Fact-check [Was: LOOK!]

Darren darren at eepo.com.au
Tue Oct 20 22:37:10 EDT 1998

On Sat, 29 Aug 1998, Terry Haven sent:

> > >> Subject: FW: CHECK THE INGREDIENTS ...
> > >>
> > >> Check the ingredients listed on your shampoo bottle, and see if they
> > >> have this substance by the name of Sodium Laureate Sulfate, or simply
> > >> SLY. This substance is found in most shampoos, and the manufactures
> > >> use it because it produces a lot of foam and it is cheap. BUT the
> > >> fact  is that SLY is used to scrub garage floors, and it is very
> > >> strong.  It is also proven that it can cause cancer in the long
> > >> run, and this is no joke.
> > >> So I hope that you will take this seriously and pass this on to all
> > >> the people you know, and hopefully, we can stop "giving" ourselves
> > >> the  cancer virus This is serious, after you have read this, pass it
> > >> on to as many people as possible, this is not a chain letter, but
> > >> it concerns our health.

Another in a long string of Internet pearls to frighten people half out of
their wits. From http://urbanlegends.miningco.com/library/weekly/aa090998.htm

Questions and answers: 

 Q: Is sodium laureth sulfate commonly found in shampoos and toothpastes? 
 A: Shampoos, yes; toothpastes, no. 

 Q: Is sodium laureth sulfate known to cause cancer? 
 A: No. The chemical does not appear on any official list of known or
    suspected carcinogens. 

 Q: Is sodium laureth sulfate properly abbreviated as "SLS?" 
 A: No. The correct abbreviation is "SLES." The chain letter confuses this
    compound with another: sodium lauryl sulfate, which is abbreviated 
    "SLS."  The two substances are related, but not the same. 

 Q: Is sodium laureth sulfate used to scrub garage floors? 
 A: No. 

 Q: What about the other one - sodium lauryl sulfate - is it used to scrub
    garage floors? 
 A: No doubt. SLS is a powerful surfactant (wetting agent) and detergent.
    It has industrial uses, but can also be commonly found in shampoos,
    toothpastes, shaving creams, etc. 

 Q: Ah. Well, then, is SLS a known carcinogen? 
 A: No. But it's not as harmless as SLES. Sodium lauryl sulfate is a skin
    and eye irritant and can cause dermatitis with prolonged contact.
    Results of some tests on animal tissues indicate that it can cause
    abnormal cell mutations. 

 Q: Is it true that my chances of getting cancer are "1 out of 3" in the
 A: The short answer is no, but that shouldn't necessarily set your mind
    at ease.  According to the most recent U.S. study, cancer strikes
    approximately 1 in 250 people. Of course, that's the incidence rate,
    which is not the same as someone's odds of getting cancer. 

 The problem with stating probabilities in this case is that there's no
 way to generalize accurately. The reasons are: 1) cancer risks for
 individuals vary according to a host of factors, including gender, race,
 habits, and family history; and 2) the likelihood of any individual
 contracting cancer is also a function of their age. For example, if
 you're 20 years old, the odds are much greater that you'll contract
 cancer in your lifetime than they are if you're 50, simply because
 there's a longer time span involved. 

 That said, the longer answer is: for an "average person" (that is,
 someone of no particular age or gender who lives nowhere in particular
 and inherited no genes from his or her parents), the chances of getting
 cancer over a lifetime work out to somewhere between 1 in 3 and 1 in 2,
 at present. 

 Q: Were the chances of getting cancer in the 1980s "1 out of 8,000?" 
 A: No, that's absurd. Cancer rates were approximately the same a decade
    ago as they are now; if anything, they were a bit higher. 

 Q: Is the chain letter a hoax? 
 A: Yes. 

 Q: Where did the misinformation come from? 
 A: Well, if you're asking who started the chain letter, there's no way of
    knowing.  But as to the misinformation itself, it turns out that there
    are many, many Web pages containing very similar statements. It's a
    good bet that it all came from the same source. 

 Interestingly, all these Websites are maintained by "independent
 distributors" for various multi-level marketing companies hawking
 "natural personal care products," etc. As a matter of fact, the majority
 of URLs returned in a standard Web search on the keywords "sodium laureth
 sulfate" all point to versions of the same propaganda. 

 In the chain letter, for example, "1 out of 8,000" is alleged to have
 been the cancer rate in the 1980s; the Web pages say it was the cancer
 rate in 1901. That sounds more reasonable, but it's no cause to assume
 the Websites are more accurate. On some of them, the figure cited for
 1901 is not "1 out of 8,000," but "1 out of 80." 

 Misinformation has a way of multiplying. 

 Many of the pages I looked at were littered with inaccuracies, deceptive
 statements, and outright lies. One even alleges that "In 1993 it was
 documented that sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate
 (SLES) were the leading cause of blindness in children" - as if claiming
 they're carcinogens weren't enough! Another page features a link to a
 site vending quack cancer cures. In some cases, the authors refer to
 legitimate medical studies, but in a misleading way, making it appear as
 if the studies proved more than they really did. 

 Small wonder that by the time this information made its way into chain
 letter form, virtually every statement in it was outrageously false. 

 What's worse, as the chain letter circulates, the information degrades
 even further. One of the more recent variants gives the abbreviation of
 sodium laureth sulfate as "SLY," which is doubly wrong. 

 Q: Do you think the chain letter may have been deliberately started to
    frighten people into using other products? 
 A: I suspect it, but there's no way to know for sure, and I can't prove
    it. For all we know, someone came across this stuff by accident,
    believed it to be true, and innocently wanted to share it with

darren at eepo.com.au  (: despite random header insistence otherwise :)

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