Surfactants (short for “surface active agents”) are compounds that lower the surface (or interfacial) tension between two surfaces. They are amphiphilic substances (both lipophilic and hydrophilic) that make cleaning and rinsing fabrics and surfaces easier. The surfactant is the main active ingredient in most cleaning products, and serves two primary roles: First, it helps to “wet” the surface (i.e. improve contact with the surface, even if it’s dirty and greasy). Second, it emulsifies oils and fats.
Surfactants can be petroleum or vegetable-based, and are found in cleaning products, detergents and various cosmetic products like shampoos, shower gels and bath products. The disadvantages of using petroleum-based surfactants is that they contribute to the depletion of a non-renewable resource and are highly polluting. They are only slightly biodegradable (if at all), and they can release toxic chemicals when they decompose. The main advantage of using vegetable-based surfactants is that they are derived from renewable sources. Many cleaning product manufacturers now use plant-derived surfactants to show their commitment to the environment, which naturally appeals to consumers. However, both vegetable-based and petroleum-based surfactants can cause skin irritation and allergies.
That’s where biosurfactants come in. Derived from biotechnology, biosurfactants are surface-active compounds produced by living cells. Their nature and surface tension-reducing abilities depend on the type and strain microorganism (bacteria, yeast, fungi) used and the available nutrient substrate for cell growth.
Biosurfactants are derived from 100% natural and biodegradable renewable resources produced by bacteria and are therefore made up of living organisms. Just like vegetable-based and petroleum-based surfactants, they can have emulsifying, foaming, wetting or even dispersing properties.
Biosurfactants also have excellent tension-reducing power, making it easier to remove oils and fats with only a small amount of product. Plus, biosurfactants help to reduce our environmental impact and improve living conditions, so everyone wins!