Lots of personal care products proudly say they’re “SLS-free” and one way to go that way, is to use Sodium Coco Sulfate (SCS). As it turns out, SCS is not all that different to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS).
What was wrong with SLS in the first place?
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is widely used in shower gels, shave gels, mouthwashes, soaps, shampoo’s and even toothpastes. This chemical looks like this:
Structure of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
As with most detergents, these sulfates have an oil-soluble “tail” (seen on the left) and a water-soluble “head” (seen on the right). This gives it a double purpose, it equally loves water and oil which is its main use in personal care products.
When used with copious amounts of water, the Sulfates are fantastic at helping to separate oils from hair and skin – a little too good sadly. Those oils the Sulfates are trying to remove form an important part of your skin barrier, to keep things out and keep the water in.
If you remember from our “The Secrets Of Sulfates In Skincare” post, the very oil SLS is so good at stripping away, causes irritation. 5% SLS in a product is usually enough to cause irritation in most people, but many people are sensitive to far less, yet controversially it is used in the 15-50% concentration range, far exceeding the recommended safe levels.
So what’s the difference between SLS and SCS?
Turns out, SCS contains SLS; the difference lies in the science. The process to make SLS involves a chemical reaction that isolates one fatty acid from either petroleum, coconut oil or palm oil, Lauric Acid (C12).
Whereas SCS is derived from a blend of fatty acids from coconut oil, C12- C18. While we all know and love coconut oil, its science lab derivatives aren’t completely natural ingredients and strip away most of the beneficial components. From the typical fatty acid composition of coconut oil (Table 1: Approximate Fatty acid content of Coconut oil) we can see that sodium coco sulfate could be about 66% SLS! [50/(50+16+8+2)].
|Table 1: Approximate Fatty acid content of Coconut oil|
|Type of fatty acid||%|
|Caprylic saturated C8||8%|
|Decanoic saturated C10||8%|
|Lauric saturated C12||50%|
|Myristic saturated C14||16%|
|Palmitic saturated C16||8%|
|Oleic monounsaturated C18:1||2%|
|black: Saturated; grey: Monounsaturated; blue: Polyunsaturated|
The proportion of SLS in SCS is not strictly defined nor regulated and manufacturers can make it as high as they like, all at the manufacturer’s sole discretion.
How does Sodium Coco Sulfate affect us?
Whether you use SLS or SCS you will have the exact same risks of skin irritation, eye irritation, acne causation, stripping hair of natural oils, premature skin ageing and forming nitrosamines in the presence of triethanolamine as SLS does. That’s because SLS forms a major part of SCS and like all Sulfates, all are Ionic detergents as we discuss further in this article.
How to be truly SLS free:
With the growing evidence on the damage caused by SLS and other Sulfates, many companies have switched to a more natural sounding chemical but be wary. They are playing the ‘Green Washing Game’ with you and your safety. It’s not unusual to see an ‘SLS Free’ claim made with a product that contains SCS or a similar Sulfate. The only way to be certain, is to look out for ‘Sulfate free’, like our entire skincare range.
We know how tough it can be to understand the gibberish that often disguised as an ingredient. In our mission to promote a healthy skin, lifestyle and world, we believe that the first step is advocating for educated consumption. We have a great article on how to decode the ingredients list: