What is sodium lauryl sulfate?


Quick Answer

Sodium lauryl sulfate is a detergent and foaming agent used in shampoo, toothpaste, mouthwash and soap. It is the chemical agent that causes shampoo to lather when applied to hair.

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Full Answer

Because it is the main detergent component in shampoo, sodium lauryl sulfate is the active ingredient that removes dirt and oil from hair. Without sodium lauryl sulfate or a substitute detergent, shampoo is not an effective cleaning agent. Sodium lauryl sulfate is also an approved food additive in the United States, where it is approved for use as a foaming agent in egg whites, whipped topping and marshmallows.

Sodium lauryl sulfate is safe for most people to use. The primary side effect associated with it is topical scalp or mouth irritation when used in shampoo or toothpaste. Individuals who experience this reaction should switch to a product that does not contain sodium lauryl sulfate. There is no scientifically supported reason for other consumers to avoid these products.

Clinical studies show that sodium lauryl sulfate does not interact with DNA and is not a possible carcinogen. It is not classified as a carcinogenic substance by U.S. law. The only officially listed long-term hazard of exposure is skin irritation at the site of exposure.

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