Sodium Laureth Sulfate
Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) is a surface-active agent (or surfactant) that makes thick, rich foam and helps cleanse the hair and skin.
Where do we get it?
Lush UK purchases this material from a Belgian company.
With seven manufacturing sites across the globe, this information may vary depending on where your Lush products were made.
What are the benefits for you?
- Helps oil and water-based ingredients, which generally don’t mix, to become dispersed.
- Cleanses the skin and hair by attracting oils like sebum and allowing them to be rinsed away with water.
- Makes a rich lather, which (contrary to popular belief) is not responsible for cleansing but helps the hands work the product through the hair or across the skin.
Lauryl or laureth?
Some will notice two materials with very similar names in Lush products’ ingredient lists: sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). It is often said that SLES should be preferred in cosmetic formulations as it’s a more processed version of SLS, created to be gentler on the skin. At Lush, we don’t really make that distinction as we think the difference is very subtle. We are more interested in the consistency of the two compounds. For example, we'll use SLS in shampoo bars because it’s in the form of tiny, solid needles and SLES in shower gels because it’s a paste.
Controversy and Lush stance
Despite being used safely and successfully since the 1930s, sulfates (also spelt sulphates) like SLS and SLES have a bad reputation. Although experts agree that it’s safe to use, these compounds can be drying. This is more likely to be an issue for those who have dry, processed or afro hair or suffer from skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis or psoriasis — so we’re committed to offering alternatives.
We’re also particularly keen to reduce our use of these sulfates because palm oil is involved in their production. Since 2008, we’ve been trying to remove palm oil from our supply chain due to the devastating impact its cultivation has on the environment. However, boycotting palm oil is easier said than done and reformulating products with alternative compounds is a long process. If you want to know more about Lush’s journey with SLS and palm oil, click here.