What is ammonium laureth sulfate?

Not to be confused with Ammonium lauryl sulfate, continue read to see the difference. 

Ammonium Laureth Sulfat, sometimes also called ammonium lauryl ether sulfate, is the ammonium salt of ethoxylated lauryl sulphate. The molecular formula of the chemical compound is C14H33NO5S.

Is ammonium laureth sulfate harmful?

This substance belongs to the groups:

This ingredient group broadly has 3 areas of concern; contamination, irritation and allergies, and being harsh on skin, scalp, and hair.

1. Contamination and difference to ammonium lauryl sulfate

What potentially could make ammonium laureth sulfate harmful, is that it could be contaminated with the toxic and carcinogenic chemicals ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.

The reason is the chemical composition. In order to make the chemical ammonium lauryl sulfate gentler, it goes through an ethoxylation process.

Which, simplified, means that ethylene oxide is added to ammonium lauryl sulfate and while this happens, another chemical reaction occurs. And in that reaction, 1,4-dioxane is formed.

The ethoxylation process is visible in another name for this ingredient is ammonium lauryl ether sulfate.

In other words, it is not a surprise nor a mistake that the product might be contaminated. And most importantly, there is no guarantee whatsoever that a product containing this ingredient is free of toxic impurities just because it is “eco”, “natural” or “organic”. All ethoxylated chemicals have the same risks.

So to clarify, to make ammonium lauryl sulfate less harsh, ethylene oxide is added, and that then becomes ammonium laureth sulfate.

2. Irritation and allergies

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) identifies that

this substance causes serious eye damage and causes skin irritation“.

3. Is ammonium laureth sulfate (and ammonium lauryl sulfate) bad for hair and skin?

The easy answer is that for most, Yes. This is due to the sulfates that are known to be aggressive cleansers and drying. Both ammonium laureth sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate are bad for hair. Especially for color treated, dry, long or afro-textured hair.

What the chemical do is to help mix water with oil, thus removing potential dirt. However, as a result, also our body’s and hair’s natural oils are stripped.  

Ammonium laureth sulfate uses

Sulfates, as >ammonium laureth sulfate contains, became widely used in the 1930s as the modern shampoo industry was developed.

Still today, ammonium laureth sulfate is mainly used as a surfactant agent and cleansing agent in cosmetic products*, such as shampoos.

A surfactant agent helps to lower the tension of the surface as well as aiding and even distribution of the product formula. Cleansing agents work by aiding the mix of water with oil and dirt so that they can be rinsed off.

It is also a popular choice for manufacturers as the ammonium laureth sulfate formula creates a good foam.

Because of these properties, it is most commonly found in cleansing cosmetics products, including shower gels, shampoos, facial cleansers, and similar.

We use the European Commissions definition of Cosmetics:
“Cosmetics range from everyday hygiene products such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste to luxury beauty items including perfumes and makeup”.

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