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Sulfate free solutions for the conscious consumer

Sulfates are often considered a controversial class of ingredients in the personal care industry, with a boom in the number of sulfate-free ingredient claims witnessed in recent years. Whether you love them or hate them, there is no denying that they are an efficient and cost-effective ingredient when used in cleansing formulations. However, there is a growing cohort of consumers that are seeking sulfate-free products to meet their own needs. In this blog, I will explore the market dynamics that are driving the increase in sulfate-free claims, the target consumers that are seeking alternatives, and the solutions that Croda have to offer to help you formulate sulfate-free formulations.
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What does sulfate-free mean?

The first important question is, what does sulfate-free actually mean? Sulfates are a class of anionic surfactants that typically act as detergents in cosmetic formulations such as facial cleansers, shampoos, and body washes. The most common of this type of ingredient used in personal care applications are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). Their primary function is to deliver effective cleansing to the hair and skin which, combined with their great foaming performance, makes them popular ingredients for use in cleansing formulations. Sulfate-free pack claims are used as a way to inform consumers that sulfates such as SLS and SLES are not included as part of the ingredient listing.

What has driven the rise in sulfate-free claims?

In recent years, sulfates have developed a negative reputation, with the perception that they are too harsh and will strip the hair and skin of their natural oils, resulting in hair that is dry and brittle and skin that is dry and irritated. This has led to consumer appetite for milder cleansing agents. Combined with a general shift in the market towards bio-based ingredients and many traditional surfactants, including SLS and SLES, derived from petrochemical sources, demand for alternative ingredient solutions is increasing.   

Global market insights

There is no denying that the sulfate-free market is growing, with the number of personal care products launched with a sulfate-free claim steadily growing year on year around the globe. The value of sulfate-free surfactant market is also rising, with the likes of sarcosinate and taurate based surfactants growing at a higher rate compared to their SLS and SLES counterparts.

number of personal care product launches with sulfate free claim
The number of products launched in the Personal Care market with a sulfate-free claim has grown steadily in all regions year-on-year, with most prevalence in the EMEA region. The fastest growth of the sulfate-free claim has been witnessed in APAC at 81%, followed by North America at 34%.

[1] Mintel GNPD - where claims matches “Sulphate/Sulfate Free

Which consumers are seeking sulfate-free alternatives?

The growth in this market is really driven by consumer demand for sulfate-fee solutions. Although sulfate ingredients are not inherently bad for everyone (read our myth busting blog here to find out more), there are a growing number of consumers that are choosing to avoid the use of sulfates.Given their reputation as harsh cleansers that can dry out the skin, those with sensitive skin that is prone to irritation tend to seek milder alternatives that will not exacerbate any skin concerns they may have. This is also true for products targeted at babies or children, where milder formulations are favoured. With a greater emphasis than ever before on caring for your scalp health to maintain a healthy hair condition, sulfate-free claims in shampoos and other associated hair care products are on the rise, appealing to those with sensitive scalps. 

Consumers with specific hair types often seek sulfate-free options, particularly those with a fragile hair condition as a result of heat styling or colouring, alongside those with curly or coily hair that can be naturally more fragile and prone to breakage. Such hair types are inherently more “dry” and require intensive conditioning, so there is a perception that harsh cleansers such as sulfates will make the hair feel even more rough and difficult to manage. Ingredient-savvy consumers that like to examine ingredient listings to empower their purchasing decisions may also decide to avoid products containing sulfate ingredients.

What alternative ingredient solutions are available?

There are a number of sulfate-free surfactant options out there on the market today. Sulfates can offer many benefits in formulation; they are effective cleansers with excellent foaming properties, as well as being cost-effective ingredients that are very easy to formulate with. Therefore, there is not a direct ingredient replacement. Instead, a combination of different chemistries are often needed to achieve the same effects as those offered by sulfates.

Surfactant classes such as sarcosinates, taurates, betaines and sultaines are popular alternatives that can be used in various combinations to tailor the performance of a formulation.

At Croda we offer a range of sulfate-free surfactant options that offer a viable alternative to sulfates:

The Crodasinic range is a family of powerful anionic surfactants, produced from natural fatty acids and the amino acid, sarcosine. The Crodasinics represent a versatile range of surfactants with many interesting functional properties for personal care, including excellent detergency and foaming properties and the ability to work in synergy with other detergents.

As part of the taurate family of surfactants, the Adinol range offers mild anionic surfactants that offer excellent wetting, foaming, detergent and dispersing properties, whilst leaving a soft, pleasant after-feel on the skin.

The Crodateric range offers amphoteric surfactant options that fall under the betaine surfactant family. Crodateric CAB 30 is compatible with anionic, cationic and non-ionic surfactants and can be used in combination with other surfactants to enhance the mildness and foaming performance of a formulation. 

Sustainability infographic - Crodasinic and Adinol

sustainability infographic crodasinic adinol
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Purposeful Beauty™

Through Purposeful Beauty™, we have made it our mission to create ethical and responsible solutions that accelerate the evolution to a more sustainable future, ensuring a positive impact on both people and planet.

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Discover our wide range of multi-functional shampoo ingredients suitable for all hair cleansing needs, delivering personalised hair care solutions.

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Effortless cleansing

High-performance ingredients including purifying ingredients, gentle cleansing surfactants, low foam emulsifiers and natural exfoliants to easily remove long-lasting make-up, dirt or pollution particles.

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Sustainable manufacturing improvements - Crodasinic and Adinol

Recent technology investments and the subsequent expansion of our acid chloride derivatives plant has resulted in significant process improvements for the Crodasinic range and Adinol CT95.

Consequently, the emissions, water and energy usage associated with the manufacture of these products has been significantly reduced, reducing our own scope 1 and 2 emissions as we strive to achieve our sustainability targets, and ultimately helping our customers to reduce their upstream scope 3 emissions.

To find out more, download our sustainability infographic.

View here

Formulation inspiration

We have used our formulation expertise to create of a variety of sulfate-free formulations to provide inspiration for your latest formulation developments. We have handpicked a selection of our top picks below:

For more sulfate-free formulation inspiration, visit our formulation finder here .

*Formulation samples will be sent at Croda's discretion and are subject to availability

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