Ok, you guys, I have to jump in here. I've been reading and re-reading about this one, and I agree with both HB and ALittleMore.
SLS is a known irritant. The MSDS gives info on how the pure, concentrated chemical should be handled. If you get yourself a bucket of pure SLS, you should handle it carefully. In the concentrations found in shampoo, etc., it is not strong enough to cause damage; irritation, yes, but not damage. People who are sensitive to it, like HB, cannot tollerate any of it; for most of us, it is just a little drying. I also have not found any info. online that sounded like well doc. research that said SLS was actually bad for you. Most negative info actually sounded quite hokey.
On the other hand, if you really are looking for "all natural" (whatever that is), you probably do not want to use it... it is synthetic (chemically produced), is an irritant, and cannot be made at home, like soap can be. I have not given up on all detergents, but I now look for plant derived detergents, like you may find in products at the health food store. I wish to avoid SLS as well, but it is not (IMO) the big hairy monster that many web sites/e-mails proclain it to be. There. That is my hours-long-researched-still-just-my-opinion-opinion.
Thank you Dara for your post! I felt I was the only one, with all the SLS talk online and on the forum, that thought the info available online either sounded fake or inapplicable. I think yours is a very practical conclusion.
In my eyes, SLS is a lathering agent, and as the "Rich, creamy lather..." slogan rises in popularity, so does the amount of SLS being put in bath products and such. This is why all-natural (yes, whatever that is... ) soaps and shampoos do not lather as much as leading drugstore brands, because they don't have so much SLS.
I've found many leading soaps to be very drying, and if something says "antibacterial" I can't use it! It makes my skin dry so badly it cracks. But the natural soaps I've used (both mine and our midwife's assistant who made soaps) were not anywhere close to as drying, if they were at all. If I feel at all dry, I put on Body Butter or body oil when I get out of the shower, and personally, I've been very pleased with my hand-crafted soaps.
Also, I think part of it depends on both where you live, and your body's health. If you don't drink enough water, your skin will be the first to show it. A body's lack of hydration is evident in dry skin, and your skin is more likely to be "dried out" by other things, and if you've ever noticed, your lips are more likely to get chapped!
Secondly, I've noticed that now that we live in "the desert," my skin feels much more dry much more of the time, whereas before, when we lived in east Texas, my skin only ever got dry in the winter.
So in essence, I'd say I agree, SLS "is not the big hairy monster."