Everybody hates sulphates

Everybody hates sulphates

Irritating, drying, even cancer causing? Do sulphates really deserve the bad wrap that they get?

Let's be real, we've all heard the whispers about sulphates in our beauty products. Today, we're diving into the science behind these claims, debunking the myths, and bringing you the lowdown on sulphates in your skincare routine.

Sulphates and Irritation:

In the name of science, test subjects slapped some Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) onto their skin for 24 hours. The results? Mild skin irritation. Oop - there it is.

But does this mean that sulphates are irritating under all circumstances? Actually, no - but to understand why we need to learn a little more about how surfactants work.

Surfactants and Micelles:

The term 'surfactant' is science-speak for "surface-active agent," and these little guys love a good clean-up mission. A surfactant molecule has a water-hating tail and a water-loving head.

Okay, so here's where the magic happens. When enough surfactant molecules gather around, they form micelles. These micelles surround dirt and grime, thanks to their dual nature. The hydrophobic tails stick to the bad guys (oil and dirt), while the hydrophilic heads hold onto water to haul 'em away. Clean as a whistle!

Sulphates alone create micelles that can be little stinkers—tiny, sneaky, and ready to hide in your skin's nooks and crannies. This makes them more difficult to wash off, and that extra hangout time can lead to irritation.

But here's where the plot thickens: real-life skincare products don't throw sulphates into the ring solo. Nope, they're team players in your everyday toiletries, and for good reason.

In the world of cosmetics, it's all about the buddy system. Most (if not all) cosmetic products throw a mix of surfactants into the ring. When these surfactants are combined it leads to a larger micelle size, meaning easier rinse off, and less chance of a prolonged skin encounter. Basically, combining surfactants = reduced irritation potential (or in cosmetic science terms, increased mildness).

So, there you have it - sulphates decoded! Remember, it's not about the solo act, but the ensemble cast. The key to a gentle, effective product is all in the mix.


Dermal toxicity studies demonstrate that 24-hour exposure to a 1–2% (w/w) solution of SLS can increase the transepidermal water loss of the stratum corneum – the outer most layer of the skin – and cause mild yet reversible skin inflammation.
, Human patch tests (typically a 24-hour exposure) confirm that SLS concentrations >2% are considered irritating to normal skin.,, Dermal irritation also tends to increase with SLS concentration and the duration of direct contact. In reality, dermal exposure to SLS in cleaning products is more likely to last a matter of minutes rather than hours.