Why Active Surfactant Matter (ASM), Matters

Surfactant is shortened for ‘surface active agent’, and as the phrase implies, they are active on the water/oil surface interface.  Simply put, surfactants are compounds that lower the surface tension of a liquid and therefore they emulsify the lipids and the dirt on the surface which aids washing off with water.

They are cleansing agents among other functions and are routinely found in shower gels, shampoos, facial cleansers and cleaning products. Surfactants cover a large group of ingredients that are responsible for several functions, including as foaming agents, emulsifiers, solubilisers, dispersers, wetting agents and detergents, these ingredients are all classified as surfactants. In this post, we are looking at surfactants used in cleansing products, where they are needed for their cleansing and foaming abilities.
ASM is simply the percentage concentration of the actives present in the surfactant. Surfactants are not usually sold as “pure” ingredients. They are diluted in water,  If the ASM of a surfactant is 30%, this means the ingredient contains 30% surfactant and 70% water. This also means that in a 100g jar of that surfactant, you get 30g surfactant, the rest is water. The active surfactant matter gives an indication of how much active substance is present in that surfactant and is usually denoted in percentage.
Knowing the ASM of your surfactant is important as it helps in deciding how much of the surfactant should be used in the cosmetic formulation. Products would require a certain ASM depending on what they are used for. Some formulations require less surfactants, while others require more. Deciding on the concentration of surfactant in products is largely dependent on the type of product being formulated. Skin cleansers would naturally have higher concentrations than facial cleansing products or even products for sensitive baby skin.

The ASM of your surfactants is also necessary as we know surfactants are usually diluted with water. Caprylyl-capryl-glucoside for instance, with a 60% ASM, is made up of 60% actives and 40% water. If a formulation calls for 18% ASM then you will need to calculate how much surfactant you need based on which surfactants you choose to use in your product.
Below are examples of the ASMs requirement for common natural products:
Face wash/facial cleanser – 3-10% ASM depending on how gentle you want it to be.
Shampoo – 10-15% ASM (higher end for more oily type hair, lower for dry hair types)
Body wash – 15-20% ASM
Bubble bath – 20-25% ASM ( This is higher as bubble baths are usually diluted in plenty of water for use)
Generally, in formulation, using more than one surfactant will produce milder, more gentle products than one made with a single surfactant, provided the active surfactant matter value is kept constant. This approach produces a more balanced product and oftentimes  better foaming ability. Usually, a combination of surfactants is used to achieve the right balance of mildness and foaming ability.
Surfactants are classified as anionic (negative charge) examples are SCI, SCS, and AOS40, Cationic (positive charge) or amphoteric (can be either positive or negative charge) example is Coco Betaine, Non-ionic surfactants (neutral charge) examples include coco glucoside, lauryl glucoside, decyl glucoside  and caprylyl caprylyl glucoside. Non-ionic surfactants work well with other surfactants, so they can be used in natural blends which are highly effective. Amphoteric surfactants are typically used with other surfactants to reduce harshness and support foam.

The term Surfactants may conjure up a chemically, unnatural image in one’s mind, but there are quite a few that are naturally derived and absolutely safe for use in natural products. These surfactants are usually ECOCERT AND COSMOS certified.  At Eats Africa we offer a number of these naturally derived, and mild surfactants which are gentle on the skin and hair. They can be used in everything from household cleaners, to shampoos, shower gels and baby washes.
Natural surfactants like coco glucoside, lauryl glucoside, decyl glucoside , caprylyl caprylyl glucoside, SCI, and SCS, ,are great because they offer a huge potential in the natural skin care space for formulating products that are better on the skin as well as being kinder on the environment. Some of these advantages are:

They are gentle, non-irritant and milder on skin and hair.
They are biodegradable
They are environmentally safe and eco-friendly.
They usually have skin friendly PH range and are easily pH adjustable to suit your needs.
They pair well with other surfactants.

Which natural surfactant do you plan to try out in your next formulation? Leave us a comment below :).
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