The Role of Surfactants in Skincare

We are addicted to foam and lather.

Somehow the ritual of lather, rinse and repeat, is what we can’t live without.

But what gives us all that lovely foam?

These ingredients are known as Surfactants, their role is to break down oils and fats on our skin.


Surfactants can be broken down into three types:

  • Lipophilic:  Oil Loving
  • Hydrophilic: Water loving
  • Hydrophobic: Water hating, they repel water

The most common Surfactants that you find in your personal care products, are sulfated detergents

  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Ammonium laureth sulfate
  • Disodium lauryl sulfosuccinate
  • Cocamphocarboxyglycinate
  • Cocoamidopropyl betaine
  • Alpha-Olefin sulfonate

All of these surfactants are widely used in your shampoos, bubble baths, shower gels and cleansing lotions.

Some of which I choose to avoid in my formulas and here’s why.


Anionic Surfactant

These are very strong and are by far the most common type of surfactant or cleaning chemical.

They are used in just about everything that you come into contact with, and are specifically designed to clean grease and dirt from any surface, including our skin and hair.

Cationic Surfactant

These are commonly used in fabric conditioners and hair products.

Amphoteric Surfactant

These ingredients are really adaptable to both alkaline and acid, they help to adjust the pH of the water used in solution.

Because they are so neutral, they are really mild and gentle on the skin.

These are the surfactants of choice for me, because they are gentle enough to use even on babies skin.

Nonionic Surfactant

These surfactants are often used in heavy thick creams, such as hand or body creams.

Fatty acid alcohols such as cetearyl alcohol or stearyl alcohol, are the simplest non-ionic surfactants.

These are useful where lots of lather is not really necessary, such as for use in dishwashers and front loading washing machines.

Follow the link, to learn more about the role surfactants have in bath and body formulas.

If all this talk of complicated ingredients is overwhelming, then you may enjoy the less technical articles the best body wash ingredients.

2 thoughts on “The Role of Surfactants in Skincare

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.