Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a surfactant that is able to enter cells and disrupt the natural fold of proteins. It or its siter chemical sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) are often used in biochemical research to force proteins into the unfolded state and allow analysis through gel electorphoresis.
SLS is able to strip cells of protective lipids so they are not able to regulate the moisture they need.
SLS is used in some detergents and is safe at low concentrations. It has been shown to be a skin irritant to some people though, even at low concentrations. 1,4-dioxane, used in some personal products, has been found to be a carcinogen.
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