After curing my perioral dermatitis with an elimination diet, I was convinced topical products that contained sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) couldn’t cause the rash. I believed it was only ever caused by food intolerances. But I was wrong.
Years later, when talking to a neighbor about perioral dermatitis, she shared how her PD cleared up 2 days after she stopped using all sulfite products.
Following our conversation, I did some investigating. What I learned was how irritating synthetic chemicals like sodium lauryl sulfate were to our delicate facial skin. I also came across stories of other women who quickly cured their perioral dermatitis by avoiding products with sodium lauryl sulfate in them.
Needless to say, I quickly eliminated this and other toxic chemicals from my own beauty routine. Having perioral dermatitis once is more than enough.
In case you didn’t know, perioral dermatitis affects the skin around the mouth and nose. It looks a lot like acne but its tiny red bumps are sometimes itchy and the skin around them is scaly. Fun stuff!
It tends to affect women between the ages of 15-45 yrs. Notably, younger women have a higher risk of adverse skin reactions to sodium laureth sulfate.
But perioral dermatitis isn’t the only skin condition sodium lauryl sulfate can cause. Others like contact dermatitis, contact urticaria, or angular cheilitis look similar to perioral dermatitis. So if you’re suffering from irritated, angry skin let’s find out how avoiding sodium lauryl sulfate can help.
How Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Causes Perioral Dermatitis
Sodium lauryl sulfate causes perioral dermatitis by breaking down your skin’s natural protection barrier and stripping it of moisture. This in turn leaves your skin weak and vulnerable to other irritants and inflammation. As a result, you can develop perioral dermatitis.
Sadly, dermatologists often prescribe washes and lotions for this skin condition that often do more harm than good. Or even worse, they prescribe antibiotics for your perioral dermatitis that wreak havoc with the gut microbiome and weaken your immune system. All the while you continue to suffer from this embarrassing rash.
But here’s the good news. If your perioral dermatitis was caused by an irritating ingredient like SLS, then when you remove it from your beauty routine, healing happens quickly. In fact, your rash can heal within 2-5 days.
Let’s learn more about this harmful additive that can cause such a strong reaction on your skin.
What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate?
All those seemingly harmless sudsy bubbles you get with liquid body wash, shampoo, and even foamy toothpaste come from sodium lauryl sulfate. SLS is a common detergent known to cause skin irritations.
Here’s what skin expert Dr. Leslie Bauman says in her book, Cosmetic Dermatology, “[Sodium lauryl sulfate] is such a consistent irritator for skin with an impaired barrier that it is actually used in ‘challenge patch tests’ to evaluate the barrier function of skin…it strips the natural lipids from the skin, disrupting the barrier and rendering it more susceptible to external irritants.”
No wonder sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) can trigger perioral dermatitis.
So while you’re innocently taking a bath or shower getting your skin squeaky clean, you’re actually stripping your skin’s natural protective barrier and weakening it.
Here are some more interesting facts about SLS.
More Ways Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Irritates Your Skin
You may wonder why such a harmful chemical is in so many every day products. Probably the most important reason is that it’s good at trapping dirt, making it a popular ingredient in cleaning products. Plus, it adds lots of lather and bubbles to everything from shampoo to toothpaste giving a satisfying experience.
One argument for its safety is it’s only added to products designed for brief use and ones thoroughly rinsed from the skin and hair. Additionally, if a product is intended for prolonged skin contact, the concentration of SLS doesn’t exceed 1 percent. But does short contact time and low concentration really make it safe?
Think of all the chemical layers you put on and around your mouth during your beauty routines.
When you combine higher concentration levels, multiple product layers, and/or an extra-long pamper session it can spell disaster for your skin.
During a typical shower, you might end up using toothpaste, body wash, makeup remover, shampoo, conditioner, and finally some all-over body lotion and face cream. This could easily add up to 6 layers of SLS in less than 5 minutes.
Perioral dermatitis is your body’s way of crying for help. And not always from sodium lauryl sulfate alone. Let’s move on to other chemicals that can cause perioral dermatitis.
Other Ingredients to Avoid with Perioral Dermatitis
SLS isn’t the only harsh synthetic chemical you’ll find in beauty products that can cause perioral dermatitis. Here’s a list of others you’ll want to steer clear of especially if you have ultra sensitive skin.
- Fluoride – not just in your toothpaste and mouthwash but tap water too!
- Petroleum or petrolatum
- Corticosteroids – cortisol, corticosterone, cortisone, aldosterone
- Cocamidopropyl betaine (CMS) – another foaming agent
- Propylene glycol or propanediol – the second being a “natural” alternative to the first but just as irritating.
- Ammonium lauryl sulfate (als) or ammonium dodecyl sulphate – another detergent
These last 3 ingredients are usually found in nail polish, and if you’re like me, your nails spend a lot of time up near your face. Be sure to check out this list of the best non-toxic nail polish brands.
- Formaldehyde or methanol- yes, the chemical they use to preserve dead things. Enough said.
- Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)
Now let’s figure out how to avoid these harsh chemicals.
Detecting Harmful Chemicals in Your Personal Care Products
Memorizing all the potentially toxic chemicals would be a chore. Thankfully, you have options for checking the safety of ingredients in any beauty product.
The first one is EWG’s Skin Deep. All you have to do is type the questionable ingredient or product into the handy search bar and voila! It tells you if it’s harmful and what side effects it can have. Those side effects can be pretty scary since they can range all the way from skin irritation to cancer.
To be sure, the trusted Environmental Working Group (EWG) gives you all the dirt on ingredients, products, and brands. And to make it quick and easy, they also rate on a number system where 1 is GOOD and 10 is really BAD. While Skin Deep is a useful tool, I find the app below even more helpful and fun to use.
Think Dirty is the go-to free app for “ ingredient-conscious consumers to choose the safest beauty, personal + household products.” With its five-star rating, you’ll find this app easy to use. All you have to do is scan the product you’re thinking of buying and Think Dirty tells you about the ingredients, points out “dirty” ingredients, and even recommends safer alternatives.
You can check out 4 other free ingredient checking apps by clicking HERE, but Think Dirty is my favorite by far.
How to Avoid Contact with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
The first thing to understand when going SLS-free is that this chemical has LOTS of variations, names, and abbreviations. Here’s a comprehensive list so you can easily spot this toxic ingredient and avoid it.
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS)
- Sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS)
- Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate
- Sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES)
- Sodium lauryl sulphate
- Sulfuric Acid
- Sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate
- Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate
- Monododecyl Ester
- Sodium Salt
- Sodium Salt Sulfuric Acid
- Monododecyl Ester Sodium Salt Sulfuric Acid
- Akypo sal SDS
- Aquarex ME
- Aquarex Methyl
Now, let’s look at products that are most likely to contain sodium lauryl sulfate and its variations.
Products that Commonly Contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
To cure perioral dermatitis fast, you’ll want to make sure these everyday beauty products don’t contain SLS and are made with safe, natural ingredients.
|Products That Might Contain SLS||Possible Reactions|
|Shampoo||Itchy scalp and dry, breakable hair|
|Face wash and makeup remover||Slight stinging and burning sensation|
|Lotion or face cream||Redness, swelling, and/or itching|
|Soap or liquid body wash||Dry itchy skin that flakes|
|Deodorant||Burning sensation underarms|
|Toothpaste||A facial rash, canker sores, cracking at the corners of the mouth|
|Cosmetics||Itchy facial skin, rash, peeling chapped lips|
|Dish detergent||Peeling skin on hands , dry brittle nails that peel and chip|
I’d like to remind all you crafty gals that many of these beauty products are easy to make at home with a few simple ingredients. But if that sounds messy or inconvenient, no worries, there are lots of natural brands these days.
Popular Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Free Brands
Even though SLS seems to be in EVERYTHING, there’s still hope for your beauty routine. These SLS-free brands are easy replacements for your favorite personal care products. You might even like them better than big-name brands.
Most of these can be found in your local health food store or even a drug store like CVS. But I find Amazon often has them at a lower price point and with Amazon Prime they usually arrive within a day or two with free shipping. Try a 30-day free trial here. It’s a win-win.
Although some brands like Amperna are specially formulated for perioral dermatitis, they can be pricey. Here are my favorite all-natural brands that are just as effective. Be sure to share your favorites in the comments below.
- Avalon Organics
- Burt’s Bees
- California Baby
- Jason Natural Products
- Nature’s Baby
- 100% Pure
- Honest Beauty
- Dr. Bronner’s
- Real Purity
- True Botanicals
- Ursa Major
Don’t miss this post about the harsh chemicals in toothpaste and how you can easily make a DIY version with coconut oil. Make Your Own All-Natural Coconut Oil Toothpaste Recipe
Next, let’s look at specific products from some of these brands. I think you’ll see it doesn’t need to cost a lot to use all-natural beauty products.
Favorite SLS-free Personal Care Products
These are my favorite self-care products. If you have some of your own favorites please share them in the comments below.
Favorite All-in-One Shampoo, Body Wash, and Hand Soap:
Favorite Makeup Remover and Body Moisturizer
As a makeup remover, it gently melts even the most stubborn waterproof mascara away. I then use a warm washcloth to wipe my face clean followed by witch hazel or rose water as a toner. It can also be used as an all-over body moisturizer.
Try to buy 100% steam distilled witch hazel brands like this one on Amazon.
If you have dry skin, 100% rose water is a better face toner choice.
Best Toothpaste without Sodium Lauryl Sulfate for Perioral Dermatitis
Because toothpaste can have so many triggering ingredients, it’s one of the most important products to replace. In this article, I go into detail on the toxicity of commercial toothpaste and what to use instead. But let’s touch on 3 key points.
- Sodium lauryl sulfate isn’t the only chemical in commercial toothpaste that might cause perioral dermatitis.
- Besides being full of synthetic chemicals, toothpaste also contains natural ingredients that can cause perioral dermatitis – like peppermint and cinnamon.
- And lastly, many natural toothpaste brands contain SLS so you must read the labels carefully when buying any kind of toothpaste.
This is why it’s often easier to avoid PD triggering ingredients in toothpaste by making your own. But if that’s not your style, here’s an all-natural one you can buy on Amazon that doesn’t contain irritating ingredients.
I hope like my neighbor, you’re able to heal your perioral dermatitis quickly. If you find your rash to be stubborn even after removing harmful ingredients from your personal care products, please read how I healed PD with an elimination diet. It’s a joyous day when you see that uncomfortable rash fade away.
So head to your bathroom as soon as possible and check to see if any of your skincare or personal hygiene products contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or other perioral dermatitis-causing chemicals.
I think you’ll find when you choose natural beauty products over ones with synthetic chemicals your skin will be a lot happier.