Free of Sulfates

What Are Sulfates and What Are They Used For?

Sulfate compounds (commonly referred to as “sulfates”) are salts that form when sulfuric acid reacts with another chemical.  More specifically, synthetic sulfate compounds are produced from petroleum or plant sources (palm oils) which are reacted with sulfuric acid.  Sulfate compounds which fall into the detergent/surfactant category are found in many personal care products such as shampoo, toothpaste, shaving foam, body washes and facial cleansers. They are also added to “non-foaming” cosmetic and personal care products (including “solid” products) to impart a smooth texture and to improve homogeneity.

Do Sulfates Present Any Health Risks To Humans?

There is much controversy regarding the safety of sulfate compounds, and particularly the two compounds that are by far the most widely used: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Lauryl Ether (Laureth) Sulfate (SLES).  The highest risk of using products containing sulfate compounds such as SLS and SLES is irritation to eyes, skin, mouth and lungs after long-term usage.  For people with sensitive skin, sulfates may also clog pores thereby causing acne.  That being said, the FDA, Health Canada and the European Union all consider SLS and SLES to be safe ingredients which may be used without restriction.  In spite of this regulatory consensus that sulfate compounds are safe for unrestricted usage in cosmetic and personal care products, consumers have come to believe that sulfates are “bad” and that products containing them should be avoided.  This may arise from the “myth” that sulfate compounds such as SLS and SLES are carcinogenic, or possibly from environmental concerns over the manufacturing of sulfate compounds from petroleum products (causing pollution) or from palm oil (adding to the depletion of tropical rain forests).

Making “Sulfates-Free” Label Claims

“Free-of” claims that are made for most products are regulated by the FDA and/or FTC (Federal Trade Commission).  Laboratory testing is required in support of such claims.  In the case of “sulfates” where no regulatory limit has been established for making a “Sulfates-Free” claim, laboratory testing should confirm either the absence of sulfates, or levels in the low parts per million (ppm) range.

How is Low-Level Sulfates Testing Conducted?

Lab testing for low levels of sulfates in food, cosmetic and personal care products requires methodology that is sensitive, specific and accurate.  Although there are multiple analytical techniques that can be used to determine the content of sulfates in a product or raw material, one of the most popular is Ion Chromatography (IC) since it affords exceptional sensitivity in the ppm range.  One thing to keep in mind however is that all of the popular analytical techniques used for determining sulfate content will yield a test result as the ‘total content of sulfates’.  Such testing cannot determine the source(s) of the sulfate or distinguish one source from another.

How Can CPT℠ Provide Support For Your “Sulfates-Free” Claims?

CPT℠’s state-of-the-art Analytical Laboratory staffed by seasoned professionals offers Ion Chromatography (IC) testing in support of “Sulfates-Free” product label claims.  We can assist in the design of a “Sulfates-Free’ program for screening raw materials and finished products on a regular basis, or simply spot-checking finished product batches.  We can also assist with your cleaning validations to ensure that processing equipment that is used for products containing sulfates are sufficiently cleaned after use, so as not to contaminate products for which a “Sulfates-Free” claim is being made.  We provide accurate results with sensitivities at or below 1 ppm sulfate. Contact us at your earliest convenience so that we can assist you in making “Sulfates-Free” label claims. At a time when consumers now view the presence of sulfates in their cosmetic and personal care products as ‘unfavorable’, why not include this testing as part of your marketing strategy?