Surfactants have a long history in personal care products, dating back to ancient times. For example, the ancient Egyptians used a form of soap made from a mixture of animal and vegetable oils, as well as alkaline salts like sodium carbonate. Similarly, ancient Greeks and Romans used soap-like materials made from animal fats and ashes.
In the modern era, a wide range of surfactants has been developed and used in personal care products, including anionic, nonionic, cationic, and amphoteric surfactants. These surfactants are an essential part of almost all modern personal care products and cosmetics, such as shampoos, body washes, facial cleansers, and toothpaste, to name a few.
Among the hundreds of dazzling surfactants in the modern personal care industry, the two most widely used and manufactured surfactants are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and its derivative, Sodium lauryl ether sulfate(SLES). They have been the workhorse surfactants for decades since they were introduced in the 1930s, for their outstanding ability to create a rich lather and effectively remove dirt and oil from the skin and hair. Both SLS and SLES are sulfate-based surfactants. And they have caused more and more concerns related to skin irritation, cancer-causing, and environmental impact.
In recent years, there has been increasing interest in using more skin-friendly and sustainable green surfactants in personal care products. Sulfate-free products are gaining more and more attention, and market share. This has led to the development of new surfactants that are milder, non-toxic, biodegradable, and renewable, as alternatives to SLS and SLES.
Amino acid-based surfactants are considered promising alternatives to replace SLS and SLES in sulfate-free formulations.
What are Amino Acid-based Surfactants?
Amino acid-based surfactants, also commonly called Amino acid surfactants(AAS), are a class of anionic surfactants derived from natural amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. They are considered to be more biocompatible with human skin and environmentally friendly than many other types of surfactants.
These surfactants can be commercially synthesized by reacting an amino acid with a fatty acid or its derivatives, such as a fatty acid methyl ester. The resulting compound has both a hydrophilic (water-loving) and a hydrophobic (water-repelling) end, allowing it to reduce surface tension and form stable emulsions in water-based systems.
Amino acid surfactants are readily biodegradable, non-toxic, and renewable, and they tend to be less irritating to the skin and eyes. They have similar lathering and cleaning abilities to SLES, but they do not over-strip lipids from our skin and scalp, which makes them more skin-friendly than sulfate-based surfactants.
Advantages of Using Amino Acid-based Surfactants
In recent years, Amino acid surfactants are gaining more and more attention for their advantages over traditional sulfate surfactants. Their advantages include:
- Mildness: Amino acid surfactants’ mildness on the skin is their key advantage over sulfate surfactants. They are generally milder on the skin than SLES, which is already a relatively milder one among the traditional surfactants, and less likely to cause irritation or sensitivity. This makes them a popular choice for personal care products such as shampoos, body washes, and facial cleansers.
- Biodegradability: Amino acid-based surfactants are readily biodegradable, meaning they can be easily and fast broken down by microorganisms in the environment. And their degradation products are non-toxic. This makes them a more environmentally friendly option compared to traditional synthetic surfactants, which may persist in the environment for a long time, and/or create toxic degradation products.
- Foam stability: Amino acid-based surfactants have good foam stability. The foam produced by amino acid surfactants is often described as creamy and dense, which makes them suitable for use in personal care products such as shampoos, body washes, and facial cleansers.
- Compatibility: Amino acid-based surfactants are compatible with a wide range of ingredients, which makes them a versatile option for formulators. They can be used in a variety of formulations and with different active ingredients.
- Reduced irritation: Amino acid-based surfactants have a lower irritation potential compared to some other surfactants, making them a good choice for products designed for sensitive skin. When formulated with other surfactants, they can also help to lower the irritation of soap-based and sulfate-based surfactants, due to synergistic effects between surfactants.
- Low toxicity: Amino acid-based surfactants have a low toxicity profile, which makes them safer to use in personal care products.
- Diversity & Versatility: The diversity of the amino acid pool and fatty acids allows the synthesis of a long list of diverse amino acid surfactants that can be specifically tailored to meet different technical and characteristic requirements for extensive applications.
- Sustainability: Amino acid surfactants are considered more sustainable than traditional surfactants, as their raw materials are all renewable. Natural amino acids can be obtained from waste proteins(available from food wastes) through hydrolysis, and fatty acids can be obtained largely from plants, like coconuts and palm kernels.
Overall, amino acid-based surfactants offer a range of benefits that make them an attractive alternative to traditional surfactants in many applications.
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Efficacy of Amino Acid-based Surfactants
Research has shown that amino acid-based surfactants can provide comparable or even superior performance to traditional surfactants. They exhibit excellent foaming, wetting, and emulsifying properties, making them suitable for a variety of applications.
Amino acid-based surfactants have unique properties that make them effective at cleaning and gentle on the skin. Unlike traditional surfactants, which can strip the skin and hair of their natural oils, amino acid-based surfactants help to maintain the skin and hair’s natural moisture levels. This is due to their similar structure to the natural lipids found in the skin, which allows them to mimic the skin’s natural barrier function.
Furthermore, because amino acid-based surfactants are derived from natural sources, they do not contain harmful chemicals or irritants that can cause skin irritation or other adverse effects.
Drawbacks of Amino Acid-based Surfactants Gaining More Market Share
Despite the long-listed advantages of Amino acid surfactants over traditional surfactants, until now, their usage in personal care products is still far behind traditional SLES surfactants. Why is that? A few reasons may include:
- Cost: Amino acid-based surfactants are often more expensive to produce than traditional SLES surfactants. This can make them less attractive to manufacturers who are looking to keep their production costs low.
- Availability: Traditional SLES surfactants are widely available and have been used in personal care products for many years. In contrast, amino acid-based surfactants are a newer technology and may not be as readily available.
- Performance: While amino acid-based surfactants offer many advantages over traditional SLES surfactants, they may not always perform as well in certain formulations. This can make them less attractive to manufacturers who are looking for consistent and reliable performance.
- Sensitivity to pH: Amino acid surfactants are pH-sensitive, which means that their effectiveness as surfactants can be affected by changes in pH. They are most effective at a neutral pH, and their performance may be reduced at either high or low pH values. This characteristic greatly limits their formulation flexibility.
Top 5 Examples of Amino Acid-based Surfactants in Personal Care Products
There are a variety of amino acid surfactants available, each with unique properties that make them effective in different applications. In this section, we will explore the top 5 amino acid surfactants that are commonly used in personal care products, and discuss their benefits and properties.
Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate, often known as Sarcosyl, is one of the most widely used amino acid-derived surfactants. It is derived from coconut oil and sarcosine. Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate is widely used as a primary or secondary anionic surfactant in toothpaste, facial cleansers, ultra-gentle shampoos, and baby bath bubble lotions.
Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, also known as DLS for short, is a very mild, non-irritating anionic surfactant. It features excellent detergency, yet with medium degreasing power, which enables the final product to clean well and leaves the skin and hair a delicate feeling after washing. DLS is considered by far the best choice of a primary surfactant to formulate sulfate-free gentle hair and skin care products.
Sodium Cocoyl Glycinate is considered one of the mildest anionic surfactants by far, yet with excellent foaming and cleaning abilities. It is derived from the amino acid glycine and coconut fatty acids. Glycine is the smallest amino acid, and it gives Sodium Cocoyl Glycinate a smaller and lighter-charged hydrophilic head compared to all other anionic surfactants.
Compared with other anionic surfactants, Sodium Cocoyl Glycinate also removes less intercellular cement lipids when applied, which makes it skin barrier friendly.
Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, commonly called SMCT for short, is a very mild, non-toxic, high-safety anionic surfactant for personal cleaning products. It has excellent water solubility, hard water resistance, and good effectiveness in a wide pH range. Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate has similar cleaning and foaming abilities to Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate(SLES), but is much low irritating and safer for the skin and eyes.
Potassium Cocoyl Glycinate, like its ‘sister’ Sodium Cocoyl Glycinate, is another Glycine amino acid-based surfactant. They have similar properties, only that Potassium Cocoyl Glycinate has better solubility, which makes it even easier to rinse off, although Sodium Cocoyl Glycinate is already easy to rinse off.
It produces a pleasant creamy-feeling lather during washing. After washing, it can leave the skin with a clean, light, supple, and non-drying feel.
5 Our Favorite Personal Care Products With Amino Acid Surfactants
Olivina Men’s All-In-One Wash in Mountain Sage is a multi-purpose body wash designed for men. It is formulated to cleanse and nourish the skin and hair while leaving a refreshing scent of Mountain Sage.
It is a sulfate-free product made with a blend of natural ingredients, including aloe vera, jojoba oil, and chamomile, which work together to moisturize and soothe the skin. Its main functional ingredients are Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate(AOS), Cocamidopropyl Betaine(CAPB), and Disodium Lauryl Sulfosuccinate(DLS).
This all-in-one wash can be used as a shampoo, body wash, and facial cleanser, making it a convenient and time-saving option for those who are always on the go. To use, simply apply to wet skin and hair, lather, and rinse thoroughly.
Suave Kids 3 in 1 Shampoo, Conditioner, Body Wash is a product designed for children that combines shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in one bottle. This product is meant to make bathing easier and more convenient for parents, while also being gentle on kids’ sensitive skin and eyes.
The products is also sulfate-free and tear-free. Its main functional ingredients are Cocamidopropyl Betaine(CAPB), Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate(SMCT), and Polyquaternium-10(PQ-10).
CeraVe 2% Salicylic Acid Acne Control Cleanser Treatment is a facial cleanser that contains 2% salicylic acid, which is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that helps to exfoliate and unclog pores. This cleanser is designed to treat and prevent acne breakouts, including blackheads and whiteheads.
It is also formulated with Cocamidopropyl Betaine(CAPB), Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate, and Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate(SMCT), which are all mild surfactants.
NENA Natural Face Wash is a gentle, natural cleanser designed for dry skin. It is formulated with a blend of natural ingredients that help to nourish and hydrate the skin while removing dirt and impurities. Some key ingredients in the NENA Natural Face Wash include:
- Aloe vera: Aloe vera is known for its soothing and moisturizing properties, making it a great ingredient for dry skin.
- Potassium Cocoyl Glycinate: A popular Amino acid surfactant with excellent solubility, cleansing ability, and mildness.
- Chamomile: Chamomile has anti-inflammatory properties and can help to calm and soothe irritated skin.
- Lavender Oil: Lavender is another ingredient with calming properties that can help to reduce inflammation and redness.
ATTITUDE Toothpaste is a brand of toothpaste that is fluoride-free and designed for individuals with sensitive teeth. Fluoride is a mineral commonly found in water and toothpaste that is known to help prevent tooth decay. However, some people prefer to avoid fluoride for various reasons, such as concerns about potential health effects or personal preference.
ATTITUDE Toothpaste is formulated with natural ingredients such as xylitol, a sweetener that is believed to help prevent tooth decay, and silica, a natural abrasive that helps remove surface stains from teeth. It is also free from harsh chemicals such as SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) and triclosan, which are commonly found in many kinds of toothpaste but may cause irritation for some people.
Amino acid-based surfactants offer many advantages over traditional surfactants, making them a promising and exciting option for manufacturers and consumers alike. Their eco-friendliness and improved safety for consumers make them a more sustainable choice for the industry.
Additionally, their mild and gentle properties, coupled with their effectiveness at cleaning, make them a desirable choice for personal care products. While there may be some challenges associated with formulating with Amino acid-based surfactants, their potential to revolutionize the industry and provide more sustainable and responsible products is clear.
As more consumers demand natural and sustainable products, the use of amino acid-based surfactants is likely to continue to grow, and we can look forward to a more eco-friendly and responsible future.