Sunday, March 8, 2015

Weekend Wonderings: Why use three surfactant blends in products?

In this post, Surfactants: A conditioning shampoo with SCI for normal to oily hair, Fatima asks: Can you tell me why another surfactant is needed? Wouldn't this work perfectly fine with just the two?

Great question! We use different surfactants blended together because each brings something different to the mix.

Take a look at decyl glucoside for a moment. It has good foam, but isn't known for its lather or bubbles. This wouldn't be a great addition to a bubble bath, but it might be good for a low lathering cleanser.

Let's take a look at disodium laureth sulfosuccinate (DLS). It has good foam and good detergency, and it's great for oily skin and hair.

If you take a look at this surfactant chart, you can see that something like C14-16 olefin sulfonate brings good lather, great flash foam, and good bubbles to the mix. It is good for oily hair as it removes sebum gently, and it's a good emulsifier. This would be a good inclusion for a shampoo, body wash, or facial cleanser for oily hair or skin.

If we wanted to make a bubble bath, we would be looking for ingredients that have great flash foam, great bubbles, and great lather. If we chose decyl glucoside as the only surfactant, we'd only have good foam. If we chose only DLS as the only surfactant, we'd only have good foam. So we would have a pretty lousy bubble bath. Instead, we'd want to use the C14-16 olefin sulfonate because it offers good lather, great flash foam, and good bubbles. We could combine it with SCI or ACI because both are known to have great foam, good bubbles, and good lather. This would bring us a great product that is better than the surfactants alone.

Let's say we wanted to create a facial wash. We don't necessarily want something that foams, lathers, or bubbles like crazy on our face. We generally want something that cleans well but gently. We want something that would be good for our skin type, so let's take a look at dry skin. For dry skin, we want to use something that is very mild and doesn't strip out a ton of oils. We would choose gentle to mild surfactants that are good for dry skin in very low levels. My first thought is the polyglucose/lactylate blend. It is a very gentle cleanser that offers great cleansing properties and a moisturized after feel. I think I'll add cocamidopropyl betaine as that surfactant will increase the mildness of the product and increase the viscosity. I might include some SMC or SMO taurate as it's also great for dry skin, and it works well in combination with cocamidopropyl betaine to increase viscosity.

Why use three different surfactants in this recipe? Because they each have something to offer to the product. The SMC or SMO taurate and cocamidopropyl betaine combination will bring mild cleansing and viscosity while the polyglucose/lactylate brings more gentle cleansing and a moisturized after feel. You could use two of three surfactants and have something nice, but I think using all three together offers something that is more special.

I could make my facial cleanser in a different way using different surfactants based on skin type, desired qualities - gentle cleansing, loads of foam and lather, conditioned skin feel, etc. - using different surfactants. What would happen if I used decyl glucoside, disodium cocoamphodiacetate, and SMC taurate together? What could I expect from the lather, foam, and bubbles? Would I have to alter the pH? What skin type would use this product? Think about those questions when you're buying your surfactants or planning to make something.

To get back to the original question - why use three surfactants in this shampoo?

53% water
10% cocamidopropyl betaine
10% SCI (without stearic acid)
5% surfactant of choice (SLeS, SMC Taurate, a blend, and so on)
10% aloe vera
2% glycerin
2% hydrolyzed protein

3% cationic polymer like honeyquat or polyquat 7
2% dimethicone
2% panthenol
0.5% to 1% preservative
1% to 2% fragrance or essential oils
(up to 2% Crothix - when cooled down - optional)

I love SCI so very much. It makes my hair feel so conditioned after using it. But I can't use it huge amounts because it's a solid found in prills or pellets, and if I put in too much, it'll precipitate out. So I look to another surfactant to offer great cleansing as well, something like SLeS, SMC taurate, DLS, and so on. If I added SMC taurate, I'll be adding something that is great for thickening and dry to normal hair type. And I add cocamidopropyl betaine to the mix, I'll make it even gentler and help thicken the product well.

I guess I could use two surfactants - let's say SCI and cocamidopropyl betaine - but then I'd be losing the awesome power of the third surfactant. I could use just SMC taurate and cocamidopropyl betaine, but then I'd be losing the great bubbles, great lather, great foam, and elegant skin feel SCI brings to the party. By using three surfactants together, I'm bringing a few different awesome qualities to the product.

I feel like I've gone on too long here. The short answer is that by combining three surfactants I can create something that has the qualities I seek better than using one or two surfactants. Did I answer your question? I hope so!


Marie said...

Hi Susan,

happy women's day/power to the people! I'm ridiculously addicted to your blog though I haven't even started actually making things. I have a couple of questions, if you have time please give your opinion/advice on one or more of them!

1. Regarding surfactants, DLS in particular: I'd like to make a seriously mild shampoo still capable of dissolving scalp oils. Do you think I could simply use around 15% pure DLS powder (like this and a little Lamesoft PO65 (mix of around 30% glyceryl oleate & 30% coco-glucoside) for softness? Maybe some coco-betaine for more foam? What is your impression of DLS?
I was thinking to mix in decyl glucoside + a ton of lactic acid (it's listed as pH 11,5-12,5 at the source I'm looking at!), but I'm wondering if that really serves a great purpose?
Mostly asking for your impression of working with these surfactants an with shampoos in general I guess.

2. Regarding emulsifiers: I'd also like to make an water-in-oil leave-in hair emulsion, preferrably sprayable. Something similar to Kiehl's "Magic Elixir" and other hair oils, though I'd like mine to be an emulsion (even if it needs shaking). Maybe 45% fractionated coconut oil and 15% dicaprylyl carbonate. Is there an emulsifier that wouldn't turn this into a creme?

I know that sounds like too much, but I have the longest thickest driest ends, I have actually been working raw coconut oil into my ends after washing and conditioning. I'd just like something that spreads a bit more and faster.

Lastly, cationic compounds aside is there any particular hair active you feel is most noticeably moisturizing or conditioning - the different hydrolyzed proteins, panthenol... - ? (Have you tried inositol or inulin by any chance?) If you had to choose one.

Cheers! / Marie

Marie said...

Sorry, feel free to remove one of my comments. Also sorry my first question was so long-winded, since it's basically the same question you already answered here... but not quite :P

Susan McGahan said...

What is the difference between foam, bubbles and lather?


Susan McGahan said...

What is the difference between foam, bubbles and lather?


Maria Miller said...


I am using span and tween 65 emulsifiers in my formulations @ various amounts to cover the HLB of my oil phase. If for example I wanted to use btms as my 3rd emulsifier for extra conditioning (HLB~15) or another cationic emulsifier/surfactant how would this affect my emulsion. How much over the required HLB can I go without issues of separation. Would I have to calculate all 3 surfactant HLBs together to equal my oil phase requirements?

I mostly formulate shampoo and conditioner for dry hair and have an oil phase of aprox 12%.

I love ur blog and thank you for sharing your knowledge with us!

Brandi Yates said...

Susan, could you do more reviews on surfactants like the new ones at the Herbarie made from apples?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Marie. I think the answer to question one is to create a recipe and try it out. I'm afraid I haven't worked with those surfactants, so I can't really comment. As for the hair emulsion, do you need an emulsifier in there? Would it work just as well without an emulsifier or water? As for actives I find really conditioning, I would say I like the proteins - the only one that didn't work for my hair was silk - and pathenol. I like coconut oil a lot, although it makes my hair really greasy! I haven't tried inositol or inulin, although I think I was sent inulin recently. (I really need to get into the workshop!)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Susan. Flash foam is the foam that happens when we add water to bubble bath. It foams up quickly! Lather is what we get when we are putting something on our body. And bubbles are...well, bubbles! I wonder if I can find you something more specific? Hmm....

Hi Maria. I'm sorry, but I can't really comment if I don't have your complete recipe in percentages. Can I ask you a question? Span and tween are almost the same thing with high HLB values, so I'm curious how you make that work?

Hi Brandi! I wish I could play with them, but I can't afford to get anything from the Herbarie these days with their very high minimums for Canada and shipping rates.

goria12wills said...

Thanks for providing this useful information! But I need to know about alterna shampoo. My friend has suggested using this shampoo. I think getting reviews online would be good before investing. Can anyone help?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi goria12wills. Your friend recommended that shampo? What a scam! It's a terrible shampoo, and really expensive! You can get lovely shampoos in the drug store that are better than that. What do they think caviar will do for your hair?

My suggestion - stop spamming my page with your horrible products!

Anonymous said...

I made a variation on this as my first shampoo yesterday and tried it out today - I'll be making it again! I used
12% Cocamidopropyl Betaine
12% SCI
0.1% aloe vera powder (to make 10% diluted aloe)
3% Polyquat7
3% 2% Dimethicone
3% cetrimonium chloride
2% Panthanol
1% Microkill
1% fragrance
55% water

Variations - I accidentally weighed .5g aloe and didn't want to waste it so left it
I forgot to add the glycerin and I didn't have the protein or a 3rd surfactant so upped the others a little. I added the cetrimonium chloride because my hair tangles - I was aiming for 2% but added too much
I can now see that I forgot to allow for the water in the aloe (leaving me approx 10% short - no wonder I didn't need a thickener!

I loved the result it left my hair feeling clean and nice even without an additional conditioner. I will tweak it abit (and be more careful with the weighing!) and add the protein when I get some but as it stands I'd be buying it again if I'd got it from a shop.

Note to newbies - I made a 50g batch and the measuring of such small amounts was a pain - 1g of watery liquid is a very small volume, very easy to misjudge and add too much. I'll be using pipettes net time!

Thanks for such a brilliant resource