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Difference Between Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Ether Sulfate

Reading cleaning product labels often feels like cracking a  code. List of rolling materials with chemicals cannot be identified by many of us, and just the thought of researching them all is daunting. But it is important to know what you’re really coming into contact with, whether you use the product to wash clothes or dishes or apply it directly to your hair or skin.

One of the first ingredients you will see is listed on many cleaning products and personal care, from detergent to toothpaste, is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). This general chemistry is a surfactant, which means reducing water surface voltage and helps the product cleanse and foam when used. Lots of hand soaps, face wash and shaving creams owe their foam quality to SLS.

But there are other ingredients with a confusing name: sodium laureth ether sulfate (sles). You can also see it only called Sodium Laureth Sulfate, with "Laureth" which serves as a contraction for the words "Lauryl" and "ether." Like SLS, quality sodium laureth ether sulfate  is used for its emulsifying abilities and serves as a super-effective detergent and cleaner.

While the names of these two cleaning agents and their functions may seem exchanged, there is a distinction between the two — and a reason why you should opt for products that use SLES over those that use SLS.

The main difference

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is actually a modified parent chemical to make sodium laureth ether sulfate (sles). This is made by reacting Lauryl alcohol with petroleum or with coconut or oil palm. To obtain sles from SLS, a process called ethoxylation (where ethylene oxide is introduced) must occur.

This process is the key because it turns SLES into a safer, less harsh chemical than its predecessor, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.