The world of sulfates

Sulfates & Co.: The dose makes the poison

“You can't use shampoo, it’s poisonous.” "It causes cancer." “It’ll give you a rash.” Statements like these can be read on the Internet. At the core of the furore: sulfate surfactants. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) are under fire. The reasons for this are partly a lack of understanding, partly misinformation. Why the right facts don't always lead to the correct conclusions.

There are plenty of sources of information available. But: having a lot of information does not automatically result in the ability or the desire to put everything in the right context. More is not always better. It depends on the information being organized properly. 

Not everything is black or white. As Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus, once said: “All things are poisonous, nothing is free of poison; it is the dose alone that makes a thing non-poisonous.”

Coming to the sulfates, hardly any quote is more appropriate than the Paracelsus principle. Terms like “unnecessary” and “dangerous” ingredients in shampoos are used when talking about SLS and SLES. Higher doses of sulfate surfactants are considered irritating to the skin and mucous membranes. Do you really want to smear something like this across your face or pour it onto your hair? 

The crucial point in the answer is the dosage. If you take a closer look at the formulation, in other words the recipe of a shampoo, you will see that the doses used are adjusted so that they are not aggressive. Together with the pH value, the product even becomes mild.

Dosage and combination are important 

While it is true that sulfate surfactants in high concentrations can cause skin irritation, burning eyes and dehydration of the skin, in rinse-off cosmetic products the amount used is lower and is in the “right” proportion to other ingredients to ensure the products are absolutely safe and harmless to the user when applied normally. This is what the laws and regulations exist to ensure. All cosmetic products have to undergo a safety assessment by experts. Only safe products may be brought to market. 

In addition to the dosage and composition, the length of contact time also plays a major role. The contact time for a shampoo is very short. You simply rinse off the ingredients in the shower.

You can be on the safe side 

With the increased needs and demands of today’s consumers, cosmetic products have become true multitasking heroes. Features such as skincare properties, repairs and sensory benefits can be combined and keep customers happy. They have been able to clean things with foam from a very young age. This also means that many different ingredients have to and do find their way into saleable products. However, it is not just the number of ingredients that matters, but the dosage of individual components, the right combination and the possible addition of suitable excipients. 

In some cosmetic products, you may indeed find an ingredient that you would have regarded as flammable or hazardous. All such substances are included in products in quantities and at levels that do not pose any risk to health. This is also controlled and regulated by law. You can absolutely rely on this. 

When evaluating a product based on its ingredients, the thing to remember is: “All things are poisonous, nothing is free of poison; it is the dose alone that makes a thing non-poisonous.”

Skin Care – Do we really need it? 

Walk into the average household, and you can find dozens or more different creams, lotions, toothpastes, body washes and other cosmetics. Considering the huge range of options, the question is, "Do we really need all those skin care products?"

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