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Fascinating Silicone™ Chemistry Corner – Silicone Surfactants

How silicone surfactants (emulsifiers) work

Although most silicone polymers are not water-soluble, there is one important class of silicones with water-soluble capabilities – surfactants (surface acting agents).

Surfactants are used to create emulsions – stable blends of two “unblendable” materials, like oil and water.

Surfactants have a “split personality.” One part of a surfactant – the “tail” – is hydrophobic (water-fearing), while the other part – the “head” – is hydrophilic (water-loving).

A silicone surfactant has a hydrophobic “tail” and a hydrophilic “head.”

Silicone surfactants are organo-modified branched silicone polymers with many “heads” and many “tails”.

This makes them more efficient than other surfactants, and more cost effective to use. Silicone polyethers are good examples:

Silicone polyethers have an oil-soluble polydimethylsiloxane backbone and water-soluble polyether side chains.

In search of molecular “happiness”

Surfactants are drawn to interfaces – the boundaries between two different liquids. Interfaces are the only place where both parts of the surfactant molecule can find “true happiness.”

Silicone surfactants are drawn to interfaces – the boundaries between two different liquids.

Because the hydrophilic part of the surfactant is highly soluble in water and the hydrophobic part is highly soluble in oil, the surfactant engulfs and stabilizes droplets of one liquid within the other.

The two most common emulsions are water-in-oil and oil-in-water.

A Water-in-Oil Emulsion & An Oil-in-Water Emulsion

Did you know ... silicones love interfaces – all kinds of interfaces – liquid-liquid, solid-solid, liquid-solid, liquid-gas, solid-gas. It is where they do some of their best work!

 
 

Did you know ... silicone surfactants enable the development of more environmentally friendly alternatives to solvent-based formulations!

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