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Do you know the difference? - sulphites or sulphates, SLS or SLES

blogSLS

Failsafer Kate wrote:

“What is the difference between sulphites and sulphates  - should I avoid both? … DermaVeen Conditioner and DermaVeen Bath & Shower Oil are sulfate free (but the DermaVeen Shampoo is not).”

There are 4 classes of these chemicals that failsafers find confusing  – 2 groups of food chemicals and 2 groups of chemicals used in toiletries.

  • Sulphite food additives (AVOID)

All sulphite preservatives - from sulphur dioxide (220) to potassium bisulphite (228) – must be avoided on the RPAH elimination diet. They are some of the most commonly used preservatives in our food supply, strongly associated with asthma and other food intolerance reactions.

 “through the elimination diet, I finally worked out that sulphites are the number one problem for me! When I avoid sulphites, I am perfectly fine!- Erin, from story [1363]

  • Sulphate food additives (OK)

These are completely different chemicals, and do not have to be avoided. They range from sodium sulphate (514) to magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts 518 used as a dietary supplement and laxative) and copper sulphate (519, used in infant formula as a mineral nutrient). 

  • Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS – failsafers with sensitive skin may have to AVOID)

This chemical is a surfactant, meaning it is used to make foam in personal care products such as soaps, shampoos and toothpastes. SLS is a known skin irritant that can cause dry itchy skin, mouth ulcers and chapped lips (see photo) in people with sensitive skin.

  • Sodium laureth sulphate (SLES – considered to be OK)

SLES is a surfactant similar to SLS except that it is formulated be much milder and not irritate the skin.

Failsafer Lesley wrote:

“I do not find SLS a safe chemical. If I have toothpaste that contains it, I immediately get lots of mouth ulcers. If I wash my hair with a product that contains it I get a very itchy scalp that gradually worsens the longer I use it” – from story [1487]

SLES is considered to be much safer than SLS. Presumably this is why SLES rather than SLS is used in the RPAH-recommended Dermaveen shampoo “natural oatmeal calms and nourishes dry, itchy or sensitive scalps”, and is my favourite shampoo.

However, Lesley continues:

“Some of the products that are similar to SLS but that are considered safer than SLS also cause me problems, only not as severe. The only one shampoo I'm coping with now is Ego QV gentle hair shampoo.”

Similarly, with toothpaste, Lesley says:

“The only toothpaste I've found that I tolerate is Weleda Calendula toothpaste. I'm not sure the calendula is safe, but it smells pretty mild and I don't notice an increase in my symptoms after using it”.

None of the failsafe toothpastes on our list (Alfree, Pharmacy Health and OHS plain toothpaste) contain SLS or SLES – although Oral Hygiene Solutions did years ago, it was reformulated and now clearly states “SLS Free”.  See toothpaste factsheet

Any comments?

We would like to hear from any failsafers with sensitive skins who have experienced problems with recommended failsafe shampoos and toothpastes at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

NOTE: Failsafers ask about spelling - sulphite or sulfite , sulphate or sulfate. Answer: using PH is the English version, with an  F is the American spelling.

More information

Our sulphites factsheet

Understanding the Difference between Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate http://www.chemistrystore.com/blog/understanding-the-difference-between-sodium-lauryl-sulfate-and-sodium-laureth-sulfate/

In the medical journals

Thongprasom K. Glycerin Borax Treatment of Exfoliative Cheilitis Induced by Sodium Lauryl Sulfate: a Case Report. Acta Stomatol Croat. 2016;50(2):158-161. A case study of a 19-year-old who had experienced scaly and peeling lips for more than 7 years (see photo above)  …  when she switched to an SLS-free toothpaste she started improving within 3 weeks.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5080561/

Brown RS et al, Inflammatory reaction of the anterior dorsal tongue presumably to sodium lauryl sulfate within toothpastes: a triple case report. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol. 2018;125(2):e17-e21. The authors report 3 patients with oral pain secondary to inflammation of the dorsal anterior tongue. These patients were all using toothpastes with SLS as an ingredient … The lesions and pain resolved upon switching to toothpastes without SLS as an ingredient. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29249518

Blondeel A et al, Contact allergy in 330 dermatological patients. Contact Dermatitis. 1978 Oct;4(5):270-6. Of 330 patients with dermatitis, 6.4% reacted with testing with sodium lauryl sulfate. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/154373

McLelland J et al, 'Irritants' increase the response to an allergen in allergic contact dermatitis. Arch Dermatol. 1991;127(7):1016-9. In people with allergic contact dermatitis, the use of the irritant SLS was showed increase to increase the size of the reaction to the allergen. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2064399

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Food intolerance

Some of the many symptoms of food intolerance that can be helped by diet:

Airways: Asthma, Stuffy blocked or runny nose/ nasal polyps, Frequent nose bleeds, Catarrh, chronic throat-clearing, Sinusitis, Frequent ear infections, Frequent tonsillitis, Frequent colds and flu, symptoms of Samter's Triad, hayfever, allergic rhinitis Skin: Eczema, Urticaria (hives), Cradlecap, Other skin rashes, Angioedema (swollen lips, eyes, tongue), Geographic tongue, Pruritis (itching), Rosaceae, Allergic shiners (dark circles under eyes), Pallor (pale skin), Flushing, Excessive sweating, Body odour, Sore vagina in children, Alopecia (patchy baldness) Digestive system: Irritable bowel symptoms (IBS), Recurrent mouth ulcers, Indigestion, Nausea, Bad breath, Vomiting, Diarrhea, Stomach ache, Bloating, Reflux in babies, adults, Constipation, Colic in babies, adults, Sluggish bowel syndrome (feeling of "more to come"), Encopresis, Soiling (sneaky poos), Dairy intolerance, Gluten and wheat intolerance, Eating disorders (ed), anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder (BED)  Bladder: Bedwetting, Daytime incontinence, Urinary urgency, Recurrent inflammation (cystitis) Skeletal: Growing pains, Gout, Arthritis, joint pain, arthralgia Eyes: Nystagmus (involuntary movement), Blurred vision Muscles: Low muscle tone, Myalgia (muscle pain), Tics (involuntary movement), Tremor, Leg 'jiggling', Heart: Rapid heart beat, Heart palpitations, Cardiac arrhythmias, Pseudo heart attack (feeling of impending doom, chest pressure, pain down arm), Tachycardia (fast heart beat), Angina-type pain, HHT Central nervous system: Headaches or migraines, unexplained tiredness, Chronic fatigue, Feeling 'hung-over', Confusion, Dizziness, Agitation, Tinnitus (noises in ear), HyperacusisAuditory sensory processing disorder (ASPD), Paraesthesia (pins and needles), Dysaesthesia (numbness), Hypoglycemia, Salicylate-induced hypoglycemia, Epileptic seizures, Fits, Sensory symptoms of multiple sclerosis, Scents and perfume sensitivity, Symptoms of lupus Anxiety: Panic attacks, Depression, Obsessive ruminations (repetitively focusing on bad feelings and experiences from the past), Self harm, Suicidal thoughts, actions, teeth grinding (bruxism) Impaired memory: Vague or forgetful, Unable to concentrate, Won't persevere, Unmotivated, Disorganised, Easily distracted, Difficulty reading and writing Speech: Loud voice (no volume control), Speech hard to understand, Speech delay, Selective mutism, Stuttering, Repetitive noises, Talks too much (empty chatter) Coordination: Poor handwriting, Poor coordination, Frequent accidents, Vertigo Sleep: Difficulty falling asleep, Restless legs syndrome (RLS), Persistent night waking, Insomnia, Nightmares/night terrors/sleepwalking, Sleepless babies, Sleep apnoea Mood: Brain snaps, Mood swings, Premenstrual tension, Grizzly or unhappy, Cries easily or often, Irritable, Uncooperative Oppositional defiance: ODD, Loses temper, Argumentative, Refuses requests, Defies rules, Deliberately annoys others, Blames others for own mistakes, Touchy, easily annoyed, Angry, resentful Other behaviour: ADHD, ADD, Autism, Aspergers, Inattentive, easily bored, unmotivated, 'Unable to entertain himself', Restless, fidgety or overactive, Head banging, Hyperactivity, Fights with siblings, Difficulty making friends, Destructive, aggressive, Unreasonable, Tantrums, Demanding, never satisfied, Disruptive, Discipline is ineffective, Pervasive Development Disorder

Some causes of food intolerance:

Food additives: Artificial colours: (food dyes, artificial colors) tartrazine 102 (E102, FD&C Yellow No.5), quinoline yellow 104 (E104), sunset yellow 110 (E110, FD&C Yellow No.6), azorubine, carmoisine 122 (E122), amaranth 123 (E123), ponceau, brilliant scarlet 124 (E124), erythrosine 127 (E127, FD&C Red No.3), allura red 129 (E129, FD&C Red No.40), indigotine, indigo carmine 132 (E132, FD&C Blue No.2), brilliant blue 133 (E133, FD&C Blue No.1), green S, food green, acid brilliant green 142 (E142), fast green FCF 143 (E143, FD&C Green No.3), brilliant black 151 (E151), brown, chocolate brown 155 (E155)  Natural colours: (colors) Annatto (annatto extracts, bixin, norbixin, 160b, E160b) Preservatives: Sorbates: (sorbic acid 200, E200, sodium sorbate 201, E201, potassium sorbate 202, E202, calcium sorbate 203, E203) Benzoates, hydroxybenzoates, parabens: (including benzoic acid 210, E210, sodium benzoate 211, E211, potassium benzoate 212, E212, calcium benzoate 213, E213, ethyl para-hydroxybenzoate 214, E214, sodium ethyl para-hydroxybenzoate 215, E215, propylparaben 216, E216, propyl 4 hydroxybenzoate 217, E217, methylparaben 218, E218) Sulfites, bisulfites, metabisulfites: (200-228, sulphites, sulphur dioxide, sulfur dioxide 220, E220, sodium sulphite 221, E221, sodium bisulphite 222, E222, sodium metabisulphite 223, E223, potassium metabisulphite 224, E224, potassium sulphite 225, E225, calcium sulphite 226, E226, calcium bisulfite 227, E227, potassium bisulphite 228, E228) Nitrates & nitrites: (249-252, potassium nitrite 249, E249, sodium nitrite 250, E250, sodium nitrate 251, E251, potassium nitrate 252, E252 Propionates: (bread preservative, mould inhibitor 280-283: propionic acid 280, E280, sodium propionate 281, E281, calcium propionate 282, E282, potassium propionate 283, E283, 'natural' preservatives in bread, cultured wheat, cultured dextrose, cultured whey) Synthetic antioxidants: Gallates 310, 311, 312 (E310, E311, E312), tBHQ 319, E319, BHA 320, E320, BHT 321, E321 Flavour enhancers: (flavor enhancers) glutamic acid and all glutamates, MSG monosodium glutamate 620-625, yeast extract, hydrolysed vegetable protein HVP, disodium guanylate 627 (E627, DSG, GMP), disodium inosinate 631 (E631, DSI, IMP), ribonucleotides 635 (E635, I&G, nucleotides)  Flavours: (flavors)  Natural food chemicals: Salicylates: salicylic acid, sodium salicylate, acetylsalicylic acid Biogenic amines: vasoactive amines (tyramine, phenylethylamine, histamine and others) Glutamates:  Natural foods: Dairy: milk, yoghurt, cheese, butter, lactose-free milks Wheat or Gluten: (wheat, rye, barley, oats) Soy: Sugar free sweeteners:Sugar free sweeteners: polyols, sorbitol, mannitol

On this website, failsafe refers to foods that are Free of Additives and Low in Salicylates, Amines and Flavour Enhancers. Note that copyright applies to the commercial use of the term "failsafe" in the food and health context so as to control inappropriate use by the food and health industries.