What you should know about synthetic surfactants in cosmetics

What are surfactants?

Surfactants, contraction of Surface Active Agent, are compounds that lower the surface tension between two liquids. There are thousands of types of surfactants. But, we can divide them into two large groups: detergents and emulsifiers. Detergent is a surfactant with cleaning properties in dilute solutions. Emulsifier mixes water and oil to create products such as lotions and creams. Surfactants are used for various purposes in cosmetics. For example, they act as solubilizing agents (dissolving various active ingredients which are difficult to dissolve in water), dispersing agents (making the pigments to spread evenly), and antistatic agents (antistatic for hair products such as hair cream and hair lotion).


Are surfactants harmful ingredients for cosmetic products?

In general, consumers’ perception on shampoo, body wash, and household detergents is that those products should be cheap, large, and full of foam. Without thinking the consequences, most companies use just cheap petroleum surfactants as raw materials. During the World War II, Germany developed chemical surfactants extracted from petroleum to reduce costs and distribute in large quantities. Keep in mind that petroleum-based surfactants are quite harmful to the body. You can recognize petroleum surfactants easily by seeing ‘sulfate’ at the end of the word.


Keep out of sulfate-included products

When shopping cosmetic products, sulfate is the first ingredient to avoid by the millennials in the USA. You should also be careful if your cosmetic products consist of sulfate. Let’s know more about the hazardous effects of sulfate. There are two types of sulfates that are commonly used for cleaners and often controversial. They are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Lauretha Sulfate (SLES). You can find these sulfates in many shampoos, body washes, and toothpastes. Many studies have shown that SLS is irritating to the skin, eyes, and respiratory system when overused. In addition, SLES can cause skin cancer since it includes a toxic component called 1,4 dioxane. Therefore, SLS and SLES are classified as toxic or potentially hazardous by many organizations including the Canadian Environmental Protection.


But… is it okay if we rinse well enough?

There are several misconceptions about using surfactants. It is often suggested that you can use surfactants as much as you want if you rinse them well enough. However, you should be aware of the adverse effects of synthetic products, especially, shampoo, facial cleanser, toothpaste, and detergent. Because such products accumulate in your body and can cause various health problems.



sulfate and PEG 2



PEG – another harmful ingredient

Unlike sulfate-based surfactants, Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)-based surfactants are harmful components of surfactants that used for emulsifiers and solubilizers. PEG undergoes a synthesis process called ethoxylation to increase the detergency and emulsifying power of the surfactant. PEG-based surfactants, which are actively used in cosmetics, have scored 3-4 on Environmental Working Group (EWG) rates. It is highly recommended to avoid using PEG-based surfactants because it is a substance which is likely to be contaminated with the raw material that causes carcinogenicity through 1,4 dioxane and ethoxylation.


Don’t forget to always check for the presence of sulfate and PEG in cosmetic products. You can make a wise choice if you give a little attention to the ingredients of a product.

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