What Is a Surfactant? What You Need to Know


Have you ever wondered what makes your skincare and beauty products get foamy and sudsy with bubbles? As a culture and society we have been brought up to believe that the more foam we collect on our skin and hair, the better a product performs for a results driven experience. Well, we are about to get real with you and share the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to our dear bubble-infused products... 

Now, we don’t want you to cringe at the word “surfactant," as they can be quite good! It just really depends on how that surfactant was derived and formulated. Are they safe, natural surfactants? Or are they questionable ingredients, with toxic and scary side effects?

What is a surfactant? A surfactant is an agent added into skincare, beauty and even household cleaning products (amongst many other things) that basically degreases oils and fats away from the surface of something and allows for the “soil” to get washed away. That foamy, sudsy cleanser you use every day on your face? Yep, that has a surfactant in it! That oh-so-delicious smelling shampoo that creates large, bubbles over your hair in the shower? Yes that too has a surfactant in it!

So you may be wondering, what are some examples of natural surfactants to avoid and which ones should you avoid? 


We’ve compiled a list of several safe and good-for-you ingredients that you may be shocked to find that have excellent surfactant cleaning power! These ingredients are amazing natural surfactants that will keep you happy and healthy—they even sound delicious too!

  • Coconut oil 
  • Chia oil 
  • Apple fruits (and the amino acids derived from apples)
  • Vegetable oils
  • Sugar
  • Yucca extract 
  • Soapwort

Naturally derived surfactants such as those listed above, may not suds up quite as much as you are used to. However they work better than other, non-natural surfactants. You may also find that products containing these surfactants are much more concentrated and potent. This means your product will last you longer, and a little bit goes a long way! Natural surfactants are very versatile as well! Your skin and hair will benefit more than just being “clean”! It will also reap the benefits of improving the skin overall by actually treating and nourishing it.

The BAD and The UGLY:

Now the most common surfactant out on the market today happens to be a toxic ingredient... This is where the bad part gets skipped over, and it just is plain ugly: sodium lauryl sulfate. More than 90 percent of the market is flooded with this nasty surfactant. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a known carcinogenic ingredient (cancer-causing). And as if that isn’t bad enough, it also is known to cause severe skin and eye irritations as well as respiratory problems. SLS is used to degrease cars and engines... Raise your hand if you agree with Eco Diva that we should never get SLS near our precious bodies again! So go and check your medicine cabinet, your shower, your whole house top to bottom for this ingredient! You’d be surprised where SLS could be hiding! 

Have you made the switch to natural surfactants in cleansers? How has this improved your life? Your skin? Your home? We'd love to hear your story! Comment below.

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