Help! Why does my skin feel itchy & tight?

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Over the many years our nurse consultant, Sue Ibrahim, has worked in dermatology one of the most common complaints she hears is “I have very sensitive skin”. When she asks which products they use to wash their face, body and hair with she tends to find there is a common ingredient that features in all of these products, one that is now widely accepted as common cause of skin irritation and dermatitis. This ingredient is called sodium laureth sulphate, commonly referred to as SLS or SLES.

In this month’s blog from Elan Medical Skin Clinic in central London and Rayleigh, Essex, Sue answers some of our clients’ questions:

What is SLS?

Sodium laureth sulphate or sodium laurel ether sulphate is a cheap detergent and surfactant that is widely used in a variety of skin care products. It is found in over 90% of shampoos, skin cleansers, shower gels, bubble baths and shaving creams. It is even found in baby skin care products and toothpastes.

Why do companies use SLS in their products?

Sodium laureth sulphate is widely used in cosmetic skin care products because it acts as an emulsifier, helping the other ingredients in the product to blend together. SLS also produces a fine lather that makes the product more appealing to the public. It is also very cheap.

How do I know if I have intolerance to SLS?

Does your skin feel tight after you wash it? Does your scalp feel itchy within days of washing it? Do you suffer from dry skin, particularly on your hands? Then it could well be that you have built up an intolerance to SLS.

If SLS is a well-known skin irritant, why do companies still use it in their products?

Well, as I said earlier, it is cheap. But there could also be a more sinister reason why these companies like your skin to feel tight and slightly irritated after you wash it, because they also want you to purchase other products such as moisturisers, hair conditioners and hand creams to counteract your dry, uncomfortable skin after you wash it. Can you imagine what would happen to these companies if the products you used to wash with left your skin feeling soft, moisturized and comfortable? Their sales in hair conditioners, face, body and hand creams would plummet.

But why does the face wash my skin care specialist or dermatologist has just recommended also contain SLS?

It could just be ignorance. Up until quite recently, GPs and even some dermatologists were recommending that people who suffer with acne, rosacea and even eczema use a product called Cetaphil, made by a large pharmaceutical company called Galderma. However, at Elan Medical Skin Clinic, we no longer recommend products containing SLS to clients with any kind of reduced skin barrier function and increasingly we are recommending SLS free products to all of our clients.

Where can I buy SLS free products?

Well, it is not easy. That is why our medical director, Sue Ibrahim, initially created Elan Medical DermaActives  because she found it so hard to find a skin care range that does not have SLS as one of its main ingredients (it is usually the second or third main ingredient after water). Both our DermaActive Cleanser, our DermaCalm Cleanser and our DermaActive Shampoo & Body Wash  (this is a combined product) do not contain SLS or any other detergents, preservatives or artificial fragrances or colorants.

But won’t I miss the foaming action of my shampoo and body wash?

No you won’t, because our DermaActive shampoo and body wash will still lather! And guess what? You hair will feel softer, you scalp less irritated and your skin will be less tight and dry. The only downside is that the ingredients we use are a little bit more expensive to source and so the products cost a bit more like department store prices rather than supermarket prices.antiageing

Where can I buy Elan Medical DermaActives?

Elan Medical DermaActives are stocked by quite a few skin clinics and skin specialists across the UK. They can also be purchased from our dedicated online store.