Short term for surface active agent. Surfactants degrease and emulsify oils and fats and suspend soil, allowing them to be washed away. Surfactants are used in most forms of cleansers and many are considered gentle and effective for most skin types. There are several types of surfactants that can be sensitizing, drying, and irritating for skin. When those are the main ingredients in a facial cleanser, body wash, or shampoo, they should be avoided; the most common among drying, irritating surfactants is sodium lauryl sulfate. The similar-sounding ingredient sodium laureth sulfate is fine. [1,2,3,4]
- Robinson V, Bergfeld W, Belsito D, Hill R, Klaassen C, Marks JJ, Shank R, Slaga T, Snyder P, Andersen A. Final report of the amended safety assessment of sodium laureth sulfate and related salts of sulfated ethoxylated alcohols. Int J Toxicol. 2010;29(4S):151S-61S.
- Haake H, Marten S, Seipel W, Eisfeld W. Hair breakage--how to measure and counteract. J Cosmet Sci. 2009;60(2):143-51.
- Bergfeld W, Belsito D, Marks Jr J, Andersen F. Safety of ingredients used in cosmetics.. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2005;52(1):125-32.
- Turkoglu M, Sakr A. Evaulation of irritation potential of surfactant mixtures. Int J Cosmet Sci. 1999;21(6):371-82.