Debra Lynn Dadd

Sodium Laureth Sulfate


Can you tell me about Sodium Laureth Sulfate? I know labels often say it is "derived from coconut", but is it really a natural ingredient?

POSTED BY J. P. :: IDAHO USA :: 04/04/2006


To answer your question, here is an excerpt from my book Home Safe Home about natural ingredients bold added.

The word natural, as it relates to consumer products, is meaningless, since every consumer product is made from the natural resources of the earth. Because there is no legal definition, natural has been both overused and misused on many product labels.

Natural is commonly used to mean that a product is made primarily of renewable resources, as opposed to man made ingredients derived from nonrenewable resources. The basic substance or material used to make the product is found in nature instead of being manufactured from petroleum and is therefore thought to be more compatible with the human body and the entire ecological system. Materials generally thought of as being natural are those plants, animals, and minerals that appear wholly formed in nature such as cotton, wool, or salt, or ingredients derived from plants, animals, and minerals such as lavender oil, gelatin, and baking soda.

The main drawback to the term natural is that it gives the illusion that the product is "of nature," and therefore absolutely acceptable and harmless to our health. In fact, most "natural" products are natural only in the respect that some part of the product exists in nature, that it is not completely made from petrochemicals.

Natural products are rarely completely natural in our modern world of processing, petrochemicals are almost always used with the natural materials when making a "natural ingredient." More accurately, most "natural" substances and materials might be called I'm coining a new term here "hybrid natural" basically of nature, but grown or processed by industry with added petrochemicals. Virtually all products being currently marketed as natural are really hybrid natural.

One excellent example of a hybrid natural ingredient was described by Philip Dickey of the Washington Toxics Coalition in an article for Green Alternatives magazine May/June 1992. He specifically wrote of a coconut oil surfactant used in natural cleaning products, but the same principle applies to all so-called natural ingredients.

This detergent is called linear alcohol ethoxylate...The alcohol from which this surfactant is made is similar to the ethyl alcohol we know from beer and wine except it has more carbon atoms...They are arranged in a straight line, hence the term linear alcohol. This alcohol called lauryl alcohol can be manufactured from either coconut oil or petroleum. Let's pretend that our alcohol came originally from coconuts...

Lauryl alcohol is not a surfactant. To make it function as a surfactant, we have to build on a hydrophilic, or watersoluble, structure...In an ethoxylated alcohol it is done through a chemical reaction with a highly toxic and carcinogenic compound called ethylene oxide, distilled from crude oil. During this process, called ethoxylation, carbon atoms from ethylene oxide are progressively added to one end of the coconut-based structure until a hydrophilic chain of the desired length is reached. At this point the surfactant can be though of as part vegetable, part petroleum...a hybrid [italics mine]. The ratio varies, but often near 50/50.

In general, when you find ingredients that you recognize, such as “lemon” or “cotton,” the products will be relatively safe.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate is also produced via ethoxylation. Ethoxylated surfactants may be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4- Dioxane dioxin, as a by-product of the manufacturing process. Carcinogens are considered cause for concern even at very low levels.

The Australian government has determines the main risk for the general public for dioxin exposure is from consumer products containing dioxin as an impurity. Dioxin contamination has been found in these common household products: shampoos 50-300ppm, dishwashing liquid 3-65ppm, baby lotion 11ppm, hair lotions 47-108ppm, bath foam 22-41ppm and other cosmetic products 6-160ppm.

I'm not going to comment on whether or not one should or shouldn't use products containing Sodium Laureth Sulfate. There is a lot of controversy about this which you can read by typing "Sodium Laureth Sulfate" into any seach engine.

My only point here is that even though Sodium Laureth Sulfate is "derived from coconut oil", it's not what I would consider to be natural in the sense that it is in the state in which it occurs in nature.

Debra :-)

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