THE SEA OF SURFACTANTS
If you’re not careful, you’ll be bobbing up and down (and up and down….and up again) along the waves of information about what products and ingredients are good, bad and downright ugly for your hair.
Yeap, I am right out there with you too!
Swimming through the mass of information;
- learning and sifting,
- applying and discarding.
Until I finally find something that works for me.
But what I can do and will do, just for y’all out there, is document what I find.
Like you don’t have enough information to paddle through as it is!
I have a fairly good routine down-packed for detangling, moisturising and protecting my precious ends, but what I am still up in arms about is cleansing.
Not so much about how and when to cleanse – that’s cool; but what to cleanse with and why?
So like all good stories, let’s start at the beginning.
The main cleansing substance in any shampoo is the “Surfactant” (surface-active agent) which cleanses and builds foam by acting at the surface between fat and water. They enable the cleansing formula to fully wet the surface being cleansed which loosens and removes the dirt, and also keeps the dirt emulsified, suspended and dispersed so it doesn’t resettle on the surface.
Surfactants are actually also found in some conditioners, which is why conditioner washing (co-washing) also works for cleansing the hair.
They are derived from various sources:
There are two types of synthetic surfactant based on their originating ingredient:
Petrochemical surfactants are derived from petroleum (Ugly…!)
Oleochemical surfactants are derived from plant oils such as palm, palm kernel or coconut oil, or from animal fats such as lard (Bad…?)
Petrochemical surfactants, such as Linear alkyl sulfonates (LAS) or Alkyl benzene sulfonates (ABS) (also linear alkyl benzene sulfonates or linear alkyl sodium sulfonates) are synthetic surfactants that were used mostly in detergents and laundry liquids. These are avoided by most manufacturers now since oleo-based alternative are available.
This really has nothing to do with your hair and shampoo, so feel free to ignore!! It’s just FYI!
One of the most well known is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), which are both used in industrial cleaning products, as well as in your shampoo, toothpaste, bath foam etc!
The base ingredient for SLS is Lauric acid derived from natural fatty acids such as coconut (hence you may see the term “natural” next to this surfactant), however during the conversion process petrochemicals are added taking it away from its original natural state making it essentially a synthetic surfactant.
SLS is well documented as being drying to hair and an irritant to skin, since it strips away the natural oils from the hair and the scalp during the washing process.
Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS) is a milder and less irritating relation to SLSbut for all practical purposes they are both almost exactly the same thing.
Additionally, there is SLES, Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate (aka Sodium Laureth Sulfate) and ALES, Ammonium Lauryl Ether Sulfate (aka Ammonium Laureth Sulfate). Fundamentally, the “ether” part means they are again a tad milder but less foamy.
SLS may also be listed with the following variant names: sodium dodecyl sulfate, sulfuric acid, monododecyl ester, sodium salt, sodium salt sulfuric acid, sodium dodecyl sulfate, aquarex me or aquarex methyl.
A much milder alternative is Decyl Glucoside.
This is plant derived surfactant is made from a reaction between a natural plant oil and a natural plant sugar. While the process of making Decyl Glucoside does change it from its natural base ingredient, it does not carry the same risks as SLS.
For this reason, Decyl Glucoside is stated to be good for all hair types and sensitive skins, including babies.
If you’ve tried it, let me know……
These are natural detergents found in plants and have surfactant properties since they also contain water soluble and fat soluble components. (Good…!)
Saponins such as glycosides and poly glycosides are present in most plants and are toxic to bacteria and fungi, thereby forming part of the plant’s protection against disease. Soap Bark, Soap Nut, Yucca Plant, Soap Wort, Horse Chestnut, Bracken and Soap Lily are examples of plants with this quality.
Many people make their own homemade shampoos from these truly naturally sourced saponins by boiling these herb/roots on a make-as-you-need basis.
I’ll leave you to digest slowly for now.
There’s plenty more where that came from…….