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Introduction to Common Non-ionic Surfactants

Definition of Non-ionic Surfactants

Non-ionic surfactants are so named because there are no charged groups in their molecules, and they do not ionize in aqueous solution. The lipophilic groups in the molecules are high-carbon fatty alcohols, alkylphenols, fatty acids, fatty amines, and oils, while their water solubility comes from polyoxyethylene ether groups and terminal hydroxyl groups in the molecules.

Non-ionic surfactants have good acid and alkali resistance and are minimally affected by salts and electrolytes. They can be used in combination with other surfactants in cosmetics as emulsifiers, cleansers, and solubilizers, among other applications.

Common Types of Non-ionic Surfactants

The main types of non-ionic surfactants include polyoxyethylene derivatives, alkylphenol polyoxyethylene ethers, polyol fatty acid esters, alkylamine oxides, and N-alkyl pyrrolidones.

Polyoxyethylene Derivatives

These are ether compounds obtained by the condensation reaction of long-chain fatty alcohols, alkylphenols, and higher fatty acid polyol esters with ethylene oxide.

Alkylphenol Polyoxyethylene Ethers

Also known as TX; OP, alkylphenol polyoxyethylene ether-n, with n greater than 8, has good water solubility.

Example: Nonoxynol-10, also known as TX-10 and nonylphenol polyoxyethylene (10) ether, is a transparent liquid with excellent wetting, emulsifying, dispersing, solubilizing, foaming, defoaming, and cleaning properties. Its HLB value is 13.3.

Polyol Fatty Acid Esters

The typical representative material is polyoxyethylene sorbitan ester (Tween), also known as sorbitan ester, which is a condensate of sorbitol and ethylene oxide. It is highly hydrophilic due to the many hydrophilic groups in its molecules, including polyoxyethylene.


Alkylamides are obtained by the condensation of fatty acids with monoethanolamine (MEA) or diethanolamine (DEA). Their hydrophilic groups are amide groups and hydroxyl groups, while their lipophilic groups are long-chain alkyl groups. They are primarily used as thickeners and foam stabilizers in cosmetics.

Polyol Fatty Acid Esters

Polyol fatty acid esters are produced by the esterification of polyols with fatty acids. Their lipophilic groups are the long carbon chains of the fatty acids, while their hydrophilic groups are the unesterified hydroxyl groups. They include glyceryl fatty acid esters and polyoxyethylene fatty acid esters.

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