What’s the Difference Between Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Ether Sulfate (SLES)

One of the first ingredients you’ll see listed on many cleaning and personal-care products, from detergents to toothpaste, is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). This common chemical is a surfactant, which means it lowers the surface tension of water and helps products cleanse and lather when used. Many hand soaps, face washes and shaving creams owe their foaming quality to SLS.

But there’s another ingredient with a confusingly similar name: Sodium Laureth Ether Sulfate (SLES). You may also see it simply called Sodium Laureth Sulfate, with “Laureth” serving as a contraction for the words “Lauryl” and “Ether.” Like SLS, SLES is used for its emulsifying abilities and serves as a super-effective detergent and cleaner.

While the names of these two cleaning agents and their functions may seem interchangeable, there is a distinction between the two — and a reason why you should opt for products that use SLES over those that use SLS.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is actually the parent chemical that is modified to make Sodium Laureth Ether Sulfate (SLES). It’s created by reacting lauryl alcohol with petroleum or with coconut or palm oil. To derive SLES from SLS, a process called ethoxylation (in which ethylene oxide is introduced) has to take place. This process is key because it turns SLES into a safer, less harsh chemical than its predecessor, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

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Post time: Mar-29-2021
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