Day 19 - The Science of Surfactants

Welcome to Day 19 of the 30 Days to Become a Better Cosmetic Chemist series

This 30 day challenge is all about giving you lessons and basic exercises that will improve your abilities as a cosmetic chemist.

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In this episode

In today’s program we’re going to cover the basic science of one of the most important types of raw materials used in cosmetics…surfactants.

In this episode you’ll find:

  • Definition of surfactants
  • History of the developments of surfactants
  • Why surfactants are used in cosmetics
  • How surfactants work
  • Four types of cosmetic surfactants
  • When to use the different types of surfactants

Today’s challenge

Try a classic experiment to demonstrate the effect of a surfactant in water. It is the old pepper, water, soap experiment. To do this experiment you need to get some black pepper, a dish of water, a toothpick and a body wash, shampoo, or bar soap.

But doing the experiment is not the only part of today’s challenge. The real challenge is to see if you can figure out a way to explain what is going on. Answer a few questions. For example, why does the pepper stay on the surface of the water? And why does it move away when you expose it to a surfactant? First, explain it in a way that makes sense to you. Then see if you can come up with a way to explain it to a 10-year-old. When you’ve got that go to the show notes for today’s program and leave your explanation.

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How to Become a Cosmetic Chemist

The job of a cosmetic chemist, or as they call it in the UK a cosmetic scientist, requires you to do a wide variety of things both in and out of the lab. Your main responsibility will be that of a formulator. This means you mix raw materials together to create cosmetic products like lipstick, nail polish, skin lotions, shampoos, toothpaste and any other type of personal care product.

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