Surfactants: Are They Good or Bad?

Mother Dirt

We all know about the importance of cleaning our hair with shampoo. It allows your hair to feel clean and refreshed by getting rid of excess dirt and oils. There is a somewhat ominous ingredient in shampoos that isn’t discussed very often. That ingredient is surfactants. Let’s talk about them and get the final say on whether they can be harmful to your strands. 

What Are Surfactants?

Surfactants are compounds that penetrate and cleanse the skin. Some saponified soaps like glycerin use natural variations of surfactants to clean. The molecules in surfactants can be hydrophobic and hydrophilic. They work to increase the saturation properties of liquids. You can usually find surfactants in things like detergents, shampoos and toothpaste. 

Surfactants are also called surface-active agents. When they are added to a liquid, it reduces its surface tension and increases the wetting properties. Some surfactants are foaming agents, and others are emulsifiers. Some surfactants act as fungicides and insecticides. 

Types Of Surfactants

There are four types of surfactants that all function differently. They are classified as anionic, non-ionic and amphoteric. They are separated this way because of the charge of the polar head on the surfactant, which can have a negative, positive or no charge. 

  • Anionic surfactants are the most common type of surfactant because they have the best cleaning power and the most foaming ability. One of the most popular types of anionic surfactants is SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate), found in many shampoos. This type tends to be harsh on your skin, which is why it is often mixed with more mild surfactants. 
  • Nonionic surfactants don’t ionize in water and are gentler for cleaning purposes. Some sugar-based nonionic surfactants provide a non-toxic alternative to harsher products. 
  • Cationic surfactants don’t foam as much and aren’t generally used in hair products.
  • Amphoteric surfactants are somewhat mild and can help boost the foam of other surfactants.

What Are Sulfonates?

There is a variant of surfactants known as sulfonates. Sulfonated Alkyl Polyglucosides (SAPGs) have evolved dramatically over the past decade to become a productive primary surfactant alternative to sulfates. They tend to be amongst the most gentle surfactants and are mild on the skin and eyes. Sulfonates still have foaming properties and are renewable and environmentally friendly. 

This is the type of gentle surfactant that Mother Dirt uses in its products. Sodium Laurylglucosides Hydroxypropylsulfonate is a naturally-derived sugar-based surfactant. This way, you can get that clean, fresh feeling from your shampoo without any of the harshness. 

Our Probiotic Hydrating Hair Wash is also made with rose water, squalane, coconut, and probiotic extracts. This shampoo allows your hair to be deeply cleansed while restoring the balance of your scalp’s microbiome without stripping. It’s also designed for all hair types to use. 

Ingredients To Stay Away From

While we can agree that it’s best to stay away from most surfactants and sulfates in your products, not all versions of surfactants are harmful. Pay attention to the label on the bottles you buy to see which ingredients they include or are missing. 

Here are some to look out for:

  • Parabens are known to disrupt endocrine hormones. They help prolong the shelf life of certain products and appear on labels as methylparaben, ethylparaben or propylparaben. They’re easily absorbed by your body, making them dangerous. 
  • Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to reduce stiffness. They also interfere with critical hormone functions in your body and can mess with the hair growth cycle. 
  • Formaldehyde is a human carcinogen and is easily absorbed through the skin. It works as a preservative for most products that it’s found in. 
  • Synthetic dyes often contain toxins that can harm your hair’s cuticle and leave it vulnerable to oxidative damage. Some artificial colors are even made with coal tar which is toxic for the body. 
  • Alcohol has a drying effect on your hair and is usually listed on labels as isopropyl alcohol or propanol. 
  • Triclosan helps to prevent bacterial contamination, but it’s often irritating for the skin. It’s banned in the United States from being used in soaps but is still used in shampoo. 
  • Dimethicone is a silicone that protects the surface of the hair but causes buildup. It also prevents nutrients from reaching the hair follicle and clogs the pores. 

Mother Dirt’s Clean Products

Mother Dirt has products that are free of harmful ingredients and contain probiotics. Our shampoo and conditioner are designed to not only provide moisture and cleanliness to your strands, but also help rebalance the scalp microbiome. 

The scalp microbiome is an ecosystem of living bacteria. This microbiome exists to protect your hair and scalp from harmful pathogens and bad bacteria that come along. Our products work to maintain the pH level of your hair without disrupting the living ecosystem that exists there. 

Without a balanced microbiome, your hair can never truly be happy or healthy. There will always be issues with oiliness, dryness or even dandruff. Providing your hair with probiotics is the best way to get your healthiest hair yet. 

Probiotic Magic

Wonderfully dirty bacteria allows your microbiome to be in balance and keep all the harmful bacteria in check. This protects your skin and scalp, allowing it to reveal its most radiant self. If your skin’s microbiome is unbalanced, it will reflect outwardly as well. 

Probiotics offer tension and discomfort relieving effects. They work similarly to the probiotics intended for your gut’s health by restoring the essential bacteria into your skin. This helps to brighten and balance your hair and skin. It also works with your sweat to keep your pH levels in check. 

Mother Dirt Hair Care

Our Probiotic Hydrating Hair Wash is specially formulated with probiotics to cleanse and strengthen your hair’s microbiome. It’s made with plant-based ingredients that balance, protect and smooth hair. This shampoo leaves your hair feeling full, soft and strong. The best part is that it’s formulated without harsh surfactants. 

You can follow up your hair routine with our Probiotic Hydrating Conditioner. It’s designed to moisturize hair without weighing it down. You only need a small amount of this conditioner for smoother and healthier hair. When used as a system with our AO+ Restorative Mist, these products work together to restore your scalp microbiome. 

Ingredient Transparency

At Mother Dirt, we don’t believe in hiding harsh ingredients on our labels. We’re not about tricks or traps, and we want you to know exactly what you’re putting on your hair. That’s why we list all of our ingredients on our website for you to see. We also explain why we include that ingredient and what products it can be found in.

If you’re wondering why our ingredient lists have long names like Capric Triglyceride, it’s because the FDA demands that plant-derived ingredients be referred to by their Latin name. Capric Triglyceride is an emollient derived from coconut oil that softens the skin. 

Ingredients To Look For In Beauty Products

When shopping for shampoo, it’s important to look for plant-based and organic ingredients. These will be the most gentle on your hair and the best for your health. Instead of synthetically made ingredients, look for fruit extracts and botanicals.

Many shampoos that are natural contain seed oils and fruit extracts that are less likely to disrupt the hair and scalp’s natural pH. 

Look for things in your hair products like:

  • Aloe
  • Jojoba oil
  • Olive oil
  • Root extracts
  • Coconut oil
  • Green tea 

These ingredients won’t strip your hair of its natural oils while providing hydration. 

Commitment To Clean Beauty

At Mother Dirt, we use only the best ingredients with results in mind. We’re rethinking the skincare industry and how it functions. Instead of loading your skin and hair up with meaningless chemicals and fragrances, we’re adding balance back into the mix. That means providing probiotic extracts that improve hair’s microbiome and pH instead of disrupting it. 

The Takeaway

The bottom line here is that you want to stay away from most surfactants. Before putting down a product with a long list of complicated ingredients, make sure to do your research to determine if those ingredients can be harmful to you. Remember, just because the name of something is long or unpronounceable doesn’t mean it’s toxic.



What Are Surfactants and How Do They Work? | Biolinscientific 

Surfactant - An Overview | Science Direct 

Surfactants: Use, Benefits | Chemical Safety Facts  

SURFACTANTS Types and Uses | 

Share Article