Non Irritating Surfactant for Shampoo... HELP!

Hi all,

I am currently in the process of formulating a shampoo that is suitable for all hair types including skin conditions such as Contact dermatitis, Eczema, Seborrheic Dermatitis and am having trouble with finding gentle ingredients. 

I initially started trying to formulate using only natural foaming products such as Soap nut powder and Quillaja Saponaria as my surfactants but have found they they really offer little to no rich foaming qualities that I think are needed for it be be commercially successful.

So now I am on the hunt for the next best thing, obviously all Sulfates are out of the question (and out of trend in the market) and these days everybody seems to be replacing them with different types of sodium based surfactants to negate the stigma that 'Sulfates' now carry. But my worry is that these seems to have the same irritating properties and are essentially in the same family as Sulfates and I don't think will suit what I need in my formaulation.

So my question to you clever problem solvers is, is there an alternative?
I stumbled across this the other day, but seems to be just another Sodium based product, sigh.  

Maybe what I am chasing doesn't exist but since I am inexperienced in the matter I am seeking help and advice from the experts. Also while I am at it, I would also ask what else will be needed within my formulation to create a rich hydrating sort of feel? 

The shampoo I am trying to formulate is intended to be gentle enough so that it doesn't need a conditioner so I am essentially trying to make something with very minimal foaming (just enough to get the job done and enough for good product dispersement when applying) but also hydrating and repairing at the same time so that no second step is needed.  Kind of more like a 'Cleansing Conditioner' similar to "New Wash"

Thank you in advance for any information and help you can provide, it is greatly appreciated.

Thank you :smile:


  • A couple things. 

    All detergents (including soaps) can be irritating. A good formula will use a combination of surfactants that work in synergy and is found to be mild. When combined, some combinations of detergents are much less irritating than they are on their own. Usually, a mix of anionic (like the sodium ones you mention), amphoteric (like alkylamine oxides, or alkyl amido propyl betaines) and anionics (like alkyl polyglucosides).

    Sodium detergents are not replacing sulfates. Some sulfates (SLS, SLES) are also sodium salts. I would not think of “sodium based” surfactants as a a category. Those are actually classified as “anionic”, which tend to have strong detergency to remove soil/dirt. Some of the best and most popular OTC shampoos for seborrheic dermatitis are very simple and use sulfates (again SLS, SLES). Like Neutrogena’s T/Sal or T/Gel. I suffer from seborreic dermatitis and the last thing I want is to use is any nourishing, conditioning shampoos. Two hours after showering and my head and hair are greasy and gross.It can even exacerbate it and make me break out in pimples. I know it’s not the SLS/SLES doing that because T/Sal, T/Gel work wonders. I recently formulated my own shampoo with SLS/SLES/Salicylic acid, polyquaternium 10 and a refattener and it’s been lovely, my hair has a nice slip and little to no frizz (which I used to have a problem with). 
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @qwerty - You seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what causes irritation. The sodium part of a molecule is not what is causing irritation. It's the counter ion that causes irritation. So, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate is just as irritating as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate.  The "Lauryl Sulfate" part causes the irritation.

    "Maybe what I am chasing doesn't exist..."

    I doesn't. 

    If it did, a company would have already come out with the product that you describe. P&G, Unilever, L'Oreal spend millions in research & development and have scientists dedicated to creating products just as you describe. Everyone wants an effective, gentle, non-irritating shampoo that foams great and leaves hair feeling great. The stuff on the market now is the best that has been discovered. Just know this is a complicated problem that isn't easily solved.

    I'd also recommend you reexamine your formulation strategy. What is your goal?  Do you want to create the most effective product for the conditions you described?  Or do you want to make something that is less effective by using ingredients that don't sound as scary?

    Companies don't use sulfates because they are motivated to make cheap, irritating, dangerous products. They use sulfates because they are the best option to use. If Soap nut powder and Quillaja Saponaria worked better, big corporations (and everyone else) would use them.

    It may be hard to believe, but you can make a non-irritating formula using sulfates. And you can also make an irritating formula that is sulfate free. Sulfate does not equal irritation.

    I hope you find these comments helpful. They are not meant to be critical. We all want to produce great products.
  • qwertyqwerty Member
    @letsalcido @Perry

    Seems I do indeed do have fundamental misunderstanding of this issue, thank you both for clearing that up for me, i'm sorry my comment was so misguided but I am really knew to this and have no experience at all in anything chemistry related so thank you for bearing with me. 

    I guess my main objectives in my goal are to have a product that reacts differently (has a different 'feel') than a regular cleanser to give a consumer experience of something that isn't as 'harsh" as a run of the mill shampoo, something a bit more luxurious I guess you could say. 
    But also something that performs in that was also, so cleansing enough that it leaves the hair feeling clean but isn't stripping it bare and also has enough conditioning/reparative elements that you could forgo conditioning.

    And i guess still as little synthetic intervention as possible because I would still like it try and market it as still a mostly 'naturally derived' type product, within reason of course. If it possible to formulate something like this that is also safe (not a treatment for but just safe or neutral) for skin conditions such a dermatitis/eczema that would be a bonus too. 

    What do you guys think I should be looking into? Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate seem to be catching my eye at the moment but obviously i know nothing really haha.

    Thank you again!   
  • qwertyqwerty Member
    Or perhaps something like Decyl Glucoside?

  • BelassiBelassi Member, PCF student
    Decyl glucoside is terrible. Please understand, shampoo design is not easy nor intuitive. Unless you want to spend the next two years throwing surfactants down the drain, considering this is only for personal use, it will cost far less to find a commercial product that you like.

    Cosmetic Brand Creation. Concept to name to IMPI search to logo and brand registration. In-house graphic design inc. Pantone specs. Cosmetic label and box design & graphics.
  • Absolutely agree. It’s not that hard to master O/W moisturizer but a surfactant products are tricky. 
    @Belassi, I have occasional failures and I use them as floor washing liquid. Provided that I never run out the failures happen more often than I would want.
  • Unfortunately it doesn't look like I can find Iselux anywhere in Australia, maybe I could try to find the individual components separately and make something similar? 

    Aqua (and) Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate (and) Cocamidopropyl Betaine (and) Sodium Methyl Oleoyl Taurate (and) Lauryl Glucoside (and) Coco-Glucoside

    What kind of ratios would you recommend to start off with if I tried to formulate myself? 

    I so hope that once I find a good formulation that I can market and sell to the public, it wont be only for personal use so I don't mind spending some time and money towards getting the desired results. 

    Thank you!
  • Then try to find Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate (I haven't seen oleoyl anywhere) and CAPB. For a mild shampoo, you want to keep ASM within 15% and keep amphoteric relatively high. That combination is mild yet foams okeish (you can't have it all, unfortunately, the foam will be dense no large bubbles). I would say someone with oily scalp might not even like it because it's too mild. I use that combo for a facewash.
  • Don't forget to add refatenning agents, pearlisers (if need opacity) and cationic polymers too.
  • Dense foam with no large bubbles is kind of what i'm after actually so that sounds good.  

    What do the refatenning agents and cationic polymers do exactly? 

    Have you also had any experience with Sodium Laurlyglucosides hydroxypropylsulfaonate/ Lauramidopropyl betaine, maybe this could be an option also?


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