what is SLS in toothpaste?


connie gregson

by connie gregson , friendly head of r+d at hello products


no, sls is not texting shorthand for So Long Shorty, LOL; it stands for sodium lauryl sulfate – a chemical compound that functions as a foaming agent in many personal care and home care cleaning products. it’s largely responsible for the foam created in toothpastes, shampoos and all-night dance parties. spoiler alert: you won’t find any sls in hello pastes, rinses, and other products – read on for the full foam-free story.

foaming at the mouth

often, you’ll see a foaming agent referred to as a “surfactant” which is its more scientifically dignified name. surfactants work by lowering the surface tension of water so that molecules become more slippery. when molecules are more slippery, they don’t cling together, they disperse. in the case of toothpaste, there are two main reasons why surfactants’ dispersion powers are helpful. the first is that a surfactant allows ingredients to be spread (dispersed) evenly throughout your mouth. the second benefit of a surfactant is that once it has spread toothpaste all the way back to the tiny food and bacteria particles around your molars, it then helps remove and rinse those particles away. peace out, particles.

sls misconceptions

when you hear that sls is a chemical compound, you may instantly think of lab coats, pocket protectors, and artificial concoctions. but although sodium lauryl sulfate can be derived from petroleum, the sls that’s used in toothpaste can also be sourced from a number of natural alternatives including palm and coconut oils.

some people also confuse sodium lauryl sulfate with its sister compound, sodium laureth sulfate (sles), which is also frequently used for foaming in toothpastes, shampoos, body washes and face washes. 

why use toothpaste without sls?

most people don’t experience any side effects from having sls in their toothpaste. for these brushers, toothpaste with sls is fine. but some people may experience irritation in their mouth due to sls or they may develop an allergic reaction to sls.  their mouth may feel uncomfortable, their tongue may start to have a weird texture, or the sls may cause, and/or irritate, canker sores. because of these rare side effects, brushers who are prone to allergies or sensitive to sulfates are generally better off choosing sls free toothpastes.

sls free toothpaste

for years, brushers thought that their toothpaste needed to foam to be effective. in fact, to some people, the perception was the more foam, the more effective the toothpaste. but as it turns out, there’s no need for foam fomo. toothpastes don’t need to contain sls in order to reach into the super-small spaces where bacteria and food particles can lurk.

when it comes to sls alternatives, there are plenty of naturally-derived ingredients that can help to disperse toothpaste throughout your mouth.  most are made from coconut, corn, or palm oil and include cocamidopropyl betaine, lauryl glucoside, and sodium cocoyl glutamate. their names don’t exactly roll off the tongue, but they are friendlier options for some, and they help toothpaste roll around in your mouth so it can do its best work.

hello toothpastes: sls-free, srsly friendly

so to recap, sls and sls-free toothpastes can both be effective options for brushing away bacteria and food particles while keeping teeth clean. but because sls isn’t a “must-have” ingredient and it can cause sulfate sensitivity issues in some individuals, we’ve left it out of our products. 

we believe that naturally friendly ingredients mean happier mouths which may lead to bigger, brighter smiles.