is like SLS but considered milder. Although it shares some similarities with SLS, some people find it less irritating.
  2. Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLSa): SLSa is a milder and less irritating alternative to SLS. It is derived from coconut and palm oils and provides good foaming and cleansing properties.
  3. Cocamidopropyl Betaine: Derived from coconut oil, cocamidopropyl betaine is a gentle surfactant and conditioning agent that is often used in combination with other surfactants to create milder formulations.
  4. Decyl Glucoside: This is a mild, non-ionic surfactant derived from plant-based sources, such as corn or coconut. It is biodegradable and suitable for sensitive skin.
  5. Coco-glucoside: Another plant-based, non-ionic surfactant, coco-glucoside is derived from coconut and fruit sugars. It is gentle and effective for sensitive skin and hair.
  6. Lauryl Glucoside: A mild, non-ionic surfactant made from coconut or palm oil and glucose, lauryl glucoside is often used in baby and sensitive skin products.
  7. Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate: This surfactant is less irritating than SLS and provides good cleansing and foaming properties.

Another ingredient that is often used to replace SLS in shampoo is Cocamidopropyl Betaine (CAPB). CAPB is a mild surfactant and foaming agent derived from coconut oil and used in personal care products such as shampoos, body washes, and facial cleansers.

CAPB is known for its gentle cleansing properties and is often used in combination with other surfactants to reduce potential irritation. It also has conditioning properties, which can help to soften and detangle hair. As a result, it is commonly found in products formulated for sensitive skin or those marketed as being mild or gentle. So, seeing this in a beard shampoo makes sense.

While Cocamidopropyl Betaine is considered to be a safer and milder alternative to more aggressive surfactants like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), some individuals may still experience irritation or allergic reactions to CAPB. However, such reactions are generally less common compared to stronger surfactants.

When looking for an alternative to SLS, it's essential to consider the specific product and your skin or hair type. Many people with sensitive skin or allergies find that these alternatives cause less irritation or dryness compared to SLS. However, individual reactions may vary, so it's a good idea to test a new product on a small area before full use.


Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) does not cause issues for everyone, and some people can use products containing SLS without any adverse effects. However, it is essential to recognise that even some SLS alternatives can be potential irritants for certain individuals. It is not a one-size-fits-all situation, as everyone's skin and hair may react differently to various ingredients.

When trying out any new product, it is always wise to perform a patch test first. Apply a small amount of the product to a discreet area of skin and wait for at least 24 hours to check for any signs of irritation or an allergic reaction. This precautionary step can help you avoid any unpleasant surprises when using the product more extensively.

If you have already found a product that works well for you and does not cause any irritation, it is advisable to stick with it. However, if you are in search of something new, consider exploring products specifically formulated for sensitive skin, particularly when it comes to facial and hair care products. These formulations often contain milder ingredients and are less likely to cause irritation or other adverse reactions.

Remember that finding the right personal care products may require some experimentation, as individual preferences and sensitivities vary. Always pay attention to your skin's and hair's response to a product and adjust your choices accordingly to maintain their health and well-being.


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