Until an Organic Surfactant Exists

Organic, natural and green: three little words that have made a big impact on the personal care industry. Such types of products are costly to produce and challenging to formulate—not to mention how strictly they must be labeled and regulated. But today’s society is becoming more eco-conscious and as such, consumers want to see natural and organic products now—for a reasonable price and labeled clearly. While it is difficult to create a natural and organic skin care product, it is even more so to formulate an organic or natural hair care product.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows personal care products containing 95% or greater organic food content to carry the organic seal. The new OASIS seal, tailored specifically for organic personal care products, currently requires that products contain 85% organic materials; this will increase to 90% and 95% in 2010, allowing the industry some time to devise organic versions of functional ingredients. Under OASIS, products made with 70% organic ingredients are allowed to be labeled as “made with organic,” with rules further imposed on the remaining 30%. This “made with organic” claim is used mostly for shampoos and body washes since the majority of ingredients in these applications that provide the product’s efficacy do not yet have organic alternatives.

Kayla Fioravanti, chief formulator and vice president of Essential Wholesale and Essential Labs, maker of the von Natur organic and natural brand, is constantly searching for organic surfactants for body washes and shampoos. According to Fioravanti, more than 95% of her company’s products are 80% organic. This 95% does not include body washes or shampoos; the main reason—surfactants.

Searching for a Natural Surfactant
While investigating ingredients for her products, Fioravanti always seeks out organic options. “If there isn’t an organic option, we go for wildcrafted,” added Fioravanti. Wildcrafted ingredients are harvested in their natural or wild habitat. If there is no organic option and the product can do without the ingredient, Fioravanti leaves the ingredient out of the formulation.

The second aspect that Fioravanti examines is the ingredient’s mildness. Being chemically sensitive herself, Fioravanti is aware that many consumers seeking organic and natural products are interested in their mildness. The product must also, of course, be efficacious and this is a challenge with natural, mild surfactants. “When you are formulating with sulfates, it is easy. They are incredibly simple and there are many ingredient combinations that work well with them. They also produce a rich lather. With natural surfactants, it is trickier,” commented Fioravanti.

For the von Natur line, however, Fioravanti needed a natural surfactant and decided upon decyl glucose, a naturally derived surfactant. “We chose decyl glucose, a sugar-based surfactant. It has a great feel, leaves skin conditioned and produces a decent foam. We use it with cocoamidopropyl betaine,” added Fioravanti.

Playing the Natural Surfactant Game
Because Fioravanti’s surfactants are naturally derived, she and many other formulators of natural and organic body care have noted a price increase. “All naturally derived surfactants come from coconut or palm oil. The prices are now going up because nearly a quarter of palm oil is being purchased for biofuel,” explained Fioravanti.

In addition to the higher cost of formulas with natural surfactants, the resulting product differs physically in that it often is thinner. “Naturally derived surfactants, in our case decyl glucose, are a little runnier,” said Fioravanti. Although thickeners can be added to such formulations, they must be added in moderation due to their effect on the hair. “Natural/organic surfactants also do not produce the rich foam that consumers are accustomed to from sulfates, but we cannot help that. A natural/organic product is not going to feel or look exactly the same as a chemical-containing formula,” added Fioravanti.

In addition to the consistency, natural/organic products also carry a different feel. According to Fioravanti, this is due to the absence of dimethicone, which produces a nice after feel in personal care products. Fioravanti explained, “While consumer perception at first will be thrown off, they will notice the positive long-term effects of a natural/organic product.”

Currently, Fioravanti cannot label her shampoos and body washes as organic, but she is not alone. “There is no shampoo that is totally organic because there are no surfactants available,” said Fioravanti. Rather than playing what she calls the “smoke and mirrors game” of labeling products as certified organic, she is waiting for suppliers to create an actual organic surfactant. “I do not see an organic surfactant being launched in the near future but I am looking for a supplier that will create one and take it through the steps necessary to get it certified.”

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