Sodium laureth sulfate

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Sodium laureth sulfate, or sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES), is a detergent and surfactant found in many personal care products (soaps, shampoos, toothpaste etc.). SLES is an inexpensive and very effective foaming agent.[1]

SLES has been shown to produce eye or skin irritation in experimental animals and in some human test subjects.[2] Some products containing SLES have been found to contain low levels of the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane, with the recommendation from the FDA that these levels be monitored.[3]

Contents

Chemical structure

Its chemical formula is CH3(CH2)10CH2(OCH2CH2)nOSO3Na. Sometimes the number represented by n is specified in the name, for example laureth-2 sulfate. The commercial product is heterogeneous in the number of ethoxyl groups, where n is the mean. It is common for commercial products for n= 3. SLES is prepared by ethoxylation of dodecyl alcohol. The resulting ethoxylate is converted to an half ester of sulfuric acid, which is neutralized by conversion to the sodium salt.[1] The related surfactant sodium lauryl sulfate (also known as sodium dodecyl sulfate or SLS) is produced similarly, but without the ethoxylation step. SLS and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS) are commonly used alternatives to SLES in consumer products.[1]

Application

SLES, SLS and ALS are surfactants that are used in many cosmetic products for their cleansing and emulsifying properties. They behave similarly to soap.

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