Next Generation of Personal Care Surfactant In Asia

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Overview of the use of Surfactant for Personal Care Applications

Surfactants are key ingredients in many personal care products we use in our daily life. An example is surfactants function as cleansing agents in products such as shampoo and facial cleanser. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate (SLES) are some of the earlier generation surfactants. One of the issues that plagued the use of SLES in personal care products is due to the by-product, 1,4-dioxane, generated. 1,4-dioxane is a suspected carcinogen and there are increasing number of laws set to regulate its level in products. For updates on the regulations, read our article on Stricter Regulations on 1,4-Dioxane in Cosmetics. 

Concerns of Sulfates and Sulfo-Related Surfactants

It is anticipated that formulators will shun away from sulfates and consequently sulfo-related surfactants such as sulfonates. Apart from the concerns on 1,4-dioxane from SLES, sulfonates such as Alpha Olefin Sulfonates (AOS), Sodium Methyl 2-Sulfolaurate and Disodium 2-Sulfolaurate also have issues. Sodium Methyl 2-Sulfolaurate and Disodium 2-Sulfolaurate are known to contain methanol (a toxic alcohol). Hence, Japan and Thailand regulatory bodies have prohibited the sale of personal care products containing methanol. Moreover, AOS contains a carcinogen, 1,4-sultone.

Alternative to Traditional Surfactant: Amino-based Surfactant

Amino acid-based surfactant is a class of next generation surfactants that has been prominently featured to meet the demands of sulfate or sulfo-free personal care products. These surfactants are set to replace sulfates or sulfonates because of their improved safety profile. The main by-products of amino acid-based surfactants include amino acid, fatty acid and sodium chloride which are safe and benign.

Comparison Between Amino Acid-Based Surfactant and Other Types of Surfactants

SurfactantMain ImpuritiesRemarks
Amino acid-based surfactants (Glutamates, Alaninates)Amino acid, fatty acid, sodium chlorideSafe impurities; natural origin, sustainable/renewable raw material; safe and mild processes with no organic solvents
Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate (SLES)1,4-dioxane1,4-dioxane is a probable human carcinogen
Sodium Methyl 2-Sulfolaurate and Disodium 2-SulfolaurateMethanolMethanol is a toxic alcohol
Alpha Olefin Sulfonates (AOS)1,4-sultone1,4-sultone is a probable human carcinogen
Isethionates1,4-dioxane, sodium isethionate1,4-dioxane is a probable human carcinogen

Figure 1 Surfactants and their main impurities

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