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Surfactants: A Growing Market Fuelled by Sustainable Alternatives

Girl washing her hair with shampoo

Photo by Karolina Kaboompics

The world of personal care and hygiene products is undergoing a sustainable transformation, driven by a new wave of innovation in surfactants. Surfactants, also called surface-active agents, are a class of chemical compounds that play a crucial role in various industries, including detergents, personal care products, food processing, and more. These compounds have a unique structure that allows them to reduce the surface tension between two immiscible substances, such as oil and water.


This allows surfactants to be able to perform various functions in countless products we use daily, including: 


  • Cleansing (removing dirt and grime) 

  • Emulsifying (suspending oils in water) 

  • Dispersing (breaking up clumps of particles) 

  • Wetting (allowing liquids to spread evenly on surfaces) 

Different Types of Surfactants 


Non-ionic Surfactants 


Non-ionic surfactants have a neutral head (no positive or negative charge). This class of surfactants can be either hydrophilic or lipophilic depending on the relative strength of the head and tail. This is called the Hydrophilic-Lipohilic Balance (HLB), an important characteristic for non-ionic surfactants for which the optimal behaviour is highly application dependent.  


Non-ionic surfactants are more surface active and better emulsifiers than anionics at similar concentrations. They are less soluble than anionics in hot water and produce less foam. They are also more efficient in removing oily and organic dirt than anionics.


Cationic Surfactants 

Cationic surfactants have a positive charge on their hydrophilic end. These surfactants are formed by the coupling of an alkyl group tail and either a nitrogen-based tertiary, quaternary or esterquat head. They are commonly used in a variety of industrial and personal care applications, including hair conditioners, disinfectants, and more.


Anionic Surfactants 

Surfactants with a negative charged head are anionic surfactants. The negative charge helps the surfactant molecules lift and suspend soils in micelles. Because they are able to attack a broad range of dirt, anionic surfactants are used widely in personal care and home care – from soaps, shampoos and cleansers to detergents. Typically, anionic surfactants create foam when mixed. While anionic surfactants are excellent for lifting and suspending particulate soils, they are not as good at emulsifying oily soils. 

Kaffe Bueno’s latest surfactant innovation, KLEANSTANT®, is an upcycled bio-based anionic surfactant. 


Amphoteric Surfactants 

Amphoteric surfactants possesses both positive and negative charges on their hydrophilic end, resulting in a net charge of zero. This unique property allows them to adapt to different pH environments, behaving as cationic surfactants in acidic conditions and as anionic surfactants in alkaline conditions. Their pH-dependent versatility makes them perfect for mild yet effective cleansing, which is why they are widely used in personal care products such as shampoos and cosmetics. Common examples of amphoteric surfactants include betaines and amino oxides. 



The Current Market of Surfactants: 

The global surfactants market is projected to reach USD 85.59 billion by 2031, growing at a CAGR of 4.6%.  


This upward trend is fuelled by several key factors: 


  • The Rise of the Eco-Conscious Consumer: Today's consumers are increasingly seeking personal care products that are not only effective and safe but also align with their values for environmental sustainability. This has led to a significant demand for bio-derived and "green" surfactants, propelling manufacturers to develop and incorporate more sustainable options into their formulations. 

  • Innovation in surfactant functionality: The industry is witnessing exciting advancements in surfactant functionalities. New products, such as naturally derived surfactants based on oat triglycerides and vegetable-derived non-ionic surfactants, are being introduced to cater to specific needs – for example gentle cleansing for sensitive skin or enhanced stability for natural ingredients.


Challenges and the Path Forward 

Traditional surfactants, like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), while effective cleansers, can be harsh on the skin and potentially harmful to the environment.  Bio-derived alternatives need to be cost-competitive and demonstrate equivalent performance to fully displace conventional options. Additionally, raising consumer awareness about the benefits of sustainable surfactants and educating them on how to identify eco-friendly products will be crucial for continued market growth.



A study by Villlota-Paz et al., 2022 highlights the environmental concerns throughout the life cycle of fossil fuel-based surfactants. From extraction to production and transportation, these surfactants release greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2), into the atmosphere.  





Consumers are becoming more aware of the potential harm caused by some traditional surfactants, such as SLS, and are actively seeking out natural alternatives. This shift is pushing manufacturers to develop and incorporate more sustainable options into their formulations


Market alternatives 


Here are some biobased alternatives in the market for SLS/SLES 


Sodim coco-sulfate (SCS) 

Sodium coco-sulfate (SCS) is an anionic surfactant widely used in skincare and personal care products for its cleansing, emulsifying, and foaming properties. It is commonly found in rinse-off products like facial cleansers due to its effective cleansing abilities. SCS is a sodium salt derived from the sulfate esters of the fatty acids in coconut oil, distinguishing it from sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which uses only lauric acid from coconut oil. This difference makes SCS significantly gentler than SLS, making it a popular alternative in formulations aimed at minimising skin irritation.


Potassium cocoate 


Potassium olivate 


KLEANSTANT® - A Sustainable Surfactant Solution 

KLEANSTANT® a Sustainable Anionic Surfactant by Kaffe Bueno


Kaffe Bueno is committed to addressing the most pressing personal care industry needs by upcycling coffee by-products into high performance, and all natural ingredients. Without compromising on quality, efficacy or margins. By averting coffee grounds from ending in the trash, we avert the emissions that these would have caused (15 kg CO2-eq/kg). Plus, replacing unsustainable materials – such as coconut, palm-derived or petrochemical ingredients from personal care products, we create a positive impact to the finished products carbon footprint while contributing to the shift towards a greener and sustainable world. 

KLEANSTANT® is a natural anionic surfactant upcycled from coffee by-products, containing potassium salts of palmitic and linoleic acids, along with polyphenols, tocopherols, and diterpene esters. This revolutionary natural anionic surfactant, offers a compelling alternative to conventional surfactants: 


  • Natural and Biodegradable: Free of sulphates and petroleum, KLEANSTANT® boasts excellent biodegradability, minimising its environmental footprint. 

  • Multi-Functional Benefits: Beyond effective cleansing and emulsifying properties, KLEANSTANT® provides a foaming, antioxidant richness, and moisturising effect, making it ideal for various personal care applications. This allows formulators to create products that are gentle yet effective. 

  • Upcycled ingredient: Derived from coffee by-products, KLEANSTANT® promotes upcycling within the manufacturing process, a concept increasingly valued by environmentally conscious consumers. 


Its distinctive fatty acid composition and presence of coffee oil's natural constituents position it as a viable substitute, enabling the formulation of effective and ecologically conscious products such as soaps, shampoos, body washes, and cleansers. The compound's benefits encompass antioxidant richness, a soft tactile sensation, and moisturising capabilities, while also serving formulation advantages like emollient properties and high solubility in various solutions. 


Learn more about Kaffe Bueno and our coffee-upcycled ingredients



The surfactant market is experiencing robust growth fuelled by consumer demand for sustainable and effective products. Innovative solutions like KLEANSTANT® are paving the way for a future where powerful performance meets environmental responsibility. With a focus on bio-based ingredients, AI-driven advancements, and precision engineering, the surfactant industry is poised to play a vital role in creating a more sustainable and innovative future for personal care products. As the demand for safe, effective, and eco-friendly products continues to rise, the surfactants of tomorrow promise to be not just functional but also responsible.  


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