Can you recognize a good Shampoo? pt. 1

Hello there! 😀
I have been doing some new recipes but mostly I have been repeating my favorite Banana Smoothie Hair Conditioner and my last Shampoo. These days I am trying to formulate a gel with aloe vera for soothing the scalp and maybe a gel for face, because here it is already starting to be quite warm and the winter cream is too heavy already!

However… this post will be about being able to recognize (or at least attempt to recognize…) a good shampoo from its INCI!
BeFunky_Shampoo .jpg

The INCI is simply the list of ingredients which are inside the product. The ingredients are in order of their percentage except for those ingredients which are lower than 1%: these ingredients will appear in the end of the recipe but their order can be mixed (which means that for example if you have 0.08% of Q10 and 0.8% of a preservative… probably the company will add the Q10 name before the name of the preservative even if the real concentration of Q10 is actually 1/10th the one of the preservative) 😀

Of course reading the INCI we CANNOT know the exact percentage of the single ingredients (unless they write them to show off how good their product is), but since we know already the basics of cosmetic formulation (if you are new to this blog… you can start learning HERE) we can get at least an idea about when a formulation sounds good or not that good (I will explain better when I talk of the surfactants) 😀
You should be able to find the INCI on any product if you live in Europe or America. I am not sure about other countries around the world: in India for example there is usually no INCI but there is just a short list of the best ingredients inside the product (for example a herbal shampoo named only the herbal ingredients on its ingredients list, as if it didn’t contain any surfactant at all). This all depends on the regulations of the place where you live.

Needless to say (but I will repeat it nevertheless 😀 ) everybody has their own hair type, scalp, allergies and affinities. This is why I am NOT going to suggest any shampoo to anybody, what I am going to do is simply try to give you the right “tools” to be able to find out a good shampoo for yourself.
Another, very obvious, thing that I am going to write anyway is that if a shampoo feels good to you, gives you good results and you are satisfied… well, then that’s a good shampoo! It sounds very silly, but online I have read of so many people going nuts at being stubborn and using a product that wouldn’t do the trick for them, but that worked for others. It’s SIMPLE: if something doesn’t work on you, gives you an itchy scalp, leaves you with heavy greasy hair… then stop using it! 😀
Third thing: I am not a biodegradable-nazi, which means that I do try to use easily biodegradable ingredients but I don’t go crazy if I find one “not so easily biodegradable” ingredient among many good ones; this said, I will indeed try to point out the main shampoo ingredients and I will tell you if an ingredient is easily biodegradable or not.

Now to the serious part! 😀
You should know by now how a shampoo is made, but I will still explain it very briefly so we can analyze the INCI easily.
A shampoo is made by water, a combination of surfactants and some extra ingredients which are used to add conditioning properties, adjust the pH, adjust the density, add a nice smell… of course, since it contains a lot of water, a shampoo MUST contain a preservative or a preserving system as well.
There is indeed no need to analyze “water” so we start directly with the surfactants! 😀

Surfactants are those “magic” ingredients which make the foam! 😀
As we already know they have different grades of “aggressiveness” and when they are combined with each other they usually end up being more mild than if used alone! 😀
I cannot obviously talk about all the surfactants on earth, because they are almost an infinite number and there are new surfactants everyday 😀 
However, I will briefly explain about the main differences in surfactants and I will show you examples of the most common (and happy) combination of surfactants which work well in a shampoo!

HERE you can read about the different families of surfactants.
The first “family” I am going to talk about are the ANIONIC Surfactants, which means that they have negative charge. They are largely used in detergents and shampoos and provide good detergency and lather. In this family we find: SLS (sodium lauryl sulphate), SLES (sodium laureth sulphate), ammonium lauryl/laureth sulphate, sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, disodium laureth sulfoccinate.
The reason why we find them in shampoos is that they have a good conditioning property (which is caused by the negative charge they have), they are also cheap and they are generally quite aggressive but if the formulation of the shampoo is well made, this is not a problem.

Maybe the most commonly found surfactant combination in shampoos is “SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulfate) + Cocamidopropyl betaine” (but you could also find “ammonium lauryl sulfate + betaine” for example).
This is a good combination, except for the fact that SLES is not too easily biodegradable (therefore if you really care to use only easily biodegradable things… you won’t like this much – however on the “biodegradable dictionary” it is considered “acceptable”); there is a close friend to SLES which is easily biodegradable and that’s SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) but this one is much more aggressive than his friend and therefore nowadays it is not so commonly found among shampoos (and also, there has been a quite misleading campaign about these two ingredients online… therefore companies try to avoid using SLS/SLES because of the bad publicity it might get them).

What to consider if you find an INCI with SLES+CAPB (cocamidopropyl betaine)?
We know that this combination helps the shampoo to become very thick, have a good foam, be quite conditioning and specially the CAPB helps making the SLES much milder than it would be on its own. But to do so, there must be a good amount of CAPB compared to the SLES (the minimum should be that CAPB is 1/3 of the quantity of SLES)… this is why, when we read an INCI, we would like to read something like this:
Ingredients: Water, sodium laureth sulfate, cocamidopropyl betaine, blablablaaa 😀
and not
Ingredients: Water, sodium laureth sulfate, sodium chloride, blablablaaa…, cocamidopropyl betaine, …
Of course even if the INCI is like the first example, we cannot really know how much % of betaine there is in the shampoo and it might still be too aggressive… BUT we do have the hope that the shampoo was well formulated and there is a good amount of CAPB to make the SLES more mild.

Another thing to consider is that to thicken up a shampoo which contains SLES+CAPB (usually this shampoo is already thick, but there is a very simple and cheap way to make it even more thick) Sodium Chloride is usually added (indeed: normal salt 😀 ); what we know is that the % of sodium chloride doesn’t exceed usually 1%-2%, therefore if we find that SC is before CAPB in the INCI, we know that the CAPB is too low to make the SLES mild enough. Hope this was clear enough! 🙂

As I was saying before, not only the use of different surfactants in the same formula makes the anionic surfactants milder, but there are also some ingredients that can be added for this purpose.
For example:
– Oils (they protect the hair in the way that they “use” the emulsifying properties of the surfactants therefore “occupying” part of their washing ability)
– Hydrolized Proteins (they can be silk proteins, wheat proteins, milk proteins… any protein really! They have the quality of “reaching” the hair before the surfactant, creating a protective film)

Now to a couple of examples to give a better idea on how to understand the formulation by reading the INCI:

Example 1:
INCI: Aqua/Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Citric Acid, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Ammonium Hydroxide, Sodium Chloride, Eucalyptus Globulus Extract/Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Extract, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Hydroxide, Polyquaternium-10, Salicylic Acid, Limonene, Camelia Sinensis Extract/Camelia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Lamium Album Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract, Linalool, Lippia Citriodora Leaf Extract, Citrus Medica Limonum Extract, Lemon Fruit Extract, Citral, Hexylene Glycol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Glycerin, Parfum/Fragrance.
[This could look like a good shampoo because of the infinite list of plant extracts… BUT, as we know, the citric acid is used to lower the pH and there is no strong basic ingredient in this recipe to justify a high percentage of citric acid; therefore we cannot imagine that the quantity of citric acid is very high (I’d say maximum 1.5%)… still we find it in the third position of the ingredients list. This seems to be a shampoo mainly made of water and SLES (therefore very aggressive), with other ingredients in very low percentage! Specially all these plant extracts, which add a lot of poetry (aka label appeal) to the formulation, they make the INCI look good at a first glance, but they are probably used at 0.01% 😀 if not lower 😀 ] 

Example 2:
INCI: Aqua, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocos Nucifera Oil, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis Oil, Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, Isopropyl Palmitate, Acrylates/C10 30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Schleichera Aurantium Dulcis Oil, Canaga Odorata Oil, Mays Oil, Peg 55 Propylene Glycol Oleate, Propylene Glycol, Profumo/Parfum – Lecithin, Tocopherol, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Citric Acid, Aminomethyl Propanol, Limonene, Disodium Edta, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben. Ci 75130
[This shampoo doesn’t contain Cocamidopropyl Betaine, BUT it contains oils (the most important thing is that two oils are in third and fourth position) which could help making the SLES feel milder on the scalp. The fifth ingredient is a strong surfactant and solubilizer which is added in order to “melt” the oils into the shampoo. I don’t like the Peg 55 and the Propylene Glycol even if they are not at high percentage, but this is my preference. However this shampoo doesn’t look very well balanced and very conditioning and I wouldn’t suggest something like this for people who tend to have a greasy scalp: better to avoid all these oils. 😉 ]

Example 3:
INCI: Water (aqua), Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Dimethicone, Cetyl Alcohol, Lecithin, PPG-5-Ceteth-20, Oleth-10, Disodium Cocoamphodipropionate, Avocado Oil, Taurine, Arginine Hydrochloride, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Hydroxypropyltrimonium Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Wheat Amino Acids, Hydrolyzed Wheat Starch, Trehalose, Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA, Ethylparaben, Methylparaben, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Sodium Cetearyl Sulfate, Phenoxyethanol, Cocamide MIPA, Propylene Glycol, Phosphoric Acid, D&C Orange No. 4, D&C Red #33, Fragrance (Parfum)
[In this shampoo the surfactants don’t seem to be well balanced to me: once again there is no cocamidopropyl betaine to help our SLES. Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate is a quite mild surfactant (which is ok, but it doesn’t have the same effect of CAPB). The fourth ingredient is Dimethicone, a silicon,with the bad habit of getting stuck to the hair: the first time you use a shampoo with silicons, your hair will look amazing 😀 but after 20 times you use the same shampoo they will start looking heavy and not shiny anymore. Then there is a good and mild surfactant, avocado oil, taurine (I guess to “wake up” the scalp? Not sure, I have actually never found it in cosmetics 😀 ), some hydrolyzed proteins… and eventually Disodium EDTA, Parabens (preservatives), Cocamide MIPA (helps keeping all emulsified and stable), Propylene glycol – my personal conclusion is that this shampoo might be too aggressive and, because of the silicon, it could build up on the hair leaving them looking ugly after a month of use.]

Example 4:
INCI: Aqua, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Decyl Polyglucose, 12-13 Pareth-3, Panthenol, Propylene Glycol, Polyquaternium-47, Glycol Distearate, Glycerin, Laureth-4, PEG-120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate, (Parfum), Imidazolidinyl Urea, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Sodium Chloride, Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA
[Finally this could be a balanced formulation: our CAPB right after SLES, followed by two mild surfactant (Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate and Decyl Polyglucoside), panthenol (Vitamin B-5, good for the hair, but I think it is quite a waste to add it to a shampoo since we wash it off after a minute! 😀 So I guess it is at a very very low percentage), Propylene Glycol, followed by a conditioner of the hair (Polyquaternium-47 – a not too easily biodegradable ingredient but in low concentration and it brings a good quality to the shampoo), an emulsifier, glycerin, a surfactant (Laureth-4), a PEG, the preservative (Imidazolidinyl urea), a thickener (guar), salt, pH adjuster, and a chelating agent Disodium EDTA (it supports the work of the preservative)]

Example 5: [my formulation and detailed recipe HERE]
INCI: water, SLES, cocamidopropyl betaine, trimethylglicine, decyl glucoside, hydrolized wheat proteins, glycerin, Poliquaternium-7, coco glucoside and glyceryl oleate, Inulin, citric acid, preservative (I used an easily biodegradable preservative in this case).
[This is the INCI of one of my recipes: balanced SLES with CB, soothing trimethylglicine, a mild surfactant, wheat proteins (which also help protecting the hair), glycerin, a conditioner, a very mild combination of surfactant and grease, inulin to help the hair stay straight, pH adjuster and preservative]

INCI: Water (Aqua), Sodium Coco Sulfate, Lauryl Glucoside, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Lauroyl Sarcosine, Coco Glucoside, Glycerin, Citrus Limonum (Lemon) Fruit Extract*, Citrus Aurantifolia (Lime) Fruit Extrakt*, Sucrose*, Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Leaf Water*, Arnica Montana Flower Extract*, Vitis Vinifera Fruit Extract*, Panthenol, Panthenyl Ethyl Ether, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Hydroxypropyl Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Glycol Distearate, Alcohol*, Fragrance (Parfum)**, Limonene**, Linalool**
[This is a shampoo with Sodium Coco Sulfate base. Even if the name is different from SLES, it is a very similar surfactant but it is considered more eco-friendly than its cousin 😀 I cannot know from the formulation how much SCS there is so I don’t know if it will be mild enough since the Betaine follows the Lauryl Glucoside in the formula (and I believe there won’t be more than 5% Lauryl Glucoside); however it looks quite well balanced and it contains good plant extracts as well as Panthenol and Wheat proteins – therefore the hair should be quite protected. Guar is not one of my fav ingredients at all, even though it is probably used at 0.15%, so decide according to what you prefer]

This is just the beginning: there is still a lot to say.
I only talked about the shampoos formulated with anionic base and in the specific SLES+CAPB, so on the next post I will talk about other kind of surfactant combinations found in shampoos 🙂

Hope this post was of some help! 😀

For more recipes click HERE 
To learn how to formulate cosmetics click HERE
For a list of online cosmetic ingredients suppliers click HERE 

Is there anything unclear so far?
Or anything you would like to know more in the specific? 😀

9 thoughts on “Can you recognize a good Shampoo? pt. 1”

  1. Hi there thanks for all the great posts!
    I think the glycol distearate commonly acts as the pearlizing agent in shampoo (:
    and have a nice day ahead !


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi there, really finding your posts helpful as I need to reformulate my shampoo recepie without SLS. So much about tensides that is hard to wrap ones brain around 😉 I use Decyl glucoside and Betain besides the SLS, tried the Decyl and Betain alone but this was really liquid and the hair feels a bit limp afterwords. Was hoping to find a good replacement with better degradability my regular supplier, but there doesnt seem to be a more natural one that matches the SLS. Now, in your last posted recepie I found the base is Sodium cocosulfate, witch my supplier has, so I will try this. It would also possibly solve the thickening problem. Will also try lacticacid to reduce the PH. So thanks for all the pedagogic info on tensides, it´s not easy to find some good info about this on the web!

    Maria in Sweden


  3. Hi. I’ve been looking for recipes to make liquid shampoos and also no soap face wash. I am so glad to have your blog. All the information is scattered all over the web and so scientific which makes it seem really scary. I have so far managed to formulate a really nice conditioner which my fussy daughter loves but I kinda winged it (I did record it all so I can recreate it!) Somehow I don’t think that will work with shampoo. I don’t even know what ingredients to order!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Giasena I have made few posts all about making shampoos and I have added few formulas as well 🙂 you don’t need to buy so many ingredients to make a shampoo 🙂 good luck in the learning journey… It is worth it!!! 😉


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