Dermatology Department, Paul Sabatier-Toulouse III University, Larrey Hospital, Toulouse, France
Reprints: Françoise Giordano-Labadie
Surfactants are long-chain compounds comprising a hydrophobic tail and a hydrophilic head, lending them the ability to act as a “bridge” between oil and water. Their detergent, foaming and other properties prove useful in a number of settings, including home and workplace sanitation, cosmetics (rinse and no-rinse cleansers) and medicine. When used on skin, surfactants reduce the superficial surface tension of proteins and lipids on the stratum corneum. This helps to eliminate skin debris such as sebum, oils and dirt, but also presents a risk of damage to the skin barrier. The irritation potential of surfactants has long been common knowledge, but with the development and deployment of novel compounds, notably to replace first-generation, mostly sodium-lauryl-sulphate-based products, their potential to cause allergic contact dermatitis has come to light. Knowledge about this allergic potential and the associated dermatitises must also become commonplace so that contact allergies are considered in the presence of surfactant exposure.