Q: I’ve read that we need to avoid ammonium laureth sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate (which occur in many shampoos and other body-care products) because of their toxicity when used regularly. However, I’ve never seen any scientific information about it. Could you cast some light on this? —François-Hughes LaPrais via e-mail
A: Ammonium lauryl sulfate and ammonium laureth sulfate are mild detergents derived from coconut oil. They may dry or irritate the skin because of their degreasing capabilities but are otherwise considered nontoxic.
In 1983 the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association, with support from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Consumer Federation of America, published comment on these ingredients in the Journal of the American College of Toxicology. The report acknowledged that both ingredients irritated skin, which increased in severity with concentration. It noted that products containing up to 2 percent of these ingredients are safe, but that most consumer products contain 10 to 20 percent. Therefore, the report concluded that these ingredients should not be used in products “intended for prolonged contact with skin.” You can read the report at CIR-Safety.org/staff_files/alerts.pdf.
Everyone’s skin is unique and responds differently to detergents. If a product irritates your skin, don’t use it. Though these ingredients are manufactured and not completely natural, I don’t see a horrendous health hazard here.
Debra Lynn Dadd is an internationally known expert on healthy home environments and author of Home Safe Home (Tarcher/Penguin 2004).