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Nu Skin employs two sodium sulfates in the personal care line of products: Sodium Laureth
Sulfate (SLES) and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). Because of their similar names, SLES and
SLS are often confused with each other. Yet, each ingredient has a unique identity and role in the
types of products they are in. This letter is an effort to clarify any misconceptions.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (also known as sodium lauryl ether sulfate – SLES) is a surfactant used
in cleansers. Surfactants wet body surfaces, emulsify or solubilize oils, and suspend soil in order
for the mechanical action of water to wash impurities away. Therefore, it is a mild yet effective
cleansing agent in Nu Skin cleansers, shampoos and conditioners. SLES is obtained from
trilaurin, which is a component of coconut oil. It can also be synthetically derived by adding
ethylene oxide groups to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is a cleansing agent and foam booster used in Nu Skin oral care
products and is a safe and effective ingredient for that purpose. It softens plaque and helps to
detach it from teeth during the brushing process and helps give a good, bubbly feeling in the
mouth. Major manufacturers of toothpaste have included SLS in their formulas for nearly half a
century. If one takes into consideration the consumer population size, its extreme diversity, and
the number of years this ingredient has been in daily use, SLS could be regarded as one of the
safest ingredients in the oral care industry. Unfortunately, with literally billions of repeated SLS
toothpaste applications, a very small number of adverse reactions have been reported. This
should not be surprising since there are always a few individuals who are sensitive to certain
compounds. However, some people continue to express concern over this issue.
At present time, there are no substantiated studies linking SLS (in properly formulated oral care
products) to oral mucosa irritation, gum damage, or any carcinogenic condition. A few scientific
investigations have reported the possibility of minor, oral mucosa irritation. However, these
studies did not mimic the normal use of toothpaste and/or created artificial oral hygiene
regimens, which may have over exposed the mouth to undiluted toothpaste. In one study, the
toothpaste was applied directly to teeth (without dilution from saliva) and allowed to remain in
place for over 2 minutes. Most adults today do not brush for even one minute. In another study,
toothpaste used contained unrealistic concentrations of SLS. Most toothpaste formulas have less
than 1% SLS, whereas studies used much higher levels. In the Nu Skin oral care products, the
amount of SLS is much less than 1%. To summarize, it is unrealistic to relate the results obtained
from these studies with “normal” oral care practices.
Most of the concerns regarding the use of SLS stems from a study done by Dr. Keith Green,
professor of ophthalmology at the Medical College of Georgia. In his research, SLS was found to
have adverse effects on eyes. It was found to accumulate in the clear tissues of the eye and stay
there for five or six days. The absorbed SLS caused changes in the amounts of proteins in the
eye, and created a new kind of protein not yet identified in the eyes of rabbits treated in the
experiment. SLS was shown to slow healing of the corneal epithelium –the cellular surface of the
eye’s clear tissue. The results of this study appeared to suggest that the eyes of young persons
and those in a healing stage are more susceptible to SLS damage. For adults in middle and later
years, it may be linked to cataract formation. This study, though not the final word on SLS
safety, may have indicated caution in the use of SLS.
For the above reason, SLS is not used in any skin care or hair care formulations of the Nu Skin
personal care product line. In 1987, as soon as this information was discovered, Nu Skin
immediately changed all formulations that contained SLS. However, the company maintains that
SLS is still safe and effective ingredient in oral care products.