A micelle (pronounced /maɪˈsɛl/ or /maɪˈsiːl/, plural micelles, micella, or micellae) is an aggregate of surfactant molecules dispersed in a liquid colloid. A typical micelle in aqueous solution forms an aggregate with the hydrophilic “head” regions in contact with surrounding solvent, sequestering the hydrophobic single tail regions in the micelle centre. This phase is caused by the insufficient packing issues of single tailed lipids in a bilayer. The difficulty filling all the volume of the interior of a bilayer, while accommodating the area per head group forced on the molecule by the hydration of the lipid head group leads to the formation of the micelle. This type of micelle is known as a normal phase micelle (oil-in-water micelle). Inverse micelles have the headgroups at the centre with the tails extending out (water-in-oil micelle). Micelles are approximately spherical in shape. Other phases, including shapes such as ellipsoids, cylinders, and bilayers are also possible. The shape and size of a micelle is a function of the molecular geometry of its surfactant molecules and solution conditions such as surfactant concentration, temperature, pH, and ionic strength.
A hydrocolloid is defined as a colloid system wherein the colloid particles are dispersed in water. A hydrocolloid has colloid particles spread throughout water, and depending on the quantity of water available that can take place in different states, e.g., gel or sol (liquid). Hydrocolloids can be either irreversible (single-state) or reversible. For example, agar, a reversible hydrocolloid of seaweed extract, can exist in a gel and sol state, and alternate between states with the addition or elimination of heat. Many hydrocolloids are derived from natural sources. For example, agar-agar and carrageenan are extracted from seaweed, gelatin is produced by hydrolysis of proteins of bovine and fish origins, and pectin is extracted from citrus peel and apple pomace.
In a non-ionic solvent, it is the exposure of the hydrophilic head groups to the surrounding solvent that is energetically unfavourable, giving rise to a water-in-oil system. In this case the hydrophilic groups are sequestered in the micelle core and the hydrophobic groups extend away from the centre. These inverse micelles are proportionally less likely to form on increasing headgroup charge, since hydrophilic sequestration would create highly unfavorable electrostatic interactions.
When surfactants are present above the CMC (Critical micelle concentration), they can act as emulsifiers that will allow a compound that is normally insoluble (in the solvent being used) to dissolve. This occurs because the insoluble species can be incorporated into the micelle core, which is itself solubilized in the bulk solvent by virtue of the head groups’ favorable interactions with solvent species. The most common example of this phenomenon is detergents, which clean poorly soluble lipophilic material (such as oils and waxes) that cannot be removed by water alone. Detergents also clean by lowering the surface tension of water, making it easier to remove material from a surface. The emulsifying property of surfactants is also the basis for emulsion polymerization.