Foaming agent

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

A foaming agent is a surfactant, which when present in small amounts, facilitates the formation of a foam, or enhances its colloidal stability by inhibiting the coalescence of bubbles.[1]

Sodium laureth sulfate, or sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES), is a detergent and surfactant found in many personal care products (soaps, shampoos, toothpaste etc.). It is an inexpensive and very effective foamer. Sodium lauryl sulfate (also known as sodium dodecyl sulfate or SLS) and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS) are commonly used alternatives to SLES in consumer products.[2] While SLS is a known irritant,[3][4] some evidence and research suggest that SLES can also cause irritation after extended exposure.[5][6]

Also, a foaming agent is a material that will decompose to release a gas under certain conditions (typically high temperature), which can be used to turn a liquid into a foam. For example, powdered titanium hydride is used as a foaming agent in the production of metal foams, as it decomposes to form titanium and hydrogen gas at elevated temperatures. Zirconium(II) hydride is used for the same purpose.


  1. 1972, 31, 612IUPAC Compendium of Chemical Terminology 2nd Edition (1997)
  2. Sodium Laureth Sulfate POE(2). Chemical Land 21, Seoul, Korea. Product Identification
  3. Agner T. Susceptibility of atopic dermatitis patients to irritant dermatitis caused by sodium lauryl sulphate. Acta Derm Venereol. 1991;71(4):296-300. Abstract
  4. A. Nassif, S. C. Chan, F. J. Storrs and J. M. Hanifin. Abstract: Abnormal skin irritancy in atopic dermatitis and in atopy without dermatitis. Arch Dermatol. November 1994;130(11):1402. Abstract
  5. Magnusson B, Gilje O. Allergic contact dermatitis from a dish-washing liquid containing lauryl ether sulphate. Acta Derm Venereol. 1973;53(2):136-40. Abstract
  6. Van Haute N, Dooms-Goossens A. Shampoo dermatitis due to cocobetaine and sodium lauryl ether sulphate. Contact Dermatitis. 1983 Mar;9(2):169. Abstract

See also