When we think about what skin care products to buy, what’s inside them matters just as much as what they’re used for.
You wouldn’t buy a moisturizer made up of the ingredients for a facial scrub, so why would you buy a product that uses anything you don’t understand? How can you be sure what everything on that long, unpronounceable list of ingredients is going to do to your skin?
Within that list, most skin care and cosmetic products are made up of five key parts: emollients, humectants, emulsifiers, surfactants, and preservatives. This article will discuss the function of surfactants in common beauty products and what natural alternatives are available.
What Surfactants Do
A surfactant is a category of ingredients found in many cosmetic products, especially cleansers and shampoos. Also called “surface-acting ingredients,” their purpose is to reduce the surface tension of a product, thus making it easier to spread.
These substances can dissolve oils and suspend dirt until it is rinsed away with water—a handy ability for cleansers, indeed.
Why Not Synthetic Surfactants?
The major problem with synthetic surfactants is how they’re produced. Surfactants are produced through a chemical reaction process called ethoxylation. Afterwards, they often become contaminated with the toxic carcinogen dioxane.
Extended exposure to synthetic surfactants that release dioxane into your skin can be harmful. Dioxane exposure has been linked to cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, allergies, and skin irritation.
Studies estimated that about 46% of the products they tested were contaminated with dioxane—so the threat is real and it’s out there. Are the odds good enough that you want to take a risk with your skin care products?
Ingredients to Avoid
If you’re trying to weed out the synthetic surfactants from your personal cosmetic collection, there are a few that you should be on the lookout for:
- Labels ending with –eth, such as laureth.
- PolyEthylene Glycol (PEG) or PolyPropylene Glycol (PPG).
- Amides, such as TriEthanolAmine (TEA), DiEthanolAmine (DEA) and MonoEthanolAmine (MEA).
Common synthetic surfactants include: sodium or ammonium lauryl or laureth sulphate, sodium methyl cocoyl taurate, sodium lauroyl, cocomidopropyl betaine, TEA or DEA or MEA compounds, PEG compounds Quaternium-7, 15, 31, and 60, etc., lauryl or cocoyl sarcosine, disodium oleamide or dioctyl sulfosuccinate.
Instead of all the harmful chemicals that might introduce carcinogens into your beauty routine, go the natural route and stay healthier. For shampoos, natural saponins make much better foaming agents than synthetic alternatives anyway.
These, and other natural surfactants, can gently cleanse the hair, scalp, and skin without stripping the natural oils away. Your overall skin and hair health is preserved and improved, plus you’re eliminating all the harmful stuff and the potential after-effects.
Some options for natural surfactants include castile soap, yucca extract, soapwort, and quillaja bark extract. When searching the shelves for your new, healthy skin care alternatives, be sure to keep your eyes open for these surfactants in the ingredients list.