On Formulating a Greener Shampoo

Next week I’m giving a talk on cosmetic sustainability at the Southwest SCC monthly meeting. It should be fun. This is a hot topic in the cosmetic industry and it is particularly of interest to formulators who are interested in creating “Natural” formulations.

In preparing the talk, I investigated natural and sustainable formulations and thought you might be interested in what it takes to create a natural shampoo formulation.

Natural Shampoos

Shampoos are made up of only a few types of ingredients including…
1. Diluent (usually water)
2. Surfactant (primary & secondary)
3. Thickener
4. Preservative
5. Fragrance
6. Colorant
7. Conditioning ingredient
8. Feature ingredient

For standard shampoos, “synthetic ingredients” are typically used for everything except the diluent and the feature ingredients. Finding natural alternatives for the rest of the cosmetic ingredients is the challenge of the natural formulator. Here are some options.

Natural Surfactants

There are not many options for truly natural surfactants. It turns out that nature just doesn’t make many that work great for cleaning. Certainly not for creating the foam that people expect from a shampoo. Your best options for a sustainable, acceptably natural surfactant are Alkylpolygulcosides. Decyl Polyglucoside is made from starch and a fatty alcohol and can work. You’ll need to add a secondary surfactant to improve it’s foaming.

Natural Thickeners

One problem with using a natural surfactant like APG is that it won’t thicken up readily when you add salt. Therefore, you have to add a thickening agent. A variety of natural gums can be used including Guar gum, Karaya gum, and xanthan gum. You have to experiment to get the right thickness without making the formula feel too slimy.

Natural preservatives

It’s tough to find something that will work well enough and still be considered “natural”. However, you can try any of the natural preservatives we’ve previously suggested. Phenoxyethanol and benzoic acid are commonly used.

Natural Fragrance

For fragrance you can pretty much use a number of the different essential oil available. It’s not difficult to make a decent smelling, all-natural fragrance. However, it is more expensive.

Natural Colorants

There are a number of options for natural colors. Annatto is used to make red and orange products. Chlorophyll can be used to make green colors. Other natural colorants would include berry extracts, red oak bark, henna and walnut. Unfortunately, natural colors are prone to oxidation and can degrade over time.

Natural Conditioning Agents

There are not many that are as effective as polymeric conditioners or silicones. You can try things like banana pulp derivatives, plant gums, chitin and chitosan. Also, natural oils and waxes may be suitable options.

Formulating natural products is much more difficult than standard formulating. The products will tend to be more expensive, be less aesthetically appealing, and will not work as well. It’s just really difficult to make the best performing products when you aren’t allowed to use all the ingredients available. However, with trial and error you can make suitably natural formulations that will appeal to consumers concerned with sustainability.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *