Seventh Generation, Method and Ecover – not so safe after all.

April 29, 2011 at 11:16 pm 8 comments


As some of you may already know (and hopefully most), there is little to no regulation of what cleaning chemicals go into our household products as there are virtually no labeling requirements to let people know what they are exposing themselves and the planet to.  As more and more people become aware of this, companies that provide greener alternatives are thriving with success. But despite of the ‘greener and safer’ products they claim to offer, most people would be surprised to learn that some of the largest alternative “green” or “eco” brands are not so safe after all.

Like many others, our family continues to look for ways to reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals in every shopping decision we make and we’ve really gotten into the habit of making our own cleaning recipes because we have a deep-seated distrust for all mainstream products. Some time ago, after doing our own research, we were very disappointed to find that the trusted brands such as Seventh Generation, Method and Ecover use chemicals such as SLS in many of their products including dish-washing liquids, hand soaps, disinfectants and laundry detergents. Even their baby laundry detergents! :(

What is SLS?
To help your understanding as to why this is a big deal, let’s look at exactly what health implications SLS brings as defined by multiple sources. Here’s a quick rundown:

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (a chemical that is also listed as over 150 different names) – used as a sudsing and foaming agent, penetrates the skin, health hazards include reproductive and developmental toxicity, tissue damage that could result in chronic liver, brain, heart, lung damage and may include cancer. SLS has been found in the tissue of these organs so it accumulates in the body.  Also can cause eye damage, affect the immune system and irritate the skin.  Can cause eczema.  In toothpaste it can cause damage to tissues in the mouth, ulcers in the mouth and gum disease.  Using shampoo with SLS can cause dandruff and hair loss.

We’ve taken a look at this ingredient on the EWG’s Skin Deep Database and found the following information:

In relation to the information on Organ System Toxicity (Non-Reproductive) , Environment Canada Domestic Substance List classifies SLS as expected to be toxic or harmful, and as a medium human health priority.

In relation to the information on irritation to skin, eyes or lungs, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Assessment classifies SLS as a ‘Human Irritant’ with strong evidence.

In relation to Eco toxicology, the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List classifies SLS as suspected to be an environmental Toxin.

Should you worry about this?
As a concerned and aware consumer, do you really have anything to worry about as far as Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) is concerned? It would appear that we have two quite differing views on the safety of using and exposing the body to constant low levels of toxic chemicals such as Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS). We feel it is only fair we look at the facts as they are reported by the chemical industry and other concerned individuals in regard to SLS.

We would like to quote investigative medical journalist Phillip Day on his statement reported in his book “Health Wars”:

“Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) is a very harsh detergent found in almost all shampoos, detergents and more than a few toothpastes. Pick up a cross section of these products next time you visit the supermarket and you will find Sodium Lauryl Sulphate SLS or Sodium Lauryth Sulphate (SLES) in pride of place under the ingredients label. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate started its career as an industrial degreasant and garage floor cleaner. When applied to human skin it has the effect of stripping off the oil layer and then irritating and eroding the skin, leaving it rough and pitted.”

Studies on SLS have shown that:” (Judi Vance, Beauty To Die For, Promotion Publishing, 1998)
1.   “Shampoos with SLS could retard healing and keep children’s eyes from developing properly. Children under six years old are especially vulnerable to improper eye development. (Summary of Report of Research to Prevent Blindness, Inc. conference.”
2.   “Sodium Lauryl Sulphate can cause cataracts in adults and delays the healing of wounds in the surface of the cornea.”
3.   “Sodium Lauryl Sulphate has a low molecular weight and so is easily absorbed by the body. It builds up in the heart, liver and brain and can cause major problems in these areas.”
4.   “Sodium Lauryl Sulphate causes skin to flake and to separate and causes roughness on the skin.”
5.   “Sodium Lauryl Sulphate causes dysfunction of the biological systems of the skin.”
6.   “Sodium Lauryl Sulphate is such a caustic cleanser that it actually corrodes the hair follicle and impairs the ability to grow hair.”
7.   “Sodium Lauryl Sulphate is routinely used in clinical studies deliberately to irritate the skin so that the effects of other substances can be tested.” (Study cited by the Wall St Journal, 1st November 1998)

“But it’s safe”, so they say.
On their websites, all three companies (Seventh Generation, Ecover and Method) address the fact that they use SLS and they contend it’s safe. We don’t agree. We’ll be sticking with the Precautionary Principle ‘Better safe than sorry’ and hope you will too.

What did Seventh Generation have to say?
To see how they will clarify all this confusion, we contacted Seventh Generation and asked them why they state that the ingredients not used in their products are synthetic surfactants if they use SLS in their hand dish liquid, disinfectants and laundry liquids? Their answer is:

“Thanks for taking the time to write to us about our use of SLS. I am happy to tell you that the SLS that we use is from palm, coconut or corn oil. And there is indeed a synthetic version used by many manufacturing companies. We only use the natural version of SLS.”

A natural version of SLS? Not synthetic? Hmm. Then our question is, if the SLS they use is NOT synthetic and is made from palm, coconut or corn oil, then why label it “Sodium Laureth Sulfate?”.

The fact is, lauryl alcohol is not a surfactant. To make it function as a surfactant, we have to build on a hydrophilic, or water-soluble, structure. In an ethoxylated alcohol it is done through a chemical reaction with a highly toxic and carcinogenic compound called ethylene oxide, distilled from crude oil. During this process, called ethoxylation, carbon atoms from ethylene oxide are progressively added to one end of the coconut-based structure until a hydrophilic chain of the desired length is reached. At this point the surfactant can be thought of as part vegetable, part petroleum…a hybrid. The ratio varies, but often near 50/50.

Basically they are taking coconut oil and manufacture a lauryl alcohol from it. They take a natural oil such as coconut, then they derive the alcohols from this oil, and then process it with petrochemicals to come up with these chemicals (SLS or SLES). What you have at this point is no longer coconut oil.

It’s your choice.
Don’t get us wrong, these ‘greener‘ companies are far better than their ‘grayer’ opponents and while we’re not discrediting ALL of the products these companies sell, the truth is that many people are quite sensitive to these ingredients and adding on to the risk factor by using these particular products is unnecessary just as it is unnecessary to release these toxins into the environment. Just like SmartKlean, there are hundreds of small businesses out there that provide worry-free, alternative products and home-made recipes to clean without having to use any of these harmful chemicals simply because we don’t find things like ‘lathering’ important in getting the job done.

With that said, we’d like to mention there are so many great books out there that will show you how to tread safely and with the least amount of impact in all of your cleaning adventures. Here are a couple of our favorites:

The Healthy Home: Simple Truths to Protect Your Family from Hidden Household Dangers” – by  Myron and  DaveWentz.

“Clean House Clean Planet” – by Karen Logan

Happy and safe cleanings!

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Entry filed under: Health Hazards, Natural Cleaning, Sustainability & Lifestyle. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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8 Comments Add your own

  • […] Popular “eco-friendly” laundry detergents such as Seventh Generation and Ecover contain SLS and SLES – chemicals known to be toxic to humans and aquatic life. These companies list these toxic […]

    Reply
  • [...] that the SLS they use in their products is derived from natural oils such as coconut or palm oils. Here’s a great explanation of why the source of the SLS doesn’t really matter, because the end result is exactly the [...]

    Reply
  • 3. blair  |  July 27, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    What do you use for laundry detergent?

    Reply
    • 4. Jessica  |  February 9, 2013 at 5:29 pm

      I make my own laundry soap. You can google it, there are lots of options for making your own.

      Reply
  • 5. Rachel  |  May 24, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Thank you for this info. I’ve been working to rid our house of these and many other chemicals. I just purchased a bottle of Seventh Generation Dish Soap and was shocked to see SLS as the second ingredient. Bummer. Do you have a recommendation for a dish soap that truly is natural?

    Reply
    • 6. smartklean  |  May 24, 2012 at 5:33 pm

      Hi Rachel!
      We were bummed just as you were, so now we make most our cleaning supplies. Here’s an article we posted on how to make your own natural dish soap. And it works just as good as store bought ones! Happy and safe kleanings! :)

      http://smartklean.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/the-best-diy-dish-soap/

      Reply
      • 7. Rachel  |  May 25, 2012 at 12:38 am

        Thank you for the link! I just picked up some Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap today. Can’t wait to try the dish soap recipe.

  • 8. Amy Mabry Holmes  |  October 26, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    I have been sharing this information for years. I’m sticking to my Thieves Household Cleaner

    Reply

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