Cleansing our hair and scalp is crucial to keeping healthy hair. No matter how well you think you care for your hair, if you are not properly removing dirt, pollutants, product buildup, and sweat, then you are doing a huge disservice to your hair. Many curly girls do not care for shampoo (me included”>, but I know the importance of cleansing as well as the vast array of product options. Clays, shampoo bars, cleansing conditioners, and more are available to properly cleanse the hair and scalp and while we need those precious oils to stave off dryness, surfactants are still necessary for cleansing. 

What is a surfactant?

Surfactants are one of many different compounds that make up a detergent that removes dirt, product buildup, and pollutants. Their job is to break down the interface between water and oils and/or dirt. They actually hold the buildup or dirt in suspension to allow for removal through rinsing. As we learn more about the formulas in our favorite products it only makes sense to discuss some of the more common ones and we are starting with sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate.

What is sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate?

Sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate is an anionic surfactant often found in bath, shower, and hair care cleansers. It is a mixture of long chain sulfonate salts prepared by sulfonation of C14-16 alpha olefins. It can be derived from coconut and produces a copious foam.

Read more: The Truth About Sulfates, According to Science

Is Sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate a sulfate?

The name may be misleading, but sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate is not a sulfate. Sulfonate is related to but not the same as sulfates. In a sulfonate the sulfur is linked direct to a carbon atom where as a sulfate is linked directly to the carbon chain via an oxygen atom. They do have similar qualities when it comes to propensity of being irritating to the skin but sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate is not a sulfate.


It works tremendously well. A rather strong cleansing agent with the ability for high foaming and a well-emulsifying surfactant. It is safe for use in for personal care products that mixes well with water to remove dirt, oils, and pollutants so they can be rinse away. This is an excellent addition to clarifying shampoos.

Read more: 20 Clarifying Shampoos Gentle Enough for Damaged Hair


It can potentially be drying and irritating for skin and scalp, which may pose a problem for persons with sensitive skin or dry scalp and/or hair. Some curly girls find it too strong and too drying but to offset the potential for dryness or sensitivity issues, secondary surfactants are sometimes used with this agent to minimize the negative impacts on the scalp and hair. As for the consumer, a pre-poo may also combat the drying effects of this cleansing agent. Also, remember to always condition or deep conditioning after using a shampoo, especially a clarifying shampoo to ensure the cuticle gets closed. An open cuticle leads to dryness, which could then lead to frizz and breakage.

The takeaway

Sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate may have a drying effect on one’s scalp and hair but if in need of a strong cleanser to remove buildup or dirt, then this agent may be the one for you. It is a safe and excellent surfactant to use and here are some products that have sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate is formulated in.

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