The Breakdown on Surfactants.

  • Apr, 03 , 18
  • Bridgett Gordon


Everyone wants the perfect cleanser for their skin, but many consumers aren’t aware of what to search for when purchasing their products. Cleansers are the hardest product to figure out when reading their ingredients lists. There are hundreds of types of ingredients, and they all behave differently when they react to your skin. Whenever you shop for skin care products, be sure to check the ingredients before purchasing.


What is a surfactant? A surfactant is a two-headed molecule, one side is drawn to water (hydrophilic) the other is drawn to oil (lipophilic). This is essential in cleaning your skin because you want a cleanser or exfoliator that gets rid of dirt AND washes it away efficiently.

  • The most common Surfactants:
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Ammonium lauryl sulfate
  • Disodium lauryl sulfosuccinate
  • Cocamphocarboxyglycinate
  • Alpha Olefin sulfonate
  • Cocamidopropyl betaine

Surfactants can be used in formulas catered to bubbling, foaming, and cleansing as detergents and can also be used in formulas such as lotions, and oil cleansers as emulsifiers that remove easily with water. Their role is to break down oils on our skin.

Anionic Surfactants: The head of an ionic surfactant carries a negative charge. If the charge is negative, the surfactant is called anionic; if the charge is positive, it is called cationic. Because of its negative charge, this surfactant works great for a cleanser but can be very harsh for the skin.

Specifically, sodium lauryl sulfate or SLS is responsible for the tight or dry feeling you get after cleansing your skin. This is because your natural oils have been stripped away and has caused the water in your skin to evaporate leaving it feeling dry and irritated.

Cationic emulsifiers are very common in beauty products. They’re a fundamental part of hair conditioners – they bond to your negatively-charged hair follicle, and they’re why your hair stays soft after rinsing out the conditioner. They appear in skincare products too.

Cleansers work by dissolving or emulsifying things off of the skin that aren’t easily rinsed away by water. Cleansers remove things off of the skin that we don’t want, but they should keep the things that we do want.


Sydney Olishile

Beauty Editor