Such as; Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

Surfactants break down the interface between water and oils and/or dirt and put the ‘bubbles into bubble-bath’ whilst holding the oils and dirt in suspension to get things clean. They contribute the foaming and lathering properties to detergents, soaps, bubble baths, wettings emulsifiers and dispersants both in household cleaners, cosmetics and Industry.

Some surfactants can trigger contact dermatitis, which presents as a red, itchy rash that may be widespread or confined to specific areas like the armpits and groin or under jewellery.  Depending on where the rash is, can often help to determine the source eg; all over itchy esp armpits – laundry detergent.  Hands /jewellery rash – soap, handwash, washing up liquid or cleaning products.

See Aldehydes & Formaldehydes for more information re contact dermatitis and possible triggers

Many ‘natural focused’ beauty and cleaning products now have ‘No SLS’, instead offering an alternative, more gentle plant-based surfactant. However, all surfactants (and there are LOTS) can cause problems.   Notably, coconut derived Cocamidopropyl Betaine (CAPB) was voted contact allergen of the year back in 2004 (1), regarded as a skin and eye irritant.

Where to find them:

Detergents (laundry, dishwashing, sugar soap)

Cleaning chemicals

Soaps, Bodywash, Cleansers & Bubblebath

Shampoo & Conditioner


Fabic Soften









Allergen of the Year 2004

Healthine rashes from detergent

Chemical News betaine toxicity side effects

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