Simply speaking: surfactants
The term surfactant may sound like one that is straight out of a chemistry textbook (which it is), but did you know that we use surfactants almost everyday? Surfactants are common ingredients in soaps, shampoos, detergents, body washes, face washes, and more. What are surfactants? Are they good or bad? Here’s everything you need to know, in simple English!
1. What is a surfactant?
The term surfactant is short for ‘surface active agent’. To put it very simply, a surfactant is a cleansing agent that helps break down and remove the oil, dirt and makeup on your skin, hair, clothes or, for that matter, any surface.
2. How does a surfactant work?
A surfactant works in combination with other liquids and substances. In terms of their chemical composition, surfactants have a water-loving or hydrophilic head and an oil-loving or lipophilic tail. This allows for the surfactant to attach itself to the oil and dirt on the skin and be washed away with water.
3. What are some examples of surfactants?
Surfactants play a major role in the soap and skincare industry. You are sure to find some of the following surfactants on the ingredients list of your cleansers:
- Sodium Cocoate or Palm Kernelate (this is just soap, which is also a surfactant, btw)
- Sodium lauryl sulfate
- Ammonium laureth sulfate
- Disodium lauryl sulfosuccinate
- Cocoamidopropyl betaine
- Alpha-Olefin sulfonate
4. Are surfactants good for your skin?
Depends. We do need surfactants for keeping our skin clean and healthy. However, some surfactants can go overboard with the cleansing & oil removal, and be too harsh, drying or irritating to the skin. Soap and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) are two prime suspects in this department. Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), on the other hand, sounds deceptively similar to SLS, but it is much milder and equally effective when formulated in the right way. It’s fashionable to talk about sulfate-free cleansers but there again, the efficacy of the cleanser has to be calibrated carefully against the relative mildness of the cleanser.
5. Can surfactants be all natural?
Yes, surfactants can be 100% naturally derived. Meaning, they do not exist as such in nature, but can be synthesized 100% from natural substances, such as oils and sugars. Prominent among natural surfactants are olive oil esters and glucosides.
It’s worth noting that many a time, even chemical surfactants as “greenwashed”, by mentioning the starting natural ingredient (e.g., coconut oil) but not the chemical additives in the process of making the surfactant.
6. What are the benefits of using surfactants on your skin?
Surfactants can be great for your skin, but only when you use the good kinds in the right combination. When appropriate amounts of the gentler surfactants are added to cleansing products, they help deep cleanse the skin, and keep it clean and healthy. Not only do they remove excess oil, dirt and makeup, but they also help clear out your pores from deep within and leave your skin feeling soft, smooth and hydrated.
We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If there are any other skincare ingredients that you would like our experts to demystify, feel free to drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org