HOW SAFE IS THE SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE IN TOOTHPASTE?
Disclaimer: Please note that Mya Care does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information provided is not intended to replace the care or advice of a qualified health care professional. Always consult your doctor for all diagnoses, treatments, and cures for any diseases or conditions, as well as before changing your health care regimen.
Article Updated 28 July 2021
Brushing is the most common and efficient way to maintain oral hygiene. A regular toothpaste contains abrasives (e.g., calcium carbonate, dehydrated silica, and aluminum oxides), detergent or surfactant (e.g., sodium lauryl sulfate), antibacterial agents (e.g., triclosan), humectants (e.g., sorbitol, glycerin), flavoring agents (e.g., saccharin, peppermint, spearmint), fluoride, and preservatives (e.g., sodium benzoate, methylparaben).
The purpose of using a toothpaste is to reduce the oral bacteria and distribute fluoride to protect teeth from decay and periodontal diseases. However, there is a growing concern regarding the adverse effects of ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate present in the toothpaste. This article discusses the role of sodium lauryl sulfate in toothpastes and highlights its adverse effects.
Role of sodium lauryl sulfate in toothpaste
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a synthetic product extracted from coconut and palm oils. It serves as a surfactant or foaming agent. It is commonly used in several cleaning products such as soaps, shampoos, shower gels, bath foams, and toothpaste. Toothpastes contain ~0.5%-2.5% of SLS by weight. SLS has anti-microbial properties and is responsible for the foaming action that gives a perception of cleaning. SLS helps in the distribution of toothpaste in the oral cavity. It also reduces bacterial plaque (film of bacteria) in the oral cavity as it binds with bacterial protein and disrupts the bond between bacteria and the tooth surface. These properties are liked by consumers and increase their likelihood to continue using the toothpaste.
Side effects of sodium lauryl sulfate in toothpastes
The presence of SLS in higher concentrations in cleaning products irritates the skin. Repetitive application may result in inflammation of the skin (contact dermatitis). When used in toothpaste, SLS can cause the following side effects.
- Recurrent aphthous stomatitis: It is a painful recurring condition associated with the presence of single or multiple ulcers in the mouth with defined margins and redness. The use of a toothpaste with a high concentration of SLS may result in recurrence of the ulcers. This is due to irritation of soft tissue resulting in shedding of the mucosa (lining or inner skin of the oral cavity). Exposure to SLS in toothpaste removes the protective mucin layer present in the soft tissues of the oral cavity. This compromises the integrity of the oral mucosa, resulting in ulceration of soft tissues (e.g., gums, inner lining of cheeks, lips, and tongue). Ulcers take about 5-8 days to heal completely.
- Altered taste perception: Some individuals have reported a reduced or altered perception of taste which lasts up to 4 hours. SLS interferes with the working of taste cells, altering the taste perception. This unpleasant taste sensation is evident when citrus fruit juice is immediately consumed after brushing with a SLS-rich toothpaste.
- Burning sensation in the mouth: Some individuals complain of burning sensation in the inner surface of lips, tongue, or cheek and dryness of mouth while brushing with SLS-based toothpastes. This discomfort can contribute to irritability and anxiety.
- Altered mucosal thickness: Several histological (study of tissues) studies have reported a significant change in the thickness of oral mucosa which affects their ability to protect the oral cavity.
Alternatives to SLS in toothpaste:
Several SLS-free toothpastes (e.g., Unilever’s Zendium) can be used as alternatives to SLS-based toothpastes. Polyethylene glycol ethers of stearic acid is often used as a surfactant in SLS-free toothpastes, and rarely causes irritation of mucosa. Patients with ulcerations feel comfortable with the use of SLS-free toothpaste. Research suggests that SLS-free toothpastes are equally effective against gingivitis (inflammation of gums) compared to SLS-based toothpastes. However, the foaming effect is less pronounced than SLS-based toothpastes.
How safe are SLS-based toothpastes for regular use?
According to the American College of Toxicology, SLS-based products with prolonged contact with the skin should be in less than 1% concentration. This prevents the incidence of contact dermatitis or skin irritation. However, in the oral cavity prolonged contact of SLS-based toothpaste with oral mucosa doesn’t occur due to the continuous cleansing action of the saliva. As a result, levels of SLS in the oral cavity are far below the levels that could irritate the mucosa. Besides the foaming effect, SLS-based toothpastes provide a feeling of freshness after brushing. That said, several studies have reported considerable side effects of SLS in toothpastes. These side effects are not life-threatening but require an individual’s attention. However, when adequately formulated and qualified, a SLS-based toothpaste can be safely used. Additionally, the American Cancer Society does not include sodium lauryl sulfate in the list of known or probable cancer-causing agents.
It is important to be aware of the benefits and side-effects of SLS-based toothpastes. Based on an individual’s discretion and consultation with dentists, one can make an informed decision. If you experience the side effects of using a SLS-based toothpaste (e.g., ulcers, altered taste, burning sensation), consult a dentist and consider switching to a SLS-free toothpaste.
To search for the best healthcare providers worldwide, please use the Mya Care search engine.
- Paul, T., Taylor, T. & Babu R. S., A. Sodium lauryl sulphate (2019). Br Dent J 227, 1012
- Fakhry-Smith, S., Din, C., Nathoo, S. A., & Gaffar, A. (1997). Clearance of sodium lauryl sulphate from the oral cavity. Journal of Clinical Periodontology, 24(5), 313–317.
- Ersoy, M., Tanalp, J., Ozel, E., Cengizlier, R., & Soyman, M. (2008). The allergy of toothpaste: a case report. Allergologia et Immunopathologia, 36(6), 368–370.
- Tadin, A., Gavic, L., Govic, T., Galic, N., Zorica Vladislavic, N., & Zeljezic, D. (2019). In vivo evaluation of fluoride and sodium lauryl sulphate in toothpaste on buccal epithelial cells toxicity. Acta Odontologica Scandinavica, 1–8.
- Alli BY, Erinoso OA, Olawuyi AB. Effect of sodium lauryl sulfate on recurrent aphthous stomatitis: A systematic review. J Oral Pathol Med. 2019 May;48(5):358-364.
- Sälzer S, Rosema NA, Martin EC, Slot DE, Timmer CJ, Dörfer CE, van der Weijden GA. The effectiveness of dentifrices without and with sodium lauryl sulfate on plaque, gingivitis and gingival abrasion--a randomized clinical trial. Clin Oral Investig. 2016 Apr;20(3):443-50.
- Elkerbout, T., Slot, D., Bakker, E., & Van der Weijden, G. (2015). Chlorhexidine mouthwash and sodium lauryl sulphate dentifrice: do they mix effectively or interfere? International Journal of Dental Hygiene, 14(1), 42–52.
- Lippert F. An introduction to toothpaste - its purpose, history and ingredients. Monogr Oral Sci. 2013;23:1-14.
As we enter the new year, countries around the world are preparing to start mass vaccination in an effort to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Multiple vaccine candidates have been approved by different health authorities worldwide, and some countries have already started vaccinating their citizens.
Between the decades of 1910 and 1920, Dr. Ludwig Roemheld studied the phenomenon in which patients suffering from digestive problems and no detectable heart issues would experience cardiac symptoms.
Piriformis syndrome and herniated discs are painful conditions of the back. Both can cause sciatica. Sciatica is a type of pain that affects your lower back and legs. It occurs due to irritated or compressed sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve travels down the back to the legs.