Because we specialize in making natural bath products for sensitive skin, I’m often asked about synthetic detergents, in particular about sodium coco sulphate in the new fad of Shampoo Bars. Before I describe sodium coco sulfate, I want to discuss sodium lauryl sulfate, as the two are closely related.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a synthetic detergent used in a wide range of commercial personal care products. Mass produced commercially, these products include shampoos, shower gels, pump dispenser liquid ‘soaps’, and most toothpastes. Unfortunately, many so-called ‘natural’ products contain SLS in some form. Below is a picture of a popularly mass produced shampoo bar you should stay away from if you have sensitive skin or want to stay away from bath products with harsh chemicals. I’ll also let you know the ingredients to look for on labels so you can veer away from them in the future.
SLS belongs to a class of medium to strong surfactants (or ‘surface active agents’) known as the alkyl sulfates. As a group, these chemicals have a market advantage of strong cleansing power, high foam production (which people equate with better cleansing – though foaming and cleansing are two quite different things), and very low production cost. Unfortunately they are also skin irritants, in part because they remove protective oils from the skin. In fact, sodium lauryl sulfate is somewhat of a gold standard for producing irritation in skin irritation studies.
Because of the concerns about SLS, and increasing consumer resistance, companies often like to hide the fact that they are using SLS in their products by using alternative names – such as “Shampoo Bar” or “Beauty Bar.” Unfortunately, there are now over 100 chemical names for SLS. The more common chemical names include; olefin sulfate, sodium dodecyl sulphate (SDS), dodecyl sodium sulfate; lauryl sodium sulfate, lauryl sulfate sodium salt, sodium n-dodecyl sulfate, sulfuric acid monododecyl ester sodium salt, and sodium dodecane sulfate. Keep an eye out for these ingredients in your products!
SLS can be made either from petroleum oil (via the OXO process) or from coconut or palm oils (via the Ziegler process). Both processes involve a complex sequence of chemical reactions for attaching a sulfate group to a long carbon chain molecule.
With coconut oil as the starting material the coconut fatty acids are converted to fatty alcohols and these alcohols are then sulfonated with sufur trioxide or chlorosulfonic acid. Companies sometimes promote their pseudo-natural cosmetics with the explanation that the SLS they use is derived from coconut or palm oil (“plant-derived”), as if this somehow makes it more natural. But SLS in any form is not natural, it is a synthetic chemical that is not found in nature. Misleading and deceptive, don’t you think?
Now let’s have a look at sodium coco sulfate. The process for making sodium coco sulphate is the same as for sodium lauryl sulfate except now rather than isolate a single fatty acid from the coconut oil (lauric acid for sodium lauryl sulphate) a broad cut of saturated fatty acids is used (C12 – C18 saturated fatty acids), and these are all turned into sulfates. From the typical fatty acid composition of coconut oil, sodium coco sulfate would be about 66% sodium lauryl sulfate. Though as the proportion of lauryl sulfate in sodium coco sulfate is not strictly defined this percentage could be higher, and manufacturers are free to make it as high as they like.
Sodium coco sulfate contains SLS as a predominant component, with all the concerns that are linked to that chemical. In fact, it is just another way to hide SLS in formulations with another name. Both sodium coco sulfate and SLS are synthetic detergents and should never be part of any natural cleanser. Natural products that are kind to your skin, and environmentally friendly, will not contain lauryl sulfate, laureth sulfate, coco sulfate or any of the long list of other synthetic detergents. Our ethics, quality, and product standards we provide our customers are very high. We cannot and will not be making or providing our customers with a lesser alternative to the better alternative…Natural Soap and Shampoo!
There are companies that explicitly declare their products to be SLS free while using SCS as an ingredient! Examples of this are the ‘Honest Company’, co-founded by actress Jessica Alba, and the New Zealand brand ‘Only Good’ by API Consumer Brands. LUSH Cosmetics, among others, declare SLS and Sodium Coco Sulfate as a “safe synthetics,” which is simply not true.
I hope you found this helpful and informative! We encourage you to search around and try Shampoo Bars and other bath products made naturally and ethically, including our shampoo bars made with lemon peel, jojoba oil, rose clay, eucalyptus and rosemary. As always, our products are free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and harsh synthetics! Quality over cost, every time.
Reference and some information content provided by Mr. Steve Humphries, Director of Hebe Botanicals Ltd.