As one of the most important cosmetic ingredients, surfactants are widely applied in the cosmetic industry to achieve special effects—antimicrobial, foaming, emulsifying, thickening, etc. Their good compatibility with both oil and water make them rather useful in cosmetics. When mixed with water, structures are formed, lipophilic parts corresponding with lipids and hydrophilic parts with water. One example of surfactants in cosmetics is wetting agent, which increases the spreading and penetrating properties of a liquid.
Detergency: surfactants in detergent help remove the oily deposits in skin and hair.
Wetting: as good wetting agents, surfactants enable the cosmetic products to spread more easily.
Foam: though foam does not contribute directly to dirt removal, it is preferred by customers.
Thickening: surfactants form structures called micelles in solutions where water is the main ingredient, and micelles are crucial to the generating of thickening effect.
Emulsification: as the semi-stable mixture of oil and water, emulsions created by surfactants are beneficial to the skin and hair, through the delivery of helpful lipid materials to the surface.
According to the charge characteristic of polar head groups, surfactants in cosmetics can be classified into four groups: anionic, cationic, amphoteric, and non-Ionic.
Among anionic surfactants, carboxylic acids, sulfates and sulfonic acids groups are of great importance, especially useful in cosmetic applications where good foaming and cleansing are required. Cationic surfactants play a vital role in conditioning cosmetics, including chemical groups like amines, alkylimidazolines, alkoxylated amines, etc.
Amphoteric surfactants can have both positive and negative charges. "Zwitterionic" is a term used to describe this feature. Lauriminodipropionate and disodium lauroamphodiacetate are two of specific examples. While nonionic Surfactants, with no specific charge, are often used as solubilizing agents and emulsifiers.
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Cleaning the skin with water only remove some of the external solid particulates. For oily deposits sticking firmly to the more lipophilic skin surfaces, surfactants are required in skin care: the lipophilic ends align towards the lipids on the skin surface, while the hydrophilic with the surface of deposits. In this way, oily deposits lift off and can be rinsed away by water.
Surfactants play an important role in most hair products for hair washing, conditioning and styling formulations. They can be used as cleansing and foaming agents in shampoos, wetting agents in hair styling products, and conditioning agents in hair-care products.