“Switching to sustainable surfactants”
Chemical & Engineering News
Consumers increasingly want to buy “greener,” more eco-friendly beauty and personal care products. In response, chemical companies and manufacturers are pledging to reduce their carbon footprints. According to a cover story in Chemical & Engineering News, an independent news outlet of the American Chemical Society, to help meet these sustainability goals, companies are finding biobased alternatives to traditional surfactants in personal care products and switching to renewable source materials for existing products.
Soaps, lotions and cosmetics often include surfactants, which mix oils and water together, writes Associate Editor Craig Bettenhausen. Surfactants can stabilize these products, but they also can provide cleaning power, removing dirt and grime. Many conventional surfactants are partially or fully synthetic, but companies are expanding their use of microbially produced biosurfactants, as well as inherently biobased surfactants such as alkyl polyglucosides, or APGs. According to some estimates, both of these types of surfactants can have a lower carbon footprint than their conventional counterparts, but it depends on the agricultural practices used to grow the necessary plants. Products containing these alternative ingredients often also have a higher price tag than those containing conventional ingredients.
Completely reformulating existing products can be expensive and risky, so some companies make biobased versions of conventional surfactants by simply sourcing more of their ingredients from plants instead of petroleum. Another method, called the mass-balance approach, blends renewable biomass feedstocks with conventional fossil fuel feedstocks earlier in production. To make their products greener, manufacturers have to balance the sustainability, feasibility and cost of any changes, but they have options. Whether it is through incorporating new biosurfactants, expanding the use of APGs or changing to biobased versions of existing ingredients—or a combination these approaches—consumers are now enjoying expanded choices when shopping for eco-friendly products.