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What is sulfate?

Sulfate is a type of key cleansing agent commonly used in personal care product. For example, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, TEA lauryl sulfate. It is synthetically produced from palm oil (to be exact, palm based fatty alcohol, it could also derived from other oil), sulfur, and a neutralizing agent (sodium hydroxide, ammonium hydroxide, TEA); with or without ethylene oxide.

Sulfate is one of the most cost-efficient detergent, thus it is the most common cleansing agent used in personal care products, as well as homecare products (such as dishwash and laundry detergent).

Why Sulfate-Free?

Over the years, consumer start to concern the safety of sulfate in the personal care products they are using daily. The overall concern can be categorized as (1) safety  (2) harshness (3) cancer

(a) safety, the major concern is the by-product 1,4-dioxane. 1,4-dioxane is typically found in ethoxylated products (in this case, sodium laureth sulfate). On the other hand, non-ethoxylated surfactants (sodium lauryl sulfate for example) is literally free from 1,4-dioxane. There are many unverified sources on the internet claiming Sodium lauryl sulfate contains 1,4-dioxane; which is totally not true. 1,4-dioxane is a by-product derived from ethoxylate, as sodium lauryl sulfate do not gone through ethoxylation, it simply does not present a risk of 1,4-dioxane.

1,4-dioxane is a type of carcinogen (component that cause cancer) when present in high concentration. Commercial personal care product typically contain traces of 1,4-dioxane (about 1-5ppm, some even lower). Although the exposure is way below the limit and do not pose danger to consumer, it is simply up to the consumer to choose product best suit to their needs.

(b) harshness. It is true that sulfate surfactants typically more harsh compare to other mild surfactants (such as amino acid surfactant, lauryl glucoside, etc). However, a lots of consumer are not being informed that, harshness of natural soap is actually similar or higher compare to sulfate. This concern is only true for consumer concern over the drying effect of sulfate, in particular consumer with eczema problem or sensitive skin. Otherwise, sulfate-free is merely an option.

(c) cancer. Sulfate surfactants itself do not cause cancer. Despite mass of researches shows that there is no direct link of sulfate surfactants to cancer, rumors still present on the internet, particularly from company that trying to market their “natural” product. Scientist already confirm that sulfate has no direct link to cancer, what is causing cancer is the by-product 1,4-dioxane (please refer above). Sodium lauryl sulfate, which is free from 1,4-dioxane, do not pose any risk of cancer.

Our recommendation to consumer

1. If you have dry skin, sulfate-free and soap-free is recommended.

2. If price is not a concern to you, and you are still suspicious, go for sulfate-free (which typically 3 times the price)

3. If price is a concern to you, and you are convinced with scientific researches, just ignore it.


Our team of scientist is dedicated to busting those beauty myths, helping you solve your skin problems. If you need any other skincare tips, do drop us an email.

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