Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. This sneaky little ingredient is a cleaning agent that can be found in many household cleaning products, including your toothpaste. And while it produces the wonderful bubbling and foaming sensation we all love from toothpaste (don’t deny that you love it!), the downsides are many.
You see, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a detergent that is responsible for quite a few oral conditions such as canker sores, bad breath, dry and itchy skin, and more.
So, are those bubbles still worth it? Read on to learn more.
What is SLS and Why is it in Toothpaste?
Sodium lauryl sulfate is a commonly used surfactant or foaming agent. It can also help with the rinsing and removal of food particles, which is why it’s been a popular ingredient in toothpaste for years. Soap was the original cleaning agent in toothpaste, however, it was replaced by SLS as the cleaning ingredient of choice for toothpaste in the 1930s and is still going strong today.
That said, many consumers are becoming more aware of the side effects of SLS and choosing to seek other ingredients to clean their teeth.
You may also hear SLS referred to as sodium dodecyl sulfate, dodecyl sulfate, sodium salt, and sodium n-dodecyl sulfate.
What are the Side Effects of SLS in Toothpaste?
While sodium lauryl sulfate does provide some benefits, the downsides are many and can be concerning. The problem with SLS is that it can irritate and weaken the outermost layer of the skin, which is an important barrier for helping protect and keep harmful bacteria out. Researchers in Germany did an irritancy test with sodium lauryl sulfate and found that 42% of patients from the 1,600 person test had an irritant reaction.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is so damaging to skin that it is often used to remove the skin’s natural barrier function in lab tests. So, if a scientist wants to see what happens if a chemical is absorbed by the skin, they would first apply SLS so that the chemical would absorb through the skin.
Needless to say, the weakening of our skin’s natural barrier can cause damage and some not-so-fun results over time. Here are two common ones:
- Canker sores are types of ulcers that can be found in the mouth. They show up as a bright white or yellow spot, typically with a red ring of irritated skin around the spot, and can range from annoying to extremely painful.
- There are many causes of canker sores, and exposure to SLS is one of them. Especially for people with more sensitive skin, SLS can irritate the skin in the mouth to the point of causing one of these nasty sores.
- In a three-month study undertaken at the University of Olso, 60-70% percent of the patients who used a toothpaste that did not contain SLS experienced a reduction in the number of canker sores.
- If you suffer from canker sores, SLS may be the culprit. Consider trying out an SLS-free toothpaste.
- Bad breath is both annoying and embarrassing. And it’s also a clue that you may have other underlying issues going on. One of the causes of bad breath is dry mouth. And SLS has been shown to dry out the mouth, therefore, leading to bad breath.
- If you’re constantly breathing into your hands to check on your breath, cutting out SLS from your toothpaste and increasing your water intake could help you out.
The Benefits of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate-Free Toothpaste
Simply put, using a toothpaste free of sodium lauryl sulfate means that you are reducing your mouth’s exposure to irritants and potentially harmful side effects. The main purpose of sodium lauryl sulfate isn’t even to clean your mouth—it’s to create bubbles.
And while bubbles are fun, they’re not worth the trouble SLS can cause in the long run.
Avoiding this ingredient in your toothpaste means that you’re helping the skin in your mouth stay strong so that it can keep harmful bacteria out. And if you are one of the many people who suffer from mouth sores or bad breath, you’ll be giving your body a fighting chance to solve these problems naturally.
The Best Sodium Lauryl Sulfate-Free Toothpaste
Alright, ready for the really good news? As consumer awareness around the effects of sodium lauryl sulfate has increased, demand for SLS-free toothpaste has also grown. That means, there are now plenty of toothpaste options available that are made of natural ingredients and completely free of harmful and irritating ingredients (we’re looking at you, sodium lauryl sulfate).
Our favorite option is Pearl Oral Health's natural toothpaste. It is completely free of harmful ingredients commonly used in most toothpaste—think fluoride, triclosan, and sodium lauryl sulfate. It remineralizes teeth naturally and is fresh tasting. Learn more here.