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The Role of Surfactants in Skincare

The Role of Surfactants in Skin Care

Can you imagine a world without jumping in the shower, adding water, and instantly cleansing your skin?

This, for the most part, could happen if surfactants didn’t exist.

They are crucial to many of these formulations for shaping the user experience and delivery of the product.

So let’s dive in and look at what gives us all those lovely suds and their role on your skin,.

It all starts on the surface

Chemical surfactants are designed to reduce surface tension – a physical phenomenon between an oil molecule and a water molecule.

The molecules are both ‘hydrophilic’, which means they can dissolve in water, and ‘lipophilic’, which can dissolve in oil.

These properties can effectively produce the ‘foaming’ and ‘lathering’ effect in cleansers and other personal care products.

Surfactant properties

Surfactants can be broken down into three main 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 sulfate detergents:

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

These surfactants are widely used in your shampoos, bubble baths, shower gels, and cleansing lotions – some of which we choose to avoid in our formulas, and here’s why.

Types of surfactants

Anionic Surfactant

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

They are used in almost everything you come into contact with and are specifically designed to clean grease and dirt from any surface, including your 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 adjust the pH of the water used in the solution because they are so neutral that they are mild and gentle on your skin.

These are our surfactants of choice 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 necessary, such as for dishwashers and front-loading washing machines.

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


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