As usual, we come to the goals of your products. If you're a bubble bath kind of person, then you want to choose surfactants that produce good flash foam and good bubbles. If body washes are your thing, choose gentle to mild cleansers with lots of lather and good skin feel. If you love shampoos, then choose gentle to mild cleansers suitable for your hair type with good lather and foam, and resistance in the presence of sebum. If you're like me and you love playing with surfactants...well, you might end up with a lot less in your bank account!
In my workshop I have these surfactants...
- Amphosol CG (cocamidopropyl betaine): This is an essential surfactant for any formulator as it adds mildness, increases viscosity, and behaves as a mild cleanser.
- Amphosol AS-40 (liquid) (C14-16 olefin sulfonate): A mild cleanser suitable for oily skin and hair. Great flash foam, good lather, good bubbles - it's a good all around inclusion in all the different things I might make with surfactants. I have the powdered AS-90 as well, but I don't tend to use that often.
- Steol CS-230 (sodium laureth sulfate): A mild cleanser good for all skin and hair types. I like this for hand washes and body cleansers.
- Steol CA-230 (ammonium laureth sulfate): A mild cleanser good for all skin and hair types. I like to use this where I might use SLeS, but I've only just bought this, so I'm not sure where it fits into my formulating yet.
- SCI (sodium cocoyl isethionate): A staple for my shampoo bars, this offers great foam, good lather, good bubbles, and a lovely skin feel. I have flakes, noodles, and prills! (Yep, I really love this stuff!)
- SLSa (sodium lauryl sulfoacetate): A staple for my shampoo bars, this offers excellent foam, lather, and bubbles with mild cleansing.
- DLS mild (disodium laureth sulfosuccinate): This is a great for oily skin or hair with good foam, good detergency, and mild cleansing.
- SMC taurate (sodium methyl cocoyl taurate): A gentle surfactant good for dry to normal skin that offers good skin feel.
- Castille liquid soap: I've been using this a lot lately in household cleansers! It's great!
- PEG-7 cocoate (non-ionic): A foam stabilizer that will thicken other surfactants as well as re-fattening skin. Again, this is new to me and I want to use it in body washes to increase the moisturizating nature.
- Decyl glucoside (Plantapon, non-ionic): A good foamer that enhances cationic conditioniong and anti-irritant. This one is great for very mild formulations like facial cleansers or dry hair shampoos.
- Cocamide DEA (non-ionic): It improves the density and stability of foams, and adds some serious thickening and moisturizing to surfactant mixes.
I also have these blends...
- BSB (PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate, Sodium Trideceth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Disodium Lauroamphodiacetate, PEG-150 Distearate, Sodium Laureth-13 Carboxylate, Quaternium-15): A gentle to mild cleansing blend great for all applications. I find it especially awesome in bubble baths to increase viscosity and making skin feel nice afterwards.
- LSB (Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate and Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate): Because Voyageur is no longer carrying Bioterge 804, I've started to use this product to get sulfosuccinate into my surfactant mixes. It has excellent foam, excellent lather, and excellent bubbles, so it's an all around surfactant for many different uses.
- Bioterge 804 (Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Lauramide DEA): As I mentioned, this is no longer carried at Voyageur, but it was great for oily hair products with good cleansing and fluffy lather.
So which ones should you pick up for your formulating fun? Consider your skin and hair type and what you want to make! If you have oily skin or hair, the sulfosuccinates and sulfonates are good choices, whereas if you have dry skin or hair, the milder cleansers like decyl glucoside or SMC or SMO Taurate might be your staple surfactants. The alkyl ether sulfates like ALeS and SLeS are good all around surfactants that you can use in just about every type of product you'll make!
Also consider availability. Although I love the DLS Mild and SMC Taurate, I don't make those the main surfactants in my products because the shipping costs make it far too expensive to order from the Herbarie regularly. I can drive to Voyageur in 45 minutes, so I tend to formulate with the Amphosol CG, Amphosol AS-40, and SLeS or BSB/LSB the most. (Having said this, Creations from Eden in Edmonton is carrying some of the Herbarie's products, including DLS mild and the polyglucose/lactylate blend! Yay!)
I think every workshop should have cocamidopropyl betaine because of its ability to thicken and increase mildness. I like to have SLeS around because it's a great all around surfactant for creating cleansing products, and I like to have C14-16 olefin sulfonate because it's a great cleanser but also a good inclusion in bubble baths.
As for powders, I think SCI is just fantastic stuff - your skin does feel more moisturized afterwards and it's great for shampoo bars and thickening other surfactant mixes. If you want to make mild cleansers, shampoo bars, bubble baths, or things like bubble bars, SCI is a great addition to your surfactant shelf, but choose either the one with stearic acid (flakes, noodles) or without (prills) depending upon your skin and hair type. Or get both! SLSa is very useful, but mostly for the bubbleage as in solid products as it can really thicken your bubble baths far too much (I used 10% and it was like concrete!)
What about blends? I remember LabRat mentioning that we shouldn't get too reliant on a blend of surfactants just in case our supplier stopped carrying it. That happened with the Bioterge 804 - out of the blue, Voyageur has stopped stocking it, so I've had to work around it by making my own versions. (The reason? Because people are scared of sulfates, so they're replacing sulfates with other things. I understand Voyageur's rationale, but that's so annoying!)
But if you're formulating for yourself or just starting out, sometimes a blend means you don't have to spend a fortune on ten different bottles of stuff to make a great shampoo or body wash. Both Voyageur and the Herbarie carry some great surfactant blends like BSB, LSB, and Baby blend concentrate, all of which are great inclusions in your products!
Where can I get surfactants? Here's a short list...feel free to add to it in the comments section (with links, if possible!) A lot of times, the surfactants are listed under raw materials or miscellaneous or speciality ingredients, so you might have to do a bit of extra looking around on the site of your usual supplier.
- Link to Voyageur Soap & Candle (Canada) - all the surfactants I use, including SLSa, and the LSB and BSB blends.
- Link to Aquarius Aroma & Soap (Canada) - the only place I know in Canada for SCI (Jordapon prilled). Also carry SLSa, cocamide DEA, and SLeS.
- Link to Creations from Eden (Canada) - carrying DLS mild and polyglucose/lactylate blend.
- Link to the Herbarie (America) - too many to list.
- Link to the Personal Formulator (America). They carry the glutamates under natural surfactants, as well as tons of others!
What surfactants are must-haves for your workshop? Do you have any suggestions for where to buy them? Share your thoughts in the comments!