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THE POSSIBLE DANGERS OF
SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE
by Miles Mathis
This short(ish) letter was written after I found sodium laureth sulfate in my Ecover dishwashing liquid. I threw it out and decided never to buy Ecover again. I was angry because the ingredient was not listed, even though the bottle says, “We list all ingredients.” I considered that to be a brazen insult of my intelligence, and still do. I had to go to Ecover's website1 to get the information, and although they will say that they do list all ingredients on the website, they should list them on the bottle where they say, “We list all ingredients.” I think you can see the problem there. It is not subtle.
However, after looking into the problem further, I found an entire rabbit hole of disinformation, with Ecover inhabiting just one of the lesser chambers. Ecover is angry at online attacks like mine, since they assume it is coming from paid moles at Proctor and Gamble or somewhere like that. They assume it is akin to California's suing of Whole Foods and Avalon Organics for 1,4-dioxane contamination. In other words, they assume it is part of the battle of mainstream and established cosmetics against green cosmetics. It isn't. I am an organic shopper, and I do almost all my shopping at places like Whole Foods. I support alternative foods and cosmetics with my billfold and have a basic and deep-seated distrust of everything mainstream. Which is why I find it disgusting when a “green” product is pretending to be different, but really isn't.
That said, I can now say that, after all my online research, the mainstream still manages to dwarf the fake greens in its disinformation campaigns. I understand why Ecover might be put in a position to spin, seeing that its competitors exist on nothing but spin 24/7. In this case, I found a huge alliance of disinformation posted by Snopes2, Urban Legends3, the American Cancer Society4, Absolute Astronomy5, and Harvard Law6, among others, promoting the idea that distrust of sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate is just an urban myth or internet hoax, started by some mischievous emailer. The American Cancer Society, rather than cite real lab results, actually sends people to Urban Legends! Problem is, the dangers of SLS and SLES are not just fairy tales made up by bored bloggers. That 1,4-dioxane that Whole Foods got sued for is a by-product of both SLS and SLES. Even Wikipedia, the mouthpiece of corporate and institutional America, admits this7. That is what makes it so incredible that California is suing only green manufacturers. Most mainstream shampoos contain 1,4-dioxane, just as some green shampoos and soaps do, and they contain it for the same reason: it is a by-product of the surfactants, or the bubblers. But while Canada and the US FDA have refused to regulate mainstream manufacturers, California decided (in 2008) to sue green manufacturers and distributors. This is why the green companies like Ecover are angry. It is a bold double-standard. Mainstream shampoos and detergents can get away with 1,4-dioxane, but green shampoos and detergents can't. Why isn't California suing grocery stores and shampoo manufacturers across the board? We must assume it is due to corporate influence, as with everything else. Why are Snopes and Urban Legends and the rest spinning here? Corporate influence, as with everything else. If you assume that these websites are objective, you assume wrong, that's all.
All these mouthpieces of spin will tell you that SLS and SLES aren't proven carcinogens, but that is just hedging. By their strict standards, evolution, the Big Bang, and 911 aren't proven either, but you don't see them hedging there. The fact is, 1,4-dioxane IS a proven carcinogen, according to the state of California8, it is a probable carcinogen according to the US EPA, and a probable carcinogen according to Canada. Shampoos and detergents contain large amounts of SLES or SLS: they are often listed as the second ingredient after water. So the only question is, how much dioxane do they produce, and how much dioxane causes cancer. That is the question not fully answered by experiment, but Urban Legends and Snopes and Wikipedia and the American Cancer Society and Harvard Law School won't put it that way. They tell you that ANY connection between SLES and cancer is an internet hoax. Which means you should never trust anything they tell you again. They are lying right to your face, and they are probably doing it with kickbacks from industry.
Of these spinners, only Absolute Astronomy admits thats dioxane is the problem here, but it states with authority that the amounts in shampoos are known not to be dangerous. If that is true, why is California suing Whole Foods? Absolute Astronomy says that one would have to “eat liters of SLES on a daily basis” to be in danger. Are we to believe that Californians are eating liters of Avalon Organics soap or other green products on a daily basis?
Beyond that, these online debunking sites claim both SLS and SLES are harmless, but the government's own testers disprove that claim. RTECS, which is the testing body for the CDC, has found mutations on in vitro tests of mammalian cells in 1973, 1976, 1982, 1985, and 19949. These debunking sites always limit the debunking to cancer, too, but SLS and SLES have many other problems, including brain and nervous system effects, liver damage, endocrine system disruption, biochemical changes, reproductive effects, cardiovascular effects, eye damage, and SLES is suspected to be bioaccumulative and persistent10. SLES is also listed as a high human health priority and a high toxicity concern by Environmental Canada10. Given all that, it may be criminal to dismiss personal concerns over these products and chemicals as online conspiracies that need to be debunked. It may be that the the FDA and EPA and so on are right that SLS and SLES are of low concern in beauty products. But, given their track records, and the number of times they have been caught shielding big business, it is no wonder that consumers are wary. Frankly, these government agencies lost all credibility decades ago, and no one with any sense believes that our well-being is a top priority for any of them. You only have to look at the government's relationship with Monsanto to prove that.
I already knew that, but my research here solidified a more recent trend: the rise of the online debunking sites, and their obvious relationship to corporate and institutional America. I have come to expect that Absolute Astronomy would act as a shield, apologist, and attack dog for academia, but I hadn't realized that they had been hired to do the same for chemical companies and shampoo manufacturers. The connections among the power elite have obviously become Byzantine, and online policing has gotten more sophisticated than anyone imagines.
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