The chemistry of shampoo

Categories: Chemistry
About this essay

Everyone who uses shampoo could tell you that their main factors in choosing a shampoo to use are smell, look, and price. People are misinformed about shampoo and how to tell the difference between a good shampoo and a bad one. The main point of shampoo is to cleanse your skull of residue that is picked up either from hair products such as hair spray, gel or moose, as well as the dirt in the air, and perspiration. Shampoo is something that all of us use on a regular basis If you look in any store you will find a huge variety of different types of shampoos all claiming to have the one ingredient that makes it the top among it’s competitors.

Just what are the ingredients in a shampoo? What do they do that they are needed? Is there any one product that is better than the rest?

When looking at shampoo’s ingredients, one thing you have to focus on is surfactants.

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The major types of surfactants are anionic, cationic, nonionic, and amphoteric. Surfactants with a positive charge are called cations, and ones with a negative charge are called cations. An example of this would be sodium chloride. Sodium forms positive ions upon dissolving in water, while chlorine makes negative ions. They attract to each other. Surfactants tie in with shampoo and all other hygiene products, because anionic surfactants are the most widely used detergents in all personal hygiene products. They are inexpensive, excellent cleaners, and rinse from hair easily.

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The only con about them is that they can be harsh and irritating to the scalp. This problem is taken care of in most shampoos, by added ingredients that help o prevent irritation to the scalp. If used in high concentration, which they rarely are, cationic surfactants can be unsafe. They can be a dangerous threat to eyes. As long as they are supervised and used in low quantities, they are safe and usefully.

Some examples of surfactants that might be found in shampoos are:

Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate-very harsh, Ammonium Laureth Sulfate- Harsh, Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)- mild, and Lauryl Sulfate-mild. The to best and most widely used are SLES, and Lauryl Sulfate.

Nonionic surfactants aren’t used as a cleaning agent, but are often used in combination with the primary cleanser to change or modify its actions. They can help with solubility, foaming, and sometimes with conditioning.

Amphoteric surfactants are used to help keep foaming down, and to make things less irritating. Each group of amphoteric surfactants has cationic and anionic charge groups. Most are used in baby shampoos, because of their gentleness and won’t burn their eyes. Along with surfactants, shampoos contain many additives to perform all the necessary reactions that the surfactants cannot provide. The following are different additives that are usually found on shampoo labels. They include their names and what they do.

AQUA- while this sounds important, this is just a way for the companies to formally write water. Water just helps the shampoo obtain liquid form and nothing more.

SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE- This is a soap like chemical made from chemicals extracted from a type of oil. This is what makes the shampoo a cleanser. This is the most active ingredient of all. It lubricates the hair and has a soap-like action to lift the dirt and grease from the hair.

SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE- This is another chemical similar to the one above. It adds on to whatever Sodium Laureth Sulfate misses. It is very soapy and is a good safe cleanser.

COCOMIDOPOPYL BETAINE- Just like the above two, this is another cleanser. The difference is that this is an organic chemical as opposed to the others.

PARFUM- Once again, this is a way for the company to make their products sound exotic. Really it is just perfume. All it does is make the product smell attractive. With out it, the shampoo would have a faint smell of ammonia.

SODIUM CHLORIDE- This is exactly what is spread on food at the dinner table. It’s job here is to help control the PH level by making sure everything dissolves correctly

HYDROLYSED SILK PROTEIN- As any chemist or biologist would know, protein breaks down into amino acids. Hydrolyzing the protein can do this. In most shampoos, there are many amino acids that do nothing but raise the price. This silk protein helps to break them down.

HYDROLYSED WHEAT STARCH- Same as the silk protein except this time it is sugars and not amino acids. There is a constant debate among the consumers and producer whether these chemicals are necessary or are just added for price.

GLYCERINE- This is the same kind of stuff that can be found in a first aid box, and is very useful. It is a very good lubricant and moisturizer and helps to prevent the hair from drying out too quickly.

BENZOIC ACID- This is a chemical which helps to lift loose scales from the hair to make it feel more smooth.

C1 60730- This is just a color that is added. Without this the shampoo would look like an off yellow color, but this helps change it to whatever color the companied would like.

EDTA- There is a group called Ligands, to which this chemical belongs to. It binds to other chemicals present in the shampoo to help them dissolve and react with one another. Needless to say that it is very important.

FOAM STABALIZERS- Companies use a bunch of different important sounding names for these. What they do is stop the bubbles formed from bursting.

HERBAL EXTRACTS- Once again, the companies use many important sounding names to make them sound exotic. They can be found in either a garden or kitchen, and basically help the product to smell nice and institute some aromatherapeutic effects.

Good shampoos should have a PH level between 4.5 and 5.5. They will do the best job for cleaning your scalp, and not irritating it. It is only necessary to lather your hair once. This is because the amount of lather and foam created by the shampoo does not affect its ability to clean. Lather and foam are of little importance however they are usually subject to the most attention. Lather and foam occur when the surfactant molecules gather around air instead of the oil and dirt that making bubbles. That is why they do very little. While most of the time, companies will put extra chemicals on their ingredient list to make their product seem better, better products usually have longer lists.

Even if the chemicals do very little, they are still extra additives that could possibly help the hair. The ingredient list is the only part of the shampoo bottle that is regulated by the Food and Drug administration. Thus the hype placed on the rest of bottle could have no merit, and is just to attract customers. This includes companies that claim their product can repair damaged hair. Hair is really dead, so it cannot be repaired. Shampoo products can only provide temporary benefits to the look and feel of the hair.

Shampoos that claim to be “organic”, or “all natural” should not be trusted. The efficiency of organic plants and vitamins has never been proven since after all, hair is dead. Although it is not necessary to stick with the same brand of shampoo for all your needs, a change in shampoos can sometimes help the hair.

There is a proper technique to shampooing hair. First the scalp should be wet using cold or warm water. Apply a quarter-sized amount of shampoo to the palm, and rub hands to evenly distribute the product. Apply shampoo to scalp by running the palms of hands over the hair. Massage gently with fingertips and then rinse thoroughly. Unless the scalp is very oily, or some really strong hair products have been used during the day, it is not necessary to repeat.

Conditioner should be used after the shampoo ahs been rinsed. It should be applied in a similar fashion, including rubbing of the palms for even distribution. Apply it from the middle of the hair until the ends. Avoid touching it directly to the scalp unless the scalp is unusually dry. Leave the conditioner on the hair for a few seconds so that its process can be fulfilled, then rinse thoroughly. It is some beliefs that rinsing conditioner with cold water is best and that it will add shine to the hair. This has never been proven. Whether or not the hair is curly or strait helps determine the amount of frequency needed for hair rinsing. Straight hair needs a daily wash for the streak radiant look, while curly hair should be washed every other day to help prevent it from becoming too dry. At a very minimum, hair should be washed twice a week. For hygienic, and hair damage reasons.

As is evident in the project, there are many ingredients involved in the making of shampoo. Each shampoo contains different ingredients, which react in different ways. Modern technology, and scientific studies are allowing for studies to find shampoos that are healthier for the hair and scalp. Maybe one day a product will be available of little machines that attach to hair and stay there all day helping it fight oil, grease, dirt, and dryness. Can this one-day be a reality? Maybe, but one thing is for sure, by the year 2010, hair products will be so far advanced, that most woman will be able to sigh a sigh of relief that their worries about their hair are non existent anymore.

Cite this page

The chemistry of shampoo. (2016, Jun 21). Retrieved from

The chemistry of shampoo
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