There is a wide range of surfactants and they are used in making many products of our everyday use such as toothpaste, detergents, and shampoos. The most important quality of surfactants is their ability to increase the wetting qualities of a liquid.
Definition: A surfactant is a surface-active agent which when added to a liquid reduces its surface tension that increases the liquid’s wetting and spreading qualities.
Functions of Surfactants
Some surfactants can be foaming agents and others can be emulsifiers while still another type of it can act quite contrary to these functions. Non toxic surfactant can act as detergents, insecticides, and fungicides. They can be used to increase viscosity and solubilizing. But their function has a commonality that they increase the wetting quality by reducing the surface tension.
Types of surfactants
There are mainly 4 kinds of surfactants. Each behaves in a somewhat unique manner while others may have completely different roles to play.
The surfactants with detergent qualities tend to be amphoteric, anionic, and non-ionic surfactants. Some surfactants are cationic and can be used as emulsifiers. These are ideal for use in hair conditioners.
These classifications are made based on what charge the surfactant’s polar head has. A positive charge is called cationic while the negative charge is described as anionic. If the surfactant has no charge, it is termed non-ionic cleaner and if it has both anionic and cationic parts in the same molecule, it is called amphoteric surfactant.
Anionic: Anionic surfactants provide the best quality of cleaning power and rich amounts of foam. This makes it the most commonly used surfactant. A very popular anionic surfactant is SLS (Sodium Laureth Sulfate or Sodium lauryl sulfate). It is used in making shampoos, shower gels, and toothpaste, among other products. This kind of surfactant is harsh on the skin. They are often used in a mix of some mild surfactants.
Nonionic: This kind of surfactant carries no charge and because of this reason, it is highly compatible with other varieties of surfactants. It does not ionize in aqueous or water solutions. It is gentle and milder while cleaning.
Cationic: Mostly used in hair care products such as conditioners, cationic surfactant does not produce foaming. In hair care products, its positive charge gets attracted to the hair’s negative charge. Because of this, it does not get washed away. It remains in the hair and prevents friction among the hair, making them more manageable. Usually, cationic and anionic surfactants aren’t compatible with each other.
Amphoteric: This kind of surfactant may have either a positive or negative charge and these can be compatible with all other varieties of surfactants. They are milder and can be combined with any other surfactant. It may not give much foaming on its own but it can boost foaming in other surfactants.
There are many plant-derived natural surfactants such as palm or coconut but they can also be found in many fruits and vegetables. These can be used to make baby washes, gentle facial cleanser, shampoos, and shower gels.
Completely natural surfactants
Some plant-based natural surfactants have non-ionic surfactants. These can be used in combination with other plant-based surfactants or even in standalone form. Some common completely natural surfactants are Soap Berries or Aritha, Liquid Yucca Extract, Shikakai powder, and Soapwort.
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