Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate?

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or SLS as it’s more commonly referred to, is a surfactant typically found as white or cream coloured crystals, flakes or powder. It has a faint fatty substance odour and dissolves in water to create an opalescent solution.  

What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate used for?

As SLS is a surfactant that is effective at removing oil and residue, SLS is used heavily in the manufacture of consumer cleaning and personal hygiene products. It is the SLS that is responsible for the foamy suds we associate with effective detergents and cleaners. In products such as floor cleaners, laundry detergents, car shampoos and industrial degreasers, the concentration of SLS is quite high, whereas personal care products such as shampoos, hand washes and toothpastes will contain lower concentrations of the chemical. 

While there has been added scrutiny put on SLS these days regarding health concerns about the chemical, SLS is not carcinogenic even in large concentrations. Sensitivity can be an issue for some and the chemical may not be suitable for use for all users. 

SLS is the ingredient that causes shampoos to foam and suds up.
SLS is the ingredient that causes shampoos to foam and suds up. 

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Hazards

The routes of exposure for SLS include; inhalation, ingestion and skin and eye contact. 

Inhalation of SLS may produce irritation and inflammation to the respiratory tract. Those with already compromised respiratory, kidney and nervous system function may incur further disability if excessive concentrations are inhaled.  

Ingestion of SLS may be harmful with limited evidence suggesting it could lead to non-lethal mutagenic effects from one exposure. Other symptoms may include diarrhoea, intestinal distension and vomiting.  

Skin contact with SLS may worsen pre-existing dermatitis with repeated exposure possibly causing skin cracking, scaling, flaking, blistering, redness, swelling and drying. Entry into the bloodstream through open cuts and wounds may lead to other harmful effects. 

Animal experiments have shown that the material produces severe ocular lesions upon eye exposure. Low concentration exposures can cause immediate discomfort, inflammation and oedema. Higher concentration exposures can cause corneal damage. 

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Safety

If inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source. Lay the patient down and keep them warm and rested. If the patient is not breathing and you are qualified to do so, perform CPR, preferably with a bag-valve mask device. Transport to hospital without delay. 

If swallowed, urgent hospital treatment is likely to be needed. If medical attention is not immediately available or more than 15 minutes away, induce vomiting with fingers down the back of the throat ensuring the patient is leaned forward or placed on their left side to prevent aspiration. 

If skin exposure occurs, immediately remove all contaminated clothing and footwear and flush the affected area with plenty of soap and running water. Seek medical attention in the event of irritation. 

If the chemical is exposed to the eyes, flush the eyes out immediately with fresh running water for at least 15 minutes, remembering to wash under the eyelids. Removal of contact lenses should only be done by a skilled individual. Transport to hospital without delay. 

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Safety Handling

Emergency eyewash fountains should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure to the chemical and there should always be adequate ventilation to remove or dilute any air contaminants (install local exhaust if necessary). 

The PPE recommended when handling SLS includes; safety glasses with side shields, chemical goggles, dust masks, protective gloves (e.g. leather), protective suits, overalls and safety boots. Skin barrier and cleansing creams are also recommended in the event of skin exposure.

SLS is a chemical commonly found in products we use everyday, however you may need more information on how to handle SLS safely—for this, you should refer to your SDS. Click here for a trial of our SDS Management Software or contact us at for more information about our chemicals management solutions. 

Chemwatch has the largest collection of SDS in the world. For a FREE copy of the Chemwatch-authored SDS for SLS, click the button below.