Glycolipid Biosurfactants in Skincare Applications: Challenges and Recommendations for Future Exploitation

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The 21st century has seen a substantial increase in the industrial applications of glycolipid biosurfactant technology. The market value of the glycolipid class of molecules, sophorolipids, was estimated to be USD 409.84 million in 2021, with that of rhamnolipid molecules projected to reach USD 2.7 billion by 2026. In the skincare industry, sophorolipid and rhamnolipid biosurfactants have demonstrated the potential to offer a natural, sustainable, and skin-compatible alternative to synthetically derived surfactant compounds. However, there are still many barriers to the wide-scale market adoption of glycolipid technology. These barriers include low product yield (particularly for rhamnolipids) and potential pathogenicity of some native glycolipid-producing microorganisms. Additionally, the use of impure preparations and/or poorly characterised congeners as well as low throughput methodologies in the safety and bioactivity assessment of sophorolipids and rhamnolipids challenges their increased utilisation in both academic research and skincare applications. This review considers the current trend towards the utilisation of sophorolipid and rhamnolipid biosurfactants as substitutes to synthetically derived surfactant molecules in skincare applications, the challenges associated with their application, and relevant solutions proposed by the biotechnology industry. In addition, we recommend experimental techniques/methodologies, which, if employed, could contribute significantly to increasing the acceptance of glycolipid biosurfactants for use in skincare applications while maintaining consistency in biosurfactant research outputs.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4463
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
Issue number11
Early online date31 May 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 31 May 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a Vice Chancellors Research Scholarship awarded to S.A.A. by Ulster University through NICHE. Additional support was obtained from Invest Northern Ireland, U.K., proof of concept grant number 826.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.


  • biosurfactants
  • glycolipids
  • sophorolipids
  • rhamnolipids
  • synthetic surfactants
  • purification
  • biosurfactant characterisation
  • skincare
  • bioassays
  • bioactivities
  • skin cells
  • 3D in vitro skin model


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