Surfactants form the basis of much cosmetic chemistry and are included in formulations as cleansing, foaming and solubilising agents, as well as for their emulsifying and thickening properties.
The compounds are amphiphiles, which means they have both water loving and lipid loving parts, and according to research led by Professor George John from the City College of New York, sugar-based amphiphiles could be a greener alternative to some of the surfactants currently used in personal care and cosmetic products.
According to John, sugar-based amphiphiles are both biobased, as they are made from renewable materials such as plant-based sorbitol or mannitol, and readily biodegradable.
John, who was awarded the second prize at last year’s NYSCC Cosmetic Technology Transfer Conference, for the work on the sugar-based ingredients explained that ‘ready biodegradability’ was a very important quality in surfactants.
“Our amphiphiles… are readily biodegradable under aerobic conditions and most importantly they degrade to produce chemical fragments (sugars and fatty acids) that are harmless and biocompatible,” he told CosmeticsDesign.com USA.
Biodegradability important for surfactants
According to the researcher, due to the large quantities of amphiphiles that are used for different applications, it is imperative that they exhibit ‘ready biodegradability’.
“As a result, many amphiphiles manufacturing firms have initiated a drive to develop surfactants that have properties similar to traditional ones and are also readily biodegradable. With this in mind, we think that our sugar-based amphiphiles are prospective alternatives for replacing the traditional ones (as green surfactants),” he said.
The synthesis of these sugar-based amphiphiles is the result of a biocatalytic process, which George said was currently being optimised:“We are still in the process of optimizing the synthesis scheme for our amphiphiles. It will chiefly focus on minimizing the energy of manufacturing process.”
“We are confident that, on completion of the optimization, the energetics of the process will be favorable for its up-scaling and will enable manufacturing of our amphiphiles,” he added.
According to George, that aside from optimising the synthesis of the ingredients, the next step for the researchers is to thoroughly investigate the toxicity and biocompatibility of the amphiphiles as well as investigate their applicability in real life scenarios.