Salicylic Acid Some studies have shown that salicylic acid is less irritating than skin care products containing Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (to which it’s closely related), while providing similar improvement in skin texture and colour. It’s also been studied for its effect on skin that has aged prematurely due to exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun. It exfoliates skin, and so may leave it temporarily more vulnerable to sun damage.

Sclerotium gum A natural gum that can be Used as a thickener, stabiliser and to improve spreadability and texture of a product.

Silica Silica naturally occurs in 12% of all rocks (sand, for instance, is a silica). The porous granules produced when silica is dried and heated in a vacuum are used for their absorbency, and also to colour products. Silica is the most natural of this type of ingredient you’ll find in beauty products; silicone derivatives – Dimethicone, etc. – have been modified in a more complicated way.

Sodium ascorbate Vitamin C.

Sodium beeswax Fatty acids derived from beeswax.

Sodium Benzoate Also known as Benzoic acid; an antiseptic and preservative also used in margarine, bottled soft drinks etc., which is particularly useful for preventing the development of yeasts. It is synthetically derived and, like most preservatives, can be irritating. However, after much consideration, this is an ingredient permitted in organic cosmetics by the Soil Association, based on the principle that many beauty products do require preservation, for safety – and this is one of a small ‘portfolio’ available to organic formulators.

Sodium cetearyl sulfate A salt derived from a blend of Cetyl alcohol and Stearyl alcohol, with the addition of Sulfuric acid. It’s in the same family as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, and has been found to be irritating – but not as irritating as SLS. Used mostly in products for its cleansing action.

Sodium citrate Used to balance the pH in the formulation. It’s the sodium salt of Citric acid.

Sodium chloride Common table salt.

Sodium cocoamphoacetate A coconut-derived cleanser used in shampoos and hair conditioners.

Sodium coceth sulfate A semi-synthetic ingredient derived from the fatty acids in coconut oil, which are then modified using ethylene oxide. Used for its cleansing action in shampoos, baby washes etc. Can be irritating.

Sodium cocoate An ingredient derived from coconut oil, used as a cleansing agent – mostly in soaps and facial cleansers.

Sodium coco sulfate A coconut-based ingredient often used as an alternative for Sodium lauryl sulfate, because it is far less drying to skin, and less irritating.

Sodium cocoyl glutamate A mixture of soap-like substances, derived from fatty acids which are obtained from coconut oil, together with glutamic acid (which is an amino acid – one of the building blocks of protein).

Sodium cocoyl isethionate A mild, foaming surfactant derived from coconut which leaves skin with a silky feel. Considered safe for use in rinse-off products.

Sodium dehydroacetate A synthetic preservative and fungicide which is sometimes used in tandem with parabens, for effectiveness; European regulations say it should not be used in products around the mouth or lips (i.e. lipsticks).

Sodium ethylparaben One of the ‘contentious’ paraben family of preservatives, widely used for its anti-fungal action. Few ingredients trigger such violent debate as parabens. We have always taken a precautionary approach, although it appears that several of the studies that link parabens with breast cancer, for instance, were flawed (or at least flimsy). Some parabens can however be irritating to the skin.The bottom line is that we would welcome much more research into this thorny subject. There are many alternatives to parabens appearing in formulations as manufacturers find creative ways to avoid using them – partly a response to the fact that so many brands now want to label their products ‘paraben-free’.

Sodium gluconate Fermenting glucose produces this potent white/yellow powder, which is used as a stabiliser. It’s approved as a food additive (E576) – but is also used in some metal cleaners and paint strippers, obviously in much, much higher quantities!

Sodium hyaluronate Derived from hyaluronic acid, a valuable ingredient in moisturisers and skin creams, capable of binding 1,800 times its own weight in water.

Sodium hydroxide Caustic soda, used in all soaps and as an alkali and emulsifier in cleanser, shampoos, shaving soaps etc.; it readily absorbs water. It’s also used in the food industry (for instance as a glaze on pretzels!) In high concentrations it can cause skin irritation but in cosmetics is present generally in teensy traces.

Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate A synthetic preservative.

Sodium isostearoyl lactylate A sodium salt with Stearic acid and Lactic acid as its source; may be irritating in high doses, but is only found in very small quantities in cosmetics.

Sodium lactate Naturally occurring on skin, this is used as a substitute for glycerine, because it’s moisturising and moisture-binding; it also stops products from becoming too acid.

Sodium laureth sulfate Often used as an alternative to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate – which is a highly-irritating cleansing ingredient – but this has question marks of its own. (It can also be irritating, although is considered to be less so.) This synthetic derivative of coconut oil is produced by a process called ‘ethoxylation’, and during that process can be contaminated to produce 1,4-dioxane – a carcinogen – although that’s absolutely not to say it will be, provided effective controls are in place.

Sodium lauroyl oat aminoacids An ingredient derived from oat protein, generally used for its cleansing action.

Sodium lauroyl sarcosinate A mild, biodegradeable surfactant, widely used in natural cosmetics as an alternative to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate – although again, not entirely without problems as it potentially enhances penetration of other ingredients. (Detergents tend to present challenges because essentially, you’re interfering with the skin’s natural barrier by washing away natural oils. As soon as you start to do that, that’s where problems begin – but if you’re like us, you’re not about to give up washing!) Used primarily in body washes and hair shampoos.

Sodium lauryl glucose carboxylate A surfactant (detergent) used in body washes, shampoos, cleansers, which is generally regarded as much gentler and less irritating than Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), and so is increasingly making an appearance in more natural bodycare and haircare.

Sodium magnesium silicate A binder and bulking ingredient, most often used in make-up products (powders, etc.), created from silica and magnesium.

Sodium mannose phosphate A skin conditioner derived from sugar (though like many other ingredients, it goes through quite a few chemical processes before it becomes a useful ingredient for moisturisers, sunscreens, eye creams etc.)

Sodium metabisulfite A synthetic compound which may be an irritant, used as a preservative and as an antioxidant.

Sodium methyl cocoyl taurate A coconut-derived mild cleansing agent, used in cleansing creams, lotions, shampoos etc.

Sodium methylparaben Another of the ‘contentious’ paraben family of preservatives, widely used for its anti-fungal action. Few ingredients trigger such violent debate as parabens. See Sodium ethylparaben for our views.

Sodium PCA A powerful humectant – or moisture-attracting ingredient which increases softness. It exists naturally in the skin and is considered non-allergenic.

Sodium phosphate Used to help maintain pH balance in a product. Without water, it’s said to be irritating to skin, but has no known toxicity, and is used as a food additive.

Sodium phytate Also known as Phytic Acid, and most widely used in oral care; it occurs naturally in the seeds of cereal grains and is derived from corn, commercially. Can be used for the treatment of hard water. Anyone who has an allergic reaction to corn might have a problem with this.

Sodium propylparaben O ne of the ‘contentious’ paraben family of preservatives, widely used for its anti-fungal action. Few ingredients trigger such violent debate as parabens. See Sodium ethylparaben for our views.

Sodium stearate A white, soapy powder that is considered non-irritating to skin. See Stearic acid (Sodium stearate is 92.82 per cent Stearic acid).

Sodium steroyl lactylate An ingredient derived from lactic acid, also used as a food additive.

Sorbitan isostearate An emulsifier used for creams, lotions, sun products etc. – can be semi-synthetic or synthetic. The Sorbitan family can cause hives or contact dermatitis in some users, but as we always say, just because something can be problematic, doesn’t mean it will be.

Sorbitan olivate Derived from olive oil and Sorbitol; an emulsifier used in a wide range of products. See above for comments about products including Sorbitan.

Sorbitan sesquioleate A synthetic or semi-synthetic compound, again used as an emulsifier – see above for comments about products including Sorbitan.

Sorbitan stearate This can also be synthetic or semi-synthetic, originating from Sorbitol and used to make products look ‘glossy’. See above for comments about products including Sorbitan.

Sorbitol Obtained from the leaves and sometimes the berries of the mountain ash tree, as well as from fruits like grapes, cherries, plums – and seaweed and algae, too. This is a humectant, attracting moisture to the skin and giving it a velvety feel.

Soybean sterols A useful moisturising and emulsifying ingredient derived from soybeans. (You might want to ask the manufacturers of products including this ingredient to ensure that they do not use Genetically Modified (GM) soya.) It is known not to block pores.

Squalene (a.k.a. Squalane). A highly skin-compatible lubricant and moisturiser. (It works so well because skin itself is 25 per cent squalene.) Can be created by the hydrogenation of shark oil or other fish oils, although many players in the beauty industry recently pledged to switch from sharks as a source, as their numbers globally are becoming depleted – and squalene can also be sourced from plants.

Stearalkonium chloride A synthetic anti-static ingredient used to help de-tangle hair and help brushes and combs to move more smoothly through it. Labels should say ‘Avoid contact with the eyes’ (which is anyway generally always the case with shampoos and conditioners).

Stearalkonium hectorite Created by a reaction between Hectorite (a clay-derived mineral) and Stearalkonium chloride (see below).

Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine A surfactant and skin conditioner that is often used in baby products for its apparent gentleness; however, it has been linked with allergic dermatitis and at least one source cites it as a ‘cancer suspect’. We caution against paranoia when reading about ingredients which mention the word ‘carcinogen’ or ‘cancer’: many of the things we encounter in everyday life are potential carcinogens, but the most serious risk is usually for people who handle these substances in large quantities during manufacturing. However, a purer, simpler lifestyle with healthy food, exercise, high-quality rest and a few minutes a day of sun exposure – as we counsel in The Green Beauty Bible- will help boost your overall immunity and overall wellbeing, and promote general good health.

Steareth-2 The Polyethelyne glycol ethers of Stearyl alcohol (well, that’s the science bit) – it’s an emulsifier, which helps to keep products stable. The number after the word Steareth indicates the degree of liquidity from 4 (thin) to 100 (solid). See also PEGs.

Steareth-21 See Steareth-2, and also PEGs.

Stearic acid A white, waxy natural fatty acid used as an emollient agent and to keep ingredients from separating; it occurs naturally in bark, butters and animal fats and oils. (NB If you are vegan, you might want to enquire whether companies which use this ingredient source it from plants, or from animal fats.)

Steardimonium chloride Short for ‘panthenyl hydroxypropyl Steardimonium chloride’ – a synthetic ingredient used in haircare which appears in many ‘more natural’ brands’ formulations.

Stearyl alcohol Stearyl alcohol is used as an emollient (skin softener), emulsifier, and thickener in creams and lotions.

Sucrose cocoate A soothing, anti-irritating emulsifier, derived from plain old sugar.

Sucrose palmitate A semi-synthetic ingredient derived from sugar; some palmitates have been linked (as we have mentioned elsewhere) with contact dermatitis.

Sulphur An antibacterial and antiseptic agent which is a potential irritant and sensitiser, although ironically it also stimulates healing when used on skin rashes!

Superoxide dismutase (a.k.a. SOD) A super-powerful antioxidant enzyme which can inhibit free radical production, and act as a ‘scavenger’, helping to prevent oxidation. SOD converts the superoxide free radical into hydrogen peroxide, which is then broken down into oxygen and water.

Stearoxy dimethicone (Also known as Methyl stearoxy dimethicone). See Dimethicone under ‘D‘ – here.

Synthetic beeswax We have to ask: why would anyone want to use synthetic beeswax when the real thing is readily available? Perhaps to create vegan cosmetics is all we can think. However, this is just what it says on the box: a petrochemically-derived synthetic version of beeswax. End of story.