By Dr. Mark Burhenne DDS
“Say that again and I’ll wash your mouth out with soap!” Did you ever get this threat from your parents as a kid if you used foul language? The irony is, you’re likely already washing your mouth out with soap on a twice daily basis.
How is that possible? A compound called SLS, or sodium lauryl sulfate, lurks in not just your toothpaste, but almost all products coming into contact with your skin, scalp, and eyes: that includes eye makeup, hair sprays, lipsticks, sunscreen, toothpaste, laundry detergent, conditioner, perfumes, and shampoo. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is everywhere, and it’s not doing good things for our health.
What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) Exactly?
SLS is the sodium salt of a lauryl sulfate and it’s the stuff that gives you that foamy effect that makes you feel like your shampoo or toothpaste are “working.” SLS is an industrial agent that aids in the manufacturing process. It’s an emulsifier that’s added to these products because it improves their consistency when they’re manufactured in large batches and ensure they have a uniform mix.
The main takeaway is this: SLS is not added for any kind of benefit for the product or the user of that product (you). It’s added to aid the process of mass production.
But what’s wrong with SLS, exactly?
The real problem with SLS is that there’s a lot we don’t know about it. Organizations on the web claim that the backlash against SLS is a conspiracy to help brands marketing their products as Organic and all natural sell more product and that there isn’t concrete proof – and they’re right! There is no medical study that I can point to that says SLS is definitely a carcinogen. That said, SLS has been linked with cancer and has been proven to cause irritation, rashes, allergic reactions, and organ toxicity.
But why wait for definitive, concrete proof when it might already be too late?
Opting for SLS-free toothpastes, shampoos, and detergents won’t cause you to miss out on anything – you can only improve your health by doing this. SLS is added to the same stuff I use to scrub the floor of the garage – and I don’t feel compelled to stick to SLS-containing Crest, Colgate, and the other mainstream toothpastes (and shampoos, soaps, etc.) when there are quality alternatives that don’t contain SLS.
Can Toothpaste With SLS Cause Canker Sores?
As a dentist I recommend to my patients suffering from canker sores that they switch to an SLS-free toothpaste. Anecdotally speaking, they’re often using Crest or Colgate, which contain SLS, when I make this recommendation. After about a week, 50% of them tell me their canker sores have disappeared. I also frequently hear stories from patients and have experienced first hand, when using an SLS-free toothpaste for a long time and switching to an SLS-containing toothpaste, that canker sores reappear after a few days. There is little research on the subject, but since SLS is an irritant and a detergent, it makes sense that it could contribute to canker sores.
If you suffer from canker sores, allergic reactions in the mouth, or other types of irritation, try switching to an SLS-free toothpaste for 30 days and track your results to see if there’s an improvement.