Ingredients to avoid, L-Z

This will be a work in progress for quite some time. I am hoping to work on an ingredient every week or so, until I feel I’ve covered them all. I hope you find this helpful as you learn to be an ingredient detective as you choose which products to bring into your home.

What I’ve learned in my decade+ of reading labels & trying to decipher them, and this applies to most topics: you can find sources to support both sides of the debate. Often, there are not just 2 sides, it’s not black & white, there are grey areas. So what it boils down to for me is: is there more than a shred of doubt about the safety of x ingredient? Are there acceptable alternatives to x ingredient? Are there products that work well, that do not contain x ingredient? If so, then I’ll go with the alternative. But still, I know many of you have products you love that may contain so-so ingredients. I wanted to put this together, with some of the most legit resources available, as well as my opinion, to help you decide whether you feel the risks outweigh the benefits.

A main point for me is usage & concentration. It is said that the average woman in the U.S uses something like 30ish products/day. Think of it like this.. Take a shower, use shampoo & conditioner, body wash, shave gel. Get out, put on lotion, body spray, hair gel, 10 types of make-up, the list goes on. SO, if each of those products contains something even minimally concerning, I truly feel it has a cumulative effect. Myself, I am a minimalist. I wash my hair every few days, sometimes use conditioner (to tame static), do not wear make-up, occasionally paint my nails. So if someone like me were to have 1 product they love that contains a so-so ingredient, I feel a bit differently about its usage. I hope that make sense. Daily usage + concentration= cause for concern, in my opinion. Also, I make note of ingredients that are cause for concern on our environment. Even if perfectly benign to the human body, if there is concern for aquatic toxicity, and it’s a popular brand that millions of people are using, well, then…. NO!

Also, I know EWG is not the end all & be all on any ingredient/product. But it is one of the most well-known databases that exist on this topic, so I do reference it. I always urge that you look beyond the score of a product and look at the actual ingredients. Some ingredients are given a good score, but have next to no data to back that up. I ALWAYS Google: concerns with X ingredient, and read a variety of resources, in addition to EWG.

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METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE AND METHYLCHLOROISOTHIAZOLINONE:

Synonyms listed by EWG: 2-METHYL- 3(2H)-ISOTHIAZOLONE, 2-METHYL-2H-ISOTHIAZOL-3-ONE, 2-METHYL-3(2H)-ISOTHIAZOLONE, 2-METHYL-4-ISOTHIAZOLIN-3-ONE, 3(2H)-ISOTHIAZOLONE, 2-METHYL-, 3(2H)ISOTHIAZOLONE, 2METHYL, METHYLCHLOROISOTHIAZOLINONE225METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE SOLUTION, and METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE/ 3(2H)ISOTHIAZOLONE, 5CHLORO2METHYL, 4-ISOTHIAZOLIN-3-ONE, 5-CHLORO-2-METHYL-, 5-CHLORO-2-METHYL- 4-ISOTHIAZOLIN-3-ONE, 5-CHLORO-2-METHYL-2H-ISOTHIAZOL-3-ONE, 5-CHLORO-2-METHYL-4-ISOTHIAZOLIN-3-ONE, METHYLCHLOROISOTHIAZOLINONE, and METHYLCHLOROTHIAZOLINONE/

EWG listed products containing it: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/ingredients/703935-METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE

https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/ingredients/703924-METHYLCHLOROISOTHIAZOLINONE

A preservative found in liquid home & personal care products. In my opinion, this ingredient & any company using it should be avoided at all costs. This is not a so-so ingredient, but a big, fat, NO!

Seventh Generation, a popular brand perceived by many as eco-friendly, uses methylisothiazolinone in just about all their products. Other “eco-friendly” (perceived) brands that have products that contain these harsh preservatives: Mrs. Meyers, Earth Friendly Products, Method. It’s in many mainstream brands like Dawn, Ivory, Glade, there’s a HUGE list (see attachment at bottom).

The argument in favor of these ingredients is often this: it’s in a very low concentration. That may be so, but it’s my opinion that when you get a brand as popular as Seventh Generation, who sells millions of bottles of products annually, those concentrations are greatly multiplied.

EWG Cleaning Database gives it a D, with concerns such as the LC50 value is very toxic to aquatic life. What does LC 50 mean: LC50 (lethal concentration) is the concentration of the compound in feed (or water in case of fish) that is lethal for 50% of exposed population. Additional concerns, as listed by EWG: skin sensitizer, skin irritation, allergic contact dermatitis, inherently biodegradable, listed by the EPA as “unknown if this substance is carcinogenic”.

So a reminder, while I primarily consider concerns to humans regarding ingredients in personal care & cleaning products, environmental concerns should be viewed as equally concerning. I live on the banks of a river. I will never, ever use a product containing this ingredient for that reason alone.

One comment that came in on this topic: This is what wrecked my hands, from using Seventh Generation dish soap 3 times a day. I tried all the creams and balms with no luck. When I finally switched out the dish soap, my hands were fine and have been so ever since. I had no idea!

Summary from Steph of Chemical of the Day:

Why is it a risk?

  • Methylisothiazolinone is a known neurotoxin.  In 2004, the European Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products Intended for Consumers (SCCNFP) suggested that companies limit the maximum concentration to 0.01% (100 ppm).  However, US companies are not required to follow this guideline.
  • It is known to be absorbed through skin.  A study at the Pittsburgh School of Medicine concluded that “Prolonged exposure to low levels of MIT and related compounds may have damaging consequences to the developing nervous system.”
  • Is a developmental toxin.  (Source)
  • Is a known contact allergen.  (Source)

Resources: https://www.ewg.org/g…/substances/3596-METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE

http://www.safecosmetics.org/…/chemi…/methylisothiazolinone/

https://www.ewg.org/…/ingredie…/703935-METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE

http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/todays-chemical/2014/9/29/methylisothiazolinone.html

 

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Phenoxyethanol: a preservative used in cosmetics and personal care products.

EWG listed products containing this ingredient: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/ingredients/704811-PHENOXYETHANOL

Synonyms: 2-HYDROXYETHYL PHENYL ETHER, 2-PHENOXY- ETHANOL, 2-PHENOXYETHANOL, 2-PHENOXYETHYL ALCOHOL, ETHANOL, 2-PHENOXY-, ETHANOL, 2PHENOXY, ETHYLENE GLYCOL MONOPHENYL ETHER, PHENOXYETHANOL, and PHENOXYTOL

Deciding on the safety of this ingredient. For me, I go with this rationale: is there more than a shred of doubt that this ingredient is 100% safe? If yes, and if I can avoid it, then why use it? I like the way this article summed up the safety aspect (from the safety article linked to in resources at the end of this ingredient post):

Deciding whether or not you want to use products with this chemical is a complicated decision. There’s conflicting data about its safety. Most of the concern stems from recorded incidents of bad skin reactions and nervous system interaction in infants. The FDA currently allows the use of this ingredient in cosmetics, and as an indirect food additive. An expert panel from The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) first reviewed all available data on this chemical in 1990. They deemed it safe when applied topically in concentrations of 1 percent or lower. In 2007, the panel reviewed newly available data, then confirmed their former decision that it’s safe for adults to use topically in very low concentrations. The European Commission on Health and Food Safety also gives this chemical a “safe” rating when used in cosmetics at a 1-percent or less concentration. However, this report notes that using several products all containing a low dose could result in overexposure.”

That last part: using several products all containing a low dose could result in overexposure… That’s my feeling on so many of these products. Sure, product A has a tinnnnnny bit of a terrible ingredient. The average woman in the U.S uses something like 30+ different products daily on her body. So if each of those have something iffy, well… And if a brand is super popular, and millions of people daily are using their product, and said products have environmental concerns, again, well, it adds up!

EWG gives it a 2-4. According to EWG, these are the synonyms: 2-HYDROXYETHYL PHENYL ETHER, 2-PHENOXY- ETHANOL, 2-PHENOXYETHANOL, 2-PHENOXYETHYL ALCOHOL, ETHANOL, 2-PHENOXY-, ETHANOL, 2PHENOXY, ETHYLENE GLYCOL MONOPHENYL ETHER, PHENOXYETHANOL, and PHENOXYTOL

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: “Phenoxyethanol is used as a preservative in cosmetic products and also as a stabilizer in perfumes and soaps.[1]  Exposure to phenoxyethanol has been linked to reactions ranging from eczema[2] to severe, life-threatening allergic reactions.[3]Infant oral exposure to phenoxyethanol can acutely affect nervous system function.[4] Skin exposure to phenoxyethanol has been linked to allergic reactions ranging from eczema and hives[7]to anaphylaxis.[8] A 2015 study found that Doppler ultrasound gel mostly caused skin inflammation, but there were rare reports of anaphylaxis, or life-threatening reactions. Mixtures of phenoxyethanol and parabens found in Doppler ultrasound gel may lead to more severe allergic reactions than phenoxyethanol alone.[9]  Eczema is also a common allergic reaction to skin exposure of products containing one percent or more phenoxyethanol. Reactions only occur in the area of application and eczema subsides after avoidance of the product causing irritation.[10]  Acute nervous system effects (infants): In 2008, the FDA warned consumers not to purchase Mommy’s Bliss Nipple Cream. Phenoxyethanol, found in the cream, was depressing the central nervous system and causing vomiting and diarrhea in breast feeding infants.[11] Symptoms of a depressed nervous system include a decrease in infant’s appetite, difficulty waking the infant, limpness of extremities and change in skin color. There is no known health risk to the mother. [12]  VULNERABLE POPULATIONS: Individuals allergic to phenoxyethanol and breast-feeding infants.”

Above info taken from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics database.

Steph from Chemical of the Day’s opinion, which I greatly value: “Made out of carcinogenic and toxic compounds, phenoxyethanol is an ingredient that I would suggest avoiding. Oftentimes it’s found in “natural” products. They’ll use phenoxyethanol as the preservative and then tout that they’re “paraben-free.” In addition it’s commonly used as a fragrance ingredient. Many of the natural companies still use synthetic fragrance. They’ll tout that they’re “phthalate-free” but still contain phenoxyethanol. So, just because something’s “phlalate-free” or “paraben-free” doesn’t mean it’s safe. Any time you see “fragrance” listed, phenoxyethanol could be present, along with any number of harmful synthetic chemicals. Phenoxyethanol is structurally similar to parabens on a chemical level, so its toxicity to the reproductive system is not surprising.  Also note: some companies may claim that their phenoxyethanol is extracted from natural sources.  So, while this is better because it lessens the risk for ethylene oxide contamination, it is still the same chemical structurally, and would pose the same risks. ”

As always, you can find articles in support of using it. There are numerous “green” companies that use it, Honest Company is one, this is what they say: We use phenoxyethanol in a very low concentration as a preservative in 5 of our products (Stain RemoverMulti-Surface SprayDish SoapHand Soap & Laundry Detergent) because the most accessible alternatives for these types of formulas include parabens and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. Both are classes of chemicals with demonstrable evidence of potential health risks, whereas phenoxyethanol is very safe at low levels. It’s been tested on the skin and eyes and it is non-irritating and non-sensitizing at levels of 2.2% or lower while being effective at only 1% concentrations. The European Union and Japan both approve its use up to that 1% level and our formulas fall well below the recommendation at 0.5% or less (depending on the specific product). Even better, phenoxyethanol doesn’t react with other ingredients, air or light. This kind of stability makes it an especially effective preservative.

Resources: http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/phenoxyethanol/

EWG: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/704811-PHENOXYETHANOL

https://www.healthline.com/health/phenoxyethanol#is-phenoxyethanol-safe

https://www.honest.com/blog/wellness/ingredients/what-is-phenoxyethanol/4553.html

http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/todays-chemical/2011/2/28/phenoxyethanol.html

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Potassium Sorbate: a potassium salt of sorbic acid, a naturally occuring antimicrobial compound; used as a preservative

Synonyms: 2,4-HEXADIENOIC ACID, POTASSIUM SALT, 2,4HEXADIENOIC ACID, POTASSIUM SALT, POTASSIUM SALT 2,4-HEXADIENOIC ACID, and POTASSIUM SORBATE

EWG products listed that contain it: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/ingredients/705225-POTASSIUM_SORBATE

EWG lists this as one concern: Human skin toxicant or allergen – strong evidence

From Stephanie at Chemical of the Day:

What are its risks:

  • Potassium sorbate can cause allergic reaction in repeated high amounts or in certain individuals. (Source)
  • Can be a skin or eye irritant when used in high concentrations.
  • Found to be genotoxic to human lymphocytes. In other words, it has been found to alter or destroy the DNA within human white blood cells. (Source)
  • Derived from petroleum (Source) This itself doesn’t make it harmful, unless there are impurities that are not filtered out in processing (polyaromatic hydrocarbons.)

Steph’s Opinion: 

Potassium sorbate has longbeen considered one of the “safer” options when it comes to preservatives, with the biggest risk it was thought to carry being potential for allergy. However, with new information shedding light on its genotoxicity, it is now on my “avoid” list.

From The Honest Company, who uses it as an ingredient:

Why we use it:

Potassium sorbate is a food-grade preservative that has been effectively used for decades and is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) to preserve food products (1). Studies using dilutions similar to what’s used in body care products found it’s practically non-irritating and non-sensitizing (2). In fact, the toxicity of potassium sorbate is pretty close to that of table salt (3,4)!

Some words that stand out to me in the above info from The Honest Company: “practically” non-irritating, “pretty close” to that of table salt…. I believe that any company can diminish the risks associated with an ingredient if they truly want to. My conclusion:  after sodium benzoate this is the next “safest” preservative. It is found in SO many products. As I state over, and over. If you’re using it in 20 products/day, I would be concerned about concentration. If you’re using it in 1 product/day, I would be less concerned. If you’re able to find products that do not contain it, as I have, I would choose those!

Resources:

http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/todays-chemical/2014/8/13/potassium-sorbate.html

https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/705225-potassium_sorbate

https://www.honest.com/blog/wellness/ingredients/what-is-potassium-sorbate/4774.html

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Sodium Benzoate: A preservative, a salt of Benzoic Acid.

EWG listed products containing this ingredient: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/ingredients/705989-SODIUM_BENZOATE

Synonyms: BENZOIC ACID, SODIUM SALT, SODIUM BENZOATE, and SODIUM SALT BENZOIC ACID

EWG lists several hundred products that contain this ingredient, and I’m confident there are many thousand out there on the market. The site lists “limited evidence of sense organ toxicity, classified as not expected to be potentially toxic or harmful, and classified as a low human health priority”. This is all good. So, what ARE the concerns?

From the various sources I’ve read, the main concerns seem to come from its use as a preservative in food. Again, as I state in my opening thoughts, and throughout my commentary, I feel like the use of these ingredients is cumulative. If it’s in a bunch of food you’re eating daily, as well as preserving a variety of your personal care products, I have reason for concern vs if you’re using it in 1 product that you use on a minimal basis…

From the Truth in Aging Article: “Sodium Benzoate is a controversial ingredient because of its potential to interact with Ascorbic Acid (a Vitamin C derivative) and benzene, a known carcinogen. According to the International Programme on Chemical Safety, Sodium Benzoate is not a toxin or carcinogen on its own, and large amounts of this ingredient would have to be consumed, not applied topically, for adverse effects to be seen. The Cosmetics Database still found concerns regarding cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, organ system toxicity, irritation and biochemical cellular changes with Sodium Benzoate as an ingredient in cosmetics and personal care products. One or more animal studies showed brain and nervous system effects at moderate doses, broad systemic effects at low doses, and in vitro tests on mammalian cells showed positive mutation results. One or more animal studies showed biochemical changes at high doses where the human health implications are not yet well understood, and animal studies showed skin irritation at high doses as well. Although Sodium Benzoate itself is considered a relatively safe ingredient, it is often found in formulas combined with any Vitamin C ingredient, benzene can be created, and it is known that heat, light and shelf life can also affect the rate at which benzene is formed”

A summary, regarding the formation of benzene (from the Derm Review, full link below in resources): “One potential problem with sodium benzoate is if this ingredient is formulated with vitamin C. When sodium benzoate is combined with vitamin C, a chemical reaction occurs that forms benzene. Benzene has been identified as a carcinogen. According to a publication in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, benzene-induced cancer in humans was first reported in the late 1920s.

The reaction between sodium benzoate and vitamin C was first discovered in the early 1990s. The major concern about this reaction was mostly focused on the presence of these two ingredients in soft drinks. In fact, 2.5% of 200 soft drinks with vitamin C and sodium benzoate were found to have levels of benzene above allowable levels, according to the FDA.

So is the presence of sodium benzoate and vitamin C in a skin care product a major concern? The answer is unclear. This is because there are ways of formulating products that can prevent this reaction from occuring. For instance, according to FutureDerm, benzene does not form at all if you use beauty products with a very high concentration of vitamin C and a low concentration of sodium benzoate. This is because higher amounts of vitamin C cause it to act as a free radical scavenger instead of reacting with sodium benzoate. In addition, products formulated with a pH of 3 or above are safer than those with a pH of 2 or less. And above a pH of 7, no benzene forms at all. Lastly, protecting products from light or heat exposure can limit the chances of benzene formation. Manufacturers that follow safe practices can effectively prevent benzene in their products.”

*Conclusion: all of this being said, I feel like this is one of the lesser preservatives of concern. While I’m able to avoid it, if I had a product I loved that contained it, I’d feel better about it than any other preservative out there.

Resources:

EWG: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/705989-SODIUM_BENZOATE

https://www.truthinaging.com/ingredients/sodium-benzoate

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sodium-benzoate#dangers

https://thedermreview.com/sodium-benzoate/

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Sodium Laureth Sulfate:  Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) is a surfactant & cleansing agent as well as an emulsifying agent. According to EWG: It is an ingredient derived from ethoxylated lauryl alcohol and used as a surfactant; may be contaminated with potentially toxic manufacturing impurities such as 1,4-dioxane. Concerns listed: strong evident of it being a human irritant. Classified as expected to be toxic or harmful, classified as a medium human health priority. The EWG Cleaning Database gives it a C, with ‘some’ concern for high chronic toxicity to aquatic life.

From the Dirty Dozen article linked to below: Depending on manufacturing processes, sodium laureth sulfate may be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies ethylene oxide as a known human carcinogen and 1,4-dioxane as a possible human carcinogen. Ethylene oxide can also harm the nervous system and the California Environmental Protection Agency has classified it as a possible developmental toxicant based on evidence that it may interfere with human development. 1,4-dioxane is also persistent. In other words, it doesn’t easily degrade and can remain in the environment long after it is rinsed down the shower drain. 1,4-dioxane can be removed from cosmetics during the manufacturing process by vacuum stripping, but there is no easy way for consumers to know whether products containing sodium laureth sulfate have undergone this process.
Difference between Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate: If you suffer from comedones (more commonly known as whiteheads or blackheads), SLS has also been identified as a key player in increasing the number of these found on the face and body.
Additionally, SLS in shampoo and other hair products can often ‘sit’ on hair follicles even after washing, resulting in weakening of the hair follicles over extended periods of time.
So, sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Funnily enough, SLS is deemed as being ‘safe to use’ by many regulatory bodies such as The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA) and The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel (CIR). In recent years, it has picked up a considerable amount of attention across the internet with rumours of it being linked to cancer, however, there has been no evidence that SLS is linked to this in any way. (full article linked to below)
EWG lists these synonyms, this blows my mind, how are we supposed to stay on top of all of THIS: ALPHA-SULFO-OMEGA-(DODECYLOXY)POLY(OXY-1,2-ETHANEDIYL), SODIUM SALT, DODECYL SODIUM SULFATE, PEG-(1-4) LAURYL ETHER SULFATE, SODIUM SALT, POLY(OXY-1,2-ETHANEDIYL), .ALPHA.-SULFO-.OMEGA.-(DODECYLOXY)-, SODIUM SALT, POLY(OXY-1,2-ETHANEDIYL),A -SULFO-W (DODECYLOXY)-, SODIUM SALT, POLY(OXY1,2ETHANEDIYL), αSULFOω(DODECYLOXY), SODIUM SALT, POLYETHYLENE GLYCOL (1-4) LAURYL ETHER SULFATE, SODIUM SALT, POLYOXYETHYLENE (1-4) LAURYL ETHER SULFATE , SODIUM SALT, SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE, SODIUM PEG LAURYL ETHER SULFATE, SODIUM POLYOXYETHYLENE LAURYL ETHER SULFATE, SODIUM POLYOXYETHYLENE LAURYL SULFATE, SODIUM SALT PEG-(1-4) LAURYL ETHER SULFATE, SODIUM SALT POLY(OXY-1,2-ETHANEDIYL),A -SULFO-W (DODECYLOXY)-, SODIUM SALT POLYETHYLENE GLYCOL (1-4) LAURYL ETHER SULFATE, and SODIUM SALT POLYOXYETHYLENE (1-4) LAURYL ETHER SULFATE
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Sodium Lauryl Sulfate:

EWG listed products containing this ingredient: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/ingredients/706110-SODIUM_LAURYL_SULFATE

Synonyms: MONODODECYL ESTER SODIUM SALT SULFURIC ACID, SODIUM DODECYL SULFATE, SODIUM DODECYL SULPHATE, SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE, SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE, SODIUM SALT SULFURIC ACID, MONODODECYL ESTER, SULFURIC ACID MONODODECYL ESTER SODIUM SALT, and SULFURIC ACID, MONODODECYL ESTER, SODIUM SALT

I put this one on my so-so list, not the worst out there, but I choose to avoid it. EWG cleaning database gives it a C, listing many low level concerns such as eye & skin irritation, low toxicity to male reproduction. There is “some concern” for chronic aquatic toxicity, moderate aquatic toxicity to fish, dermal hyperplasia in mice, The moderate concern listed is: acute dermal LD50 of 200 mg/kg body weight in rabbits, as well as acute oral LD50 of 290 mg/kg body weight.

EWG skin deep database says: Classified as expected to be toxic or harmful, medium human health priority. Suspected to be an environmental toxin. But determined safe for use in cosmetics, subject to concentration or use limitations. They rate it a 1-2 (on a scale of 10 being the worst).

The article I’ll post at the end of this comment debunks the notion that it is a dangerous ingredient. It is important to remember that you can find info on both sides of the safety debate. As I state in comments on other ingredients, I also take environmental concerns into account. This ingredient is used in a LOT of products, from shampoos, to toothpaste, to cleaning products. When you get millions of people using an ingredient on a daily basis, and it ends up in your local waterway, I have serious concerns about those effects. Therefore, I choose to not use products containing this ingredient.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Purpose: denaturant, surfactant – cleansing agent, cleansing, emulsifying, foaming, and surfactant

SLS can be derived from natural sources like coconut and palm kernel oil and can also be manufactured in a laboratory setting (synthetic).

Resources:
https://www.ewg.org/guides/substances/5605-SODIUMLAURYLSULFATE
https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/706110-SODIUM_LAURYL_SULFATE
https://www.chemicalsafetyfacts.org/sodium-lauryl-sulfate/

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