Getting the Most Out of Decyl Glucoside

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Getting the Most Out of Decyl Glucoside

Over the last few years Decyl Glucoside has become one of my closest surfactant friends and a 'must have' in my cosmetics laboratory. Why, because it ticks all of the boxes in terms of irritation potential, foaming, sustainability and performance. In fact when it comes to surfactants, Decyl Glucoside is a chemical Genius! So, let's find out what it is that makes this chemical so much fun to work with.


Back in the early 1980's work started on the development of a new class of non-ionic surfactant, at class of surfactants that would go on to score top marks in terms of sustainability. Up until that time the market for non-ionic surfactants was dominated by a chemical family called nonyl-phenyl ethoxylates which while effective were problematic for the environment both in immediate terms (highly toxic to aquatic organisms) and for the long term (weak endocrine disruptors). Legislation to restrict and eventually ban nonylphenols was initiated and the push was on to develop alternatives. The first round of alternatives came in the form of alcohol ethoxylates which are still popular in industrial markets today. However, although these surfactants have better biodegradation scores and toxicity profiles than their nonyl phenyl cousins they still lack the eco credentials required by today's consumers. Growing environmental awareness opened up the market for something even better - Green, sustainable surfactants in the form of Alkyl Polyglucosides of which my friend Decyl Glucoside is one!

So what do surfactants do again?

Surfactants are the 'cleaners' in your product. They are most commonly found in products such as shampoos, liquid soaps and bubble baths to help get your body and hair clean. They are what make the bubbles!

Surfactants work in a number of different ways to help remove dirt from surfaces. They either make the surface wetter and more slippery (less grippy) for the dirt or surround or stick to the dirt and lift it off. The name surfactant makes it easy to remember where they work - at the surface! What may be trickier is to imagine the many surfaces that exist within a product and/or during the product use. We will get to that later but suffice to say that where there is a surface, there will be a surfactant sitting ready to act!

Decyl Glucoside and its family of non-ionics

Surfactants come in many shapes and sizes but some of the mildest options for skin and hair care are the non-ionics. Non-ionic surfactants can be made very mild because they tend to wrap around the dirt making it easier to rinse away without having to stick to the surface. While this is a bit of a generalization it is useful in this case as when our skin comes into contact with the surfactant our skin IS the surface. Anionics and Cationic surfactants have a tendency to 'stick' more to the hair or skin as they clean which can make them more irritating and more likely to take more grease than necessary from both of those surfaces. Non-ionics CAN does that too but is less likely to as they have less chemical attraction for our charged hair and skin. Pairing the mild cleansing mechanism with their other physical properties such as the molecular size and shape makes for a more comfortable cleaning experience. Just remember that this doesn't mean that other surfactants are irritating as in some cases you need the best clean possible and additional ingredients can be added to prevent over-drying so now isn't the time to ban or boycott anionics, cationics or amphoterics (which can carry both charges)! Horses for courses and often you need many different tools to do a good job.

Ok, so what is so good about Decyl Glucoside?

Well, where do we start....

We tend to think of surfactants as 'just' the cleaners. Yes they give us some luxurious foam to play with but unless we are making a bubble bath we understand that that is just fluff. Well, surfactants can do a whole lot more besides 'just cleaning' as we will find out below.

Decyl Glucoside Features and Benefits

  • Perfume Solubilisation in bubble bath/ shampoo/ body wash
    Have you ever wanted to add more perfume to your shampoo or bubble bath but just couldn't get it to work? Well that was me until I started to experiment with decyl glucoside. As a non-ionic that works by wrapping around oils they also work well as solubilisers so adding a non-ionic to your surfactant blend will not only give you a great and mild clean it will also enable you to max out your senses in terms of essential oil or fragrance overload. Well, when I say 'max out' I am talking about anything from 0.6-2.5% typically. Fragrances are complex beasts and one-size-won't-fit-all but as a general rule adding 4-5% decyl glucoside into your surfactant mix will help with perfume solubilisation.
  • Active Solubilisation in a bubble bath/ shampoo/ body wash.
    It is not uncommon these days to want to put other oil soluble additives and moisturizers into our surfactant products and that's where Decyl Glucoside really can help. It can help solubilise your extracts, actives and oils so that you end up with a crystal clear product naturally (cloudy = not fully solubilised).
  • Fragrance Solubilisation in a spritzer or room spray.
    If you are not a fan of ethoxylated surfactants you can try decyl glucoside as your room spray solubiliser. Adding 3 parts solubiliser to 1 part perfume is a good place to start. Yes it will foam a little but that is a small price to pay for a naturally beautiful product. You can always reduce the foaming with airless bottles or with a vegetable based anti-foam if you are that way inclined. Otherwise just buy an aluminium, frosted or coloured container and nobody will ever know!
  • Adding into emulsions to turn them into cleansing creams.
    Because it is a mild, nonionic surfactant decyl glucoside can be added into emulsions such as cream or lotion bases to provide some cleansing action. Take care not to add too much 1-5% is usually sufficient - as it will compete with the emulsifier a little and destabilize the formula. However, if done correctly you can make a really moisturizing cream cleanser naturally in just a few easy steps all thanks to decyl glucoside.
  • As a mild surfactant for wash products.
    This isn't just a solubiliser, decyl glucoside is also a great cleansing active and can be paired either with other non-ionics or with anionic and amphoteric surfactants for a modern sulfate free cleansing product with great performance. Decyl Glucoside will not thicken with salt like the traditional anionic/ amphoteric blend so I tend to use it as the third (tertiary) surfactant to make the overall blend milder and help with foam and perfume stability rather than use it as the main active. If you do want to use it as the main active thickening with xanthan gum works a treat and remains natural!
  • Add to clay masks to help in their removal.
    As Decyl Glucoside is so mild on the skin it can be used in products that are left on the skin for a period of time. Face masks can be difficult to remove so I like to add a little surfactant in the mix to help with the after-use rinsing. Decyl Glucoside is one way to achieve this without running the risk of irritating your skin. 2-5% is enough usually as you don't want it to interfere with the mask setting time.
  • In gentle eye make-up removers.
    The high foaming potential of Decyl Glucoside makes it less attractive for eye cleansing applications but if used correctly that low irritation score and great cleansing power can be put to good use. Use at 1-4% in a water based gel cleanser.
  • As a foam stabilizer.
    In the old days Cocamide DEA was the ingredient of choice for boosting foam, these days Decyl glucoside can be used to give the boost without the environmental issues - Cocamide DEA is not sustainably sourced and the ethanolamine part is petroleum based. Cocamide DEA can also release nitrosamines into a formulation under certain situations and while these are regulated and formulated to keep within safe levels some people do wish to remove all traces from cosmetics.

So, the only thing left to do is get down to New Directions and stock up as I've got some mixing to do!

Having fun in the lab is so much better when its safe, sustainable and soapy.

Amanda Foxon-Hill

6 September 2012

More about: Chemistry, Decyl Glucoside

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