Contrary to many claims, sodium laureth sulfate is noncarcinogenic, and the only effects a person may see include skin irritation and diarrhea, according to HowStuffWorks. Skin irritation may occur if leaving a product with sodium laureth sulfate on the skin for too long, and diarrhea may occur if ingesting products, such as toothpaste, that contain sodium laureth sulfate; however, a person must eat about 16 pounds of toothpaste to see this effect.
Most shampoos on the market have sodium laureth sulfate in them, and all have approval from the Food and Drug Administration, explains HowStuffWorks. There are, however, shampoos without sodium laureth sulfate available. Sodium lauryl sulfate is a salt with a crystalline structure of sulfated lauryl alcohol and a detergent. It is also a surfactant, which is a substance that can break up the tension of a surface and also helps to produce a lather. Without this, shampoos and toothpaste do not work as well.
Sodium laureth sulfate has a bad reputation thanks to a series of false claims by emails in the late 1990s, states HowStuffWorks. In these emails, there were claims that the substance potentially causes cancer, and that the same ingredient is in garage floor cleaners. This made many people turn their backs on products containing sodium laureth sulfate, but there is no truth to the cancer-causing rumors, and only mild effects appear when using the products inappropriately.