WHAT ARE SURFACTANTS? (Original post from April 4, 2010)
First, a definition (from Wikipedia): Surfactants are wetting agents that lower the surface tension of a liquid, allowing easier spreading, and lower the interfacial tension between two liquids. (In other words, a surfactant makes it possible to mix oil and water or for lathery things to remove oil or dirt from your skin or clothes.)
Surfactants have a hydrophilic (or water-loving) head and a lipophilic (or fat-loving) tail. The hydrophilic head clings onto watery stuff - say the water phase of our lotion - and the lipophilic tail creates a ball around the oily stuff - the oil phase of our lotion
Surfactants come in four flavours (as it were...)
Click here for Fun with Chemistry: Anionic, cationic, and non-ionic!
- Anionic - negatively charged
- Cationic - positively charged
- Non-ionic - neturally charged
- Amphoteric - both positive and neutral
Polawax and emulsifying wax are non-ionic surfactants. When we combine something like glycol distearate and ceteareth-20 (low and high HLB emulsifiers), we get a non-ionic surfactant.
Incroquat BTMS-50, Incroquat BTMS-25, Incroquat CR, cetrimonium bromide, and cetrimonium chloride are cationic or positively charged surfactants.
Our lathery surfactants like SLeS, SLSA, SCI, SMO or SMC taurate, or C14-16 olefin sulfonate are anionic surfactants. Click here for more information on anionic surfactants (the lathery, foamy, bubbly ones!)
Cocamidopropyl betaine or disodium cocoamphodiacetate are considered to be amphoteric surfactants.
All right! So know that you know how to identify surfactants, let's take a look at this question!
Anonymous asked in this post: Thanks for the info. I am learning a lot. Could you tell me whether or not this product has any surfactants and the best way to recognize them in a product?
I really encourage you to learn the INCI names of our ingredients! It makes life so much easier when you're looking at ingredient lists. I really can't stress this enough. Most of the questions I've been posed in the last week or so have been answered by knowing the INCI names of the ingredients we can buy!
What's an INCI name and why should I care?
Reading INCI names
The other thing that keeps coming up is people trying to avoid surfactants. I know I'm being pedantic here, but you can't avoid surfactants as they're everywhere. What I think those people mean is that they are trying to avoid anionic or bubbling, lathering, foaming surfactants. For that information, please visit the surfactants section of the blog (the chart is very useful!) because I won't be answering any questions on how to identify those after this post as I simply don't have the time and you have the resources available to answer it yourself! I'm teaching you to fish!
If this is a conditioner, consider the type of surfactants you should find in this kind of product. A conditioner will contain positively charged or cationic ingredients. What are the most common positively charged or cationic ingredients? Incroquat BTMS-50 and Incroquat CR. Take a look to your right - there's a list of ingredients there. Please click on them to see what the INCI name is for each product. Go ahead...I can wait...
Welcome back! Look at this list and look for the cationic surfactant! You should see it immediately!
The product is Natty Moist Conditioner and the ingredients are:
Water (Aqua) infused with Equisetum Maximum Lam (Horsetail), Mentha Piperita (Peppermint), Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary), Laurus Nobilis (Bay Leaf), Ocimum Basilicum (Basil), Arctium Lappa (Burdock Root), Althaea Officinalis (Marshmallow Root), Origanum Vulgare (Oregano), Cymbopogon Flexuosus (Lemongrass), Thymus Vulgaris (Thyme), Salvia Officinalis (Sage) and Urtica Dioica (Nettle); Behentrimonium Methosulfate (and) Cetearyl Alcohol, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Soy Lecithin, Diazolidinyl Urea (and) Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate
If you read the ingredient posts, then you can see that the cationic surfactant in the mix is behentrimonium methosulfate. If you read the post on INCI names, you'll know that this company is using Incroquat BTMS-25 - INCI: BTMS-25 is behentrimonium methosulfate (and) cetearyl alcohol.
hair care section for some starter recipes you could try!
The writer goes on to ask about another product: Also, could you tell me whether this USDA Certified product contains any sulphates -whether strong or mild- because this is what I use to cleanse my hair.Terressentials Mud Wash - Ingredients: Organic aloe vera juice°, clay minerals, organic extracts° of organic linden flower°, organic nettle°, organic chamomile°, organic shavegrass° and organic vanilla°, essential oils of organic sweet orange°, organic patchouli°, organic true lavender°, organic petitgrain°, organic atlas cedar°, organic cinnamon leaf° and organic pine needle°.
I'm not really sure why you'd avoid sulphates as they come in all kinds of different forms and only SLS is considered to be a non-mild surfactant. How do you identify a sulphate? Click here for the post on this topic. And visit the surfactants section of the blog for more information on the negatively charged or anionic surfactants that make up the lathery, bubbly, and foamy category of surfactants!
Surfactants section of the blog
Hair care section of the blog
Ingredients section of the blog (look to your right!)