Biosurfactants: the Holy Grail of naturals?

Biosurfactants: the Holy Grail of naturals?

Having just returned from an excellent Conference, it’s clear that there are plenty of natural alternatives for the majority of key ingredient areas. This enables finished product manufacturers to proudly proclaim how natural their formulations are and give consumers a warm glow in the process. However there is one very important element missing: surfactants. Despite many surfactants now claiming biodegradable partly-biobased credentials, no fully natural surfactant capable of being used on any large scale has yet hit the market.


Speaking to formulators who attended the conference a true biosurfactant was definitely top of their wish list and a talk by Tony Gough of Innospec went into some detail about the current crop of plants that offer some of the properties needed, such as soapbark and Indian soapnut. But all of these fall down, either due to colour issues, odour, their textural profile; but probably most often because of the cost. Producing enough of the surfactant to be even remotely useful on a large scale at a sensible cost is simply not possible.


We are currently still at an impasse, so it is worth asking the question – do we really need a completely natural surfactant when we have perfectly good partly natural ones? The answer coming from the marketers is likely to be ‘yes’ and I’m sure formulators would love to get their hands on one, but there is much to be said for the improved ‘green’ profiles of currently available surfactants that offer both a pleasing marketing angle in addition to all the sensorial attributes of the best petrochemical-based surfactants.


While the desire for entirely natural formulations is strong in some quarters, the majority of consumers will be more than content with ‘mostly natural’ formulations that are still able to offer luxurious skin feel along with a long history of safe use. This is likely to be the situation for the foreseeable future as there is still no sign of a credible all-natural alternative. Perhaps there is a new ingredient just around the corner that will change the game – if there is I’m sure there will be a sizable crowd around the supplier’s stand at in-cosmetics when it is launched!

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