Ammonium laureth sulfate
Ammonium laureth sulfate (ALES) is the contracted name for ammonium lauryl ether sulfate. It can be found in antiperspirants, shampoos, cleansers, bubble baths, shower gels, and many personal care products. It’s obtained by reacting ethylene oxide with ammonium lauryl sulfate, a process termed ethoxylation.
ALES is a skin conditioner and, like sodium laureth sulfate, it’s an excellent foaming and cleansing agent. As an ionic surfactant, it lowers the surface tension between one surface and a liquid or between two immiscible substances to enable them blend together. Its pH is close to neutral making it ideal for balancing products that have acidic contents.
It’s very important to minimize exposure to products containing ALES and ingredients that have undergone ethoxylation. This is because there’s a chance that they’ll undergo contamination by 1,4-dioxane, an extremely dangerous, emerging, carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). 1,4-dioxane mimics estrogen activity and is easily absorbed by the skin, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. It can lower sperm counts in males. Acute inhalation can cause vertigo, headaches, as well as nose, throat, lung, and eye irritation. Because 1,4-dioxane doesn’t degrade readily, it’s generally considered an environmental hazard. .
Short and long-term exposure to ALES may cause skin, eye, and respiratory tract irritation and sensitization. When rinsed with water, personal care products containing ALES and other sulfates effectively remove dirt, grease, and oils from the skin and hair. At the same time, they also strip the skin and hair of their protective oils, making them dry. It’s therefore advisable to use products containing ALES and ethoxylated surfactants briefly and intermittently. And they should be completely rinsed off.
Note that sodium pareth sulfate, magnesium laureth sulfate, zinc coceth sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, and sodium myreth sulfate are all ethoxylated sulfates normally used as ALES substitute. Like ALES, they’re just as harmful.