Surfactants are compounds that lower the surface tension of a liquid, the interfacial tension between two liquids, or that between a liquid and a solid. Surfactants may act as detergents, wetting agents, emulsifiers, foaming agents, and dispersants.
Surfactants are usually organic compounds that are amphiphilic, meaning they contain both hydrophobic groups (their tails) and hydrophilic groups (their heads). Therefore, a surfactant molecule contains both a water insoluble (or oil soluble) component and a water soluble component. Surfactant molecules will diffuse in water and adsorb at interfaces between air and water or at the interface between oil and water, in the case where water is mixed with oil.