Flower-powered conditioning: a sustainable, high-performance cationic ingredient

Flower-powered conditioning: a sustainable, high-performance cationic ingredient

(Sponsored content): courtesy of Stepan

Hair conditioners improve the manageability, appearance and feel of hair. While performance is key for the consumers (who likes bad hair days?), they have also been on the lookout for more sustainable products. A majority identify themselves as green/clean/conscious beauty buyers and are sensitive to “natural,” “environmentally friendly,” “locally sourced” claims and the absence of GMOs[1].

In this dynamic market (at least 5% value growth forecast for the next three years by Euromonitor), two ingredients are extensively used: Behentrimonium Chloride (BTAC) and Cetrimonium Chloride (CTAC). While they are strong and medium performers respectively, they are non-biodegradable, heavily CLP[2] classified and their use is restricted in the European Union. Stepan Company thus identified the need to develop a modern hair conditioning agent offering both high performance and meet sustainability expectations.

An eco-designed conditioning cationic

Stepan has decades of experience in esterquat (EQ) chemistry, notably for fabric softeners. EQs are known to be readily biodegradable, mild and less toxic to aquatic life. Stepan believed in their value for the hair conditioning market, provided that they’d match BTAC’s performance.

Esterquats are generally obtained by starting with long-chain fatty acids. For this development, Stepan decided to go greener by using European-grown sunflower oil instead of a palm-derived fatty acid. Several benefits to that: a reduction of the chemical transformation steps and a more local, sustainable supply chain. Another added benefit is that the resulting cationic agent has a much lower melt point, allowing for a high-active, low melt point product without the need for flammable solvents. While BTAC and CTAC require the use of such solvents or to be blended with fatty alcohols, the resulting EQ, STEPANQUAT® Soleil (INCI: Dioleylethyl Hydroxyethylmonium Methosulfate (and) Sunflower Seed Oil Glycerides), does not contain any solvent nor preservative and comprises 100% total cationic and emollient actives. This fits the rising need for concentrated ingredients enabling transportation and storage optimization.

A high performing conditioning quat

STEPANQUAT Soleil was designed to be as sustainable as possible, but it needed to be proven efficient to match consumers’ expectations.

From a theoretical standpoint, using sunflower oil is supposed to be more optimal for hair than palm as its carbon chain includes high amounts of unsaturated oleic acid (C18:1). This is believed to assist in coating and lubricating the hair for ease of combing.

To verify this assumption and assess the technical performance of SF-EQ, a variety of tests were performed. Electronic microscope pictures of a damaged hair fiber were taken before and after treatment with 2% active cationic. STEPANQUAT Soleil provided visible and high-quality fibre coating, showing a very smooth appearance of the hair, while BTAC and CTAC provided a more heterogeneous result.  The detangling performance was assessed with a Dia-Stron equipment and STEPANQUAT Soleil showed equivalent results to BTAC at 2% actives, a typical use level. It also outperformed other standard EQs and CTAC. Lastly, STEPANQUAT Soleil showed a high substantivity, staying on the hair after the use and rinsing off the conditioner, for longer-lasting benefits (unlike BTAC which was rinsed out), but being eliminated at the next shampoo, preventing build-up.

Overall, STEPANQUAT Soleil has consequently proven its ability to compete with the best performing cationic quat, BTAC, and positions itself as a true alternative for greener, highly efficient hair care products.

An ally to formulators

Formulators will eventually create the finished product. They look for globally approved, easy to use ingredients.

STEPANQUAT Soleil is a 100% actives, liquid product. While formulating a hair conditioner or mask with BTAC happens around 80°C, the heating can be reduced to 65°C with this new SF-EQ. It is thus safer to use for the formulator, but also faster, which helps with tightly timed development projects. The liquid form enables more creativity regarding the form of the finished products. Cold processable products are made possible, not counting solely on silicones and CETAC anymore. Lastly, the viscosity building behaviour of STEPANQUAT Soleil is a quick response with a gradual increase as more fatty alcohol is added to the system. This allows better viscosity control during an industrial process. It is possible to reach a viscosity range covering most conditioner and mask targets.


Stepan has developed and patented a European sunflower oil-derived cationic for hair conditioning applications that address modern-day challenges. STEPANQUAT Soleil provides a better story for the consumer, the environment and the formulator.

[1]  Euromonitor, The Evolution of Beauty: from Green to Clean Conscious, November 2019

[2]  Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP)

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