Surfactants – Heroes and villains of a skincare routine Part 2: Guide to the most common surfactants in cosmetic products

In the Part 1 of the surfactant series, we have focused on explaining what surfactants are and how they work. Now it’s a time to take a closer look at most often used surfactants in cosmetic products and their good or bad properties for your skin. The surfactants presented here are categorized into four groups based on their electric charge which as mentioned the first post, has a tremendous impact on their properties.

Presented here guide focuses on most common surfactants on the market, used in cosmetic formulations. I hope this will give you a useful guidance before next shopping trip or help you link skin problems you’ve been experiencing on a regular basis.  Let’s dive in:

Anionic Surfactants

Negatively charged. Common on the market due to low cost and effort of production. They are very reactive with other ingredients.

Name Properties Used in Possible Side Effects
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) known also as Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate (SDS) Cleansing agent, emulsifier, foaming agent; easy to rinse Shampoos, soaps, face cleansers, shower and bath gels, body washes, tooth pastes, bath salts, shave creams and gels, mouth wash, washing liquids Skin, eye and respiratory tract irritation; symptoms such as dandruff (and itchy scalp), eczema, canker sores, dry lips, red eyes, dehydrated skin.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate SLES (SLS with added ethylene oxide) Cleansing agent, emulsifier, foaming agent; easy to rinse Shampoos, soaps, face cleansers, shower and bath gels, body washes, tooth pastes, bath salts, shave creams and gels, mouth wash, washing liquids Skin, eye and respiratory tract irritation; symptoms such as dandruff (and itchy scalp), eczema, canker sores, dry lips, red eyes, dehydrated skin; There is some contamination risk with carcinogens Ethylene Oxide and 1,4-dioxane.
Sodium Coco-Sulfate (SCS) -very similar to SLS and SLES, the only difference lauryl alcohol part of molecule has been replaced with a blend of fatty acids from coconut oil; Other sulfates with similar properties: Sodium Caprylic Sulfate Sodium Capric Sulfate Sodium Oleic Sulfate Sodium Stearyl Sulfate Sodium Myreth Sulfate Sodium Dodecanesulfate Sodium Monododecyl Sulfate Amonium Lauryl Sulfate Amonium Laureth Sulfate Cleansing agent, emulsifier, foaming agent; easy to rinse Shampoos, soaps, face cleansers, shower and bath gels, body washes, tooth pastes, bath salts, shave creams and gels, mouth wash, washing liquids Skin, eye and respiratory tract irritation; symptoms such as dandruff (and itchy scalp), eczema, canker sores, dry lips, red eyes, dehydrated skin; ingredient with similar structure and properties to SLS, SLES).
Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate/Lathanol (SLSA) Cleansing agent, emulsifier, foaming agent; easy to rinse; Comes in a powder form bubble baths, cream and paste shampoos, cleansing creams and bath bombs Considered to milder than SLS or SLES and less irritating to skin and eyes due to the lower penetrating properties.
Diethylhexyl Sodium Sulfosuccinate, also called Dioctyl Sodium Sulfosuccinate or Sodium Docusate Cleansing agent; emulsifier; hydrotrope (substance that improves the solubility of other surfactants in water) Bath products, blushers, body and hand preparations, foundations, shaving creams and skin-care products Docusate is broadly used in pharmacy as a laxative so ingested my cause diarrhea and stomach cramps.
Sodium Cocoyl Sarcosinate (Sarcosyl) Cleansing; conditioning agent; penetration enhancer Shampoos, face cleansers, bath, cleansing and shaving products It’s not found to be mutagenic irritating or sensitising; Possible contamination with nitrosamine- known as potencial carcinogen.
Olefin Sulfonate Cleansing agent, emulsifier, foaming agent; easy to rinse Shampoos, face cleansers, bath, cleansing and shaving products Skin, eye and respiratory tract irritation; symptoms such as dandruff (and itchy scalp), eczema, canker sores, dry lips, red eyes, dehydrated skin, dry hair.
TEA-Dodecylbenzenesulfonate Wetting agent, emulsifier, foaming agent bath products, cleansing products, shampoos and hair conditioners Suspected of causing asthma, according to the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics.

Cationic Surfactants

Negatively charged. Common on the market due to low cost and effort of production. They are very reactive with other ingredients.

Name Properties Used in Possible Side Effects
Behentrimonium Chloride (docosyltrimethylammonium chloride or BTAC-228) Conditioning agent, preservative, antistatic agent; emulsifier Shampoos, conditioners, hair mousses and dyes May cause skin and eyes irritation; highly flammable.
Cetrimonium Chloride Emulsifying agent, preservative; antistatic agent; dispersant, foaming agent Conditioners, shampoos, hair dyes Shouldn’t be used on irritated or inflamed skin-may prolong the healing time.
Behentrimonium Methosulfate Conditioning agent detangling agent, emulsifier Conditioners, shampoos, moisturizing creams, lotions, deodorants, antiperspirants, relaxers shave creams, baby products There is none or very little data available about side effects.
Benzalkonium Chloride Preservative, antistatic agent, conditioning agent, foaming agent Disinfecting wipes and solutions, shampoos, personal cleanliness products, skin cleansers, and skin care, eye makeup May cause skin irritation, allergies and respiratory problems. Shouldn’t be used around the eyes. Potentially dangerous for people with asthma and eczema. Considered as possible cancer risk. Known as major contaminant of grapefruit seed extracts.
Cinnamidopropyltrimonium Chloride Antistatic agent; conditioning agent; protects hair from UV- A and UV-B degradation Shampoos, Hair conditioners, styling products There is none or very little data available about side effects.
Cocotrimonium Chloride Antistatic agent, preservative, conditioning agent Shampoos, conditioners, hair treatments There is none or very little data available about side effects.
Dicetyldimonium Chloride Antistatic agent, conditioning agent Shampoos, conditioners, detangling and styling products There is none or very little data available about side effects.
Dicocodimonium Chloride Antistatic agent, conditioning agent, emulsifier Shampoos, conditioners May cause skin irritation and allergies.
Dihydrogenated Tallow Dimethylammonium chloride Conditioning agent Conditioners There is none or very little data available about side effects.
Hydrogenated Palm Trimethyl Ammonium chloride Conditioning agent Conditioners There is none or very little data available about side effects.
Laurtrimonium Chloride Antistatic agent, preservative, conditioning agent, emulsifier, wetting agent, dispersant Conditioners May cause skin irritation, allergies and inflammations of hair follicle.
Stearalkonium Chloride Antistatic agent, preservative Hair rinses, conditioners, setting lotions and bleaches May cause allergies and skin and eyes irritations.
Tallowtrimonium Chloride Antistatic agent, preservative, conditioning agent, emulsifier, foaming agent Conditioners May cause eczema and black heads.
Tricetyldimonium Chloride Antistatic agent, preservative, conditioning agent, foaming agent Conditioners There is none or very little data available about side effects.
Quaternium-15 Preservative, antistatic agent, Shampoos, soaps, moisturizing lotions and creams, shaving products, body powders, sunscreens, cleansers and other skin care products, disinfectants The European Union has determined that this ingredient 'may not be safe' in cosmetics. High risk of allergies and eyes and skin irritations.
Quaternium-18 Bentonite Emulsifier, dispersant Lipsticks, face makeup, eye shadows, rouge, mascara, skin gels,creams,lotions, hair care products, deodorants There is none or very little data available about side effects.
Quaternium-18 Hectonite Antistatic agent, emulsifier, dispersant Lipsticks, face makeup, eye shadows, rouge, mascara, skin gels, skin creams, skin lotions, hair care products There is none or very little data available about side effects.
Quaternium-22 Conditioning agent, antistatic agent, coating agent Shampoos, conditioners, soaps, styling hair products, facial cleansers There is none or very little data available about side effects.

 

Amphoteric Surfactants

Both negatively and positively charged. They are often used as secondary surfactants and have gentle or even soothing properties. They can change their properties depending on the PH level. In a low PH/acidic environment, they become great skin nourishing agents. In high PH/ alkaline products the bump up the foaming process.

Name Properties Used in Possible Side Effects
Cocamidopropyl betaine (CAPB) Cleansing agent, conditioning agent, thickener Shampoos, hair styling products, soaps, face cleansers, shower and bath products, makeup removers, shaving gels, toothpaste, hair coloring kits, contact May cause allergies and skin and eyes irritations. Might be contaminated with well-known skin irritant 3-dimethylaminopropylamine.
Coco Betaine Antistatic agent, foaming agent, thickener, conditioning agent, emulsifier, gentle preservative Shampoos, conditioners body wash, hair dye, face cleanser, deodorant, liquid hand soap, bubble bath, anti-dandruff treatment, exfoliant/scrub, acne treatments, makeup removers There is none or very little data available about side effects. The risk of contaminations with two irritants amidoamine and dimethylaminopropylamine when the manufacturing process is not tightly controlled.
Sodium Cocoamphoacetate, Sodium Cocoamphopropionate, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate Disodium Cocoamphodipropionate (All 4 ingredients have the same properties and are used interchangeably) Foaming agent, conditioning agent, cleansing agent, wetting agent, coating agent Shampoos, face cleansers, soaps, scrubs and shaving creams, makeup removers, baby products There is none or very little data available about side effects.
Sodium Lauroamphoacetate Foaming agent, conditioning agent, cleansing agent Shampoos, face cleansers, soaps, body washes There is none or very little data available about side effects.
Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate Foaming agent, conditioning agent, cleansing agent Shampoos, face cleansers, soaps, body washes Some eye irritation may occur at higher concentration.

Nonionic Surfactants

Negatively charged. Common on the market due to low cost and effort of production. They are very reactive with other ingredients.

Name Properties Used in Possible Side Effects
Coco Glucoside Foaming agent, often used as co-surfactant reducing the dose of other harsher surfactants Shampoos, face cleansers, soaps, body washes There is none or very little data available about side effects.
Decyl Glucoside Foaming agent, emulsifier; often used as co-surfactant reducing the dose of other harsher surfactants, cleanser, thickener; because of it alkaline PH it needs to be used with acidic ingredient to match it better with skin’s natural acid mantle Conditioners, bubble baths, cleansers, shaving foams, liquid soaps, toothpaste, hair coloring, hair straightening products, permanent wave solutions, shower gels, bath oils, dermatological liquid soaps, wipes, anti–dandruff shampoos, eczema creams, and lotions. There is none or very little data available about side effects.
Lauryl Glucoside Foaming agent, conditioner, emulsifier, Works excellently with Cocamidopropyl betaine; LG enhances foaming and skin conditioning properties of other glucosides Shampoos, face cleansers, soaps, body washes There is none or very little data available about side effects.
Laureth group Cleansing agent, emulsifier, dispersants Hair, bath, eye, facial, cleansing and sunscreen products Laureth-10 has been restricted for use in cosmetics in Japan due to concerns of contamination with carcinogens ethylene oxide or 1,4-dioxane.
PEG-Sorbitan/Sorbitol group Emulsifiers, cleansing, and solubilizing agents Shampoos, hair conditioners, hair dyes and colors, bath products, skin cleansers, skin fresheners, makeup bases and foundations PEG-10 sorbitan laurate - concerns of contamination with carcinogens Ethylene Oxide or 1,4-dioxane.
Polysorbate group Emulsifiers, dispersants and wetting agents, dispersants Fragrances, essential oils, lotions and creams, bath bombs, sugar or salt scrubs, bath oils Some eye irritation may occur at higher concentration. Polysorbate-80 – some risk of contamination with carcinogens Ethylene Oxide or 1,4-dioxane.
PPG-1 Trideceth-6 Conditioning agent, emulsifier, dispersant, thickener Hair conditioners, hair styling products, creams and lotions, sunscreen products Non-irritating in small concentration, concerns of contamination with carcinogens ethylene oxide or 1,4-dioxane.
Steareth group Emulsifiers, dispersants, and cleansing agents Face cleansers, creams and lotions There is none or very little data available about side effects. Steareth-2 and Steareth-21- concerns of contamination with carcinogens Ethylene Oxide or 1,4-dioxane.
Pareth group Emulsifiers, cleansing agents, skin conditioning agents Hair dyes, shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, creams and lotions, soaps, face cleansers, body washes There is none or very little data available about side effects.
C12-20 ACID PEG-8 ESTER Emulsifiers Creams and lotions There is none or very little data available about side effects. Concerns of contamination with carcinogens ethylene oxide or 1,4-dioxane.

I hope you find this guide useful.  My biggest surprise so far when using it during shopping?It’s tough to find a natural conditioner which is not saturated with surfactants which could be potentially harmful, even if the label suggests otherwise.  In the next article – part 3 of Surfactants series we will better show better Micellar Cleansers as an example of the most beneficial use of surfactants for the skin.

References:

http://www.davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/queen-of-green/faqs/toxics/whats-the-difference-between-sodium-lauryl-sulfate-sls-and-sodium-laureth-sulfat/ Date Accessed, August 14th, 2017

https://smartklean.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/top-10-reasons-to-avoid-sodium-lauryl-sulfate/ Date Accessed, August 14th, 2017

http://thebeautybrains.com/2008/05/are-natural-cleansers-better-for-your-hair/ Date Accessed, August 14th, 2017

https://blog.honest.com/sodium-lauroyl-sarcosinate/# Date Accessed, August 14th, 2017

https://www.bewell.com/blog/sodium-lauryl-sulfate-from-coconut-is-it-safer/ Date Accessed, August 16th, 2017

http://www.cosdna.com/eng/3b4f181588.html Date Accessed, August 14th, 2017

https://www.truthinaging.com/ingredients/sodium-lauroyl-sarcosinate Date Accessed, August 16th, 2017

http://www.thenaturalhavenbloom.com/2012/06/are-sulfate-free-shampoos-really.html Date Accessed, August 16th, 2017

http://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/ingredient/ Date Accessed, August 12th, 2017

http://hollistics.com/2013/08/07/5-ingredients-to-avoid/ Date Accessed, August 12th, 2017

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ipcsneng/neng1584.html Date Accessed, August 12th, 2017

https://www.naturallycurly.com/curlreading/curl-products/curlchemist-what-is-cetrimonium-chloride/ Date Accessed, August 14th, 2017

http://www.naturalwellbeing.com/learning-center/cetrimonium_chloride/ Date Accessed, August 12th, 2017

http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/todays-chemical/2013/8/30/behentrimonium-methosulfate.html Date Accessed, August 16th, 2017

http://mfairhaircare.blogspot.ca/2014/12/sls-sles-i-inne-detergenty-w.html Date Accessed, July 25th, 2017

http://www.tightlycurly.com/ingredients/dicetyldimonium_chloride Date Accessed, August 12th, 2017

http://wizaz.pl/kosmetyki/skladnik,526454,laurtrimonium-chloride.html Date Accessed, August 12th, 2017

http://www.srokao.pl/2015/01/mycie-wosow-odzywkami.html# Date Accessed, August 14th, 2017

https://www.naturalcitizen.com/blogs/news/27675075-what-is-decyl-glucoside Date Accessed, August 12th, 2017

http://www.beautifulwithbrains.com/know-your-ingredients-decyl-glucoside/ Date Accessed, August 16th, 2017

https://www.goodguide.com/ingredients/166634-laureth-10-ingredient-information-reviews Date Accessed, August 14th, 2017

 

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