There are so many choices in toothpaste these days that the options might seem bewildering if not overwhelming. Whitening toothpastes, organic toothpaste, toothpaste for sensitive teeth–where does one begin? Lately there’s been an additional discussion among health-conscious people about toothpaste and in particular SLS as a toothpaste ingredient. Some folks are advocating for SLS free toothpaste as a healthier alternative, but is it really? Let’s take a look at toothpaste, SLS, and SLS free toothpastes vs regular toothpastes and see what we can learn.
What is SLS?
As we begin, it’s important to understand what SLS is and the role it fills. SLS is short for sodium lauryl sulfate, which is a compound produced via the sulfation of lauryl alcohol. Chemically it can be used for several things, and in toothpaste it fills the role of a surfactant. Surfactants are common ingredients in soaps, shampoos, detergents, and toothpastes because they work to reduce surface tension and thus help the product work more effectively. In toothpaste, the surfactant SLS does the following:
- Helps with foaming, which makes it easier to tell that you’ve brushed thoroughly
- By reducing surface tension, SLS helps bring active ingredients like fluoride into contact with your teeth longer and more effectively
- SLS helps remove plaque and biofilm from the teeth, leaving them clean and healthy
Myths and Rumors About SLS
So why are there concerns about SLS? Well there’s a great deal of internet rumor floating around about possible negative side effects to SLS. We’re going to take a look at some of the more common rumors and discuss whether or not they’re true.
- Does SLS cause cancer? This is one of the more dramatic and pervasive myths about SLS and it’s just not true. No medical or scientific study has found a link between SLS and cancer of any kind, so there’s no reason to worry.
- Does SLS cause hair loss? Again, as with the idea that SLS causes cancer, this is incorrect as there’s no evidence to support it.
- SLS is a neurotoxin? No, no it’s not. No credible authority lists SLS as a neurotoxin and there’s no evidence to suggest it does damage to your nervous system.
- Is SLS a skin and eye irritant? Well, yes, it can be depending on the quantity and concentrations involved. Most people don’t experience discomfort from SLS with regular toothpaste, but some individuals with sensitive teeth and gums might. They may wish to switch to a sensitive tooth toothpaste or an SLS free brand.
- Is SLS harmful to the environment? The answer is both yes and no. Large quantities of SLS in waterways would be a bad thing for plants and wildlife, but in the amount and concentrations used in consumer products SLS seems to be relatively harmless.
Now that we’ve addressed some of the more pervasive rumors about SLS, let’s sum it up this way. SLS is a harmless ingredient that actually helps toothpaste do its job more effectively. There’s no reason for most people to avoid SLS, although there’s no harm in adopting an SLS free toothpaste should you choose. It’s a matter of personal preference, not science or health.