Emulsifers and their differences

An emulsifier is the ingredient which binds the water and oil in a cream or lotion together permanently. We all know what happens in a salad dressing, when it's left to settle. The ingredients separate into oil and water-based and need shaking to mix before using. With cosmetic creams and lotions, this problem is solved using an emulsifier.

The most common emulsifier in traditional, older recipes is Borax. Borax is a widely available mineral which these days is probably best known for it's use in cleaning or for the manufacture of glass and ceramics. Borax is a toxin to plants and animals when used in higher doses (around 20g when ingested in one go is enough to poison a human), but is extremely useful as an emulsifier in traditional creams etc. Used in very small amounts and not ingested, this substance is safe to include, but you will find that it is no longer considered suitable for use in cosmetic products for commercial sale, so this is for recipes for home-use only. Dissolves easily in the water phaze of any appropriate recipe.

More recently, Emulsifying Wax is the preferred ingredient. There is a lot of confusing information about emulsifiers and emulsifying waxes on the web. Having now sourced what is readily available from within the UK and compared this with information on the web, which is mainly from American sites, and used these products extensively, I can recommend the following products as being suitable for most applications.

Steareth-20 (or 21). This is a Polyethoxylated Alcohol, which is a fatty alcohol derived from natural oils and fats and is known by it's INCI name, Steareth-20... This is a simple and effective emulsifyer. It binds oils and water together to form an emulsion and is essential in the manufacture of lotions and creams. It is not a combination of products and does not contain any thickening agent. Used on it's own it will effectively make light lotions and creams, the texture of which will rely on the saturation of the oil/s used. It is one of several ingredients within Emulsifying Wax NF, which is widely quoted as being the most popular emulsifying wax for crafters. The problem with this is that NF means National Formulary and it refers to American standard formula. It is not recognised in Britain or Europe and so has to be imported, which can be expensive and is unnecessary.

Cetearyl Alcohol. A fatty alcohol also known as Cetyl/Stearyl Alcohol. This is not an emulsifyer, but a thickener and stabiliser. On it's own it will not bind oils and water at all, but in combination with Steareth-20 (or Ceteareth-20), which are emulsifiers, it will effectively thicken the final product. The thickening action is proportionate to the amount used. Again, it is an ingredient in Emulsifying Wax NF and is also listed on some sites as an emulsifier, which is confusing.

Cetearyl Alcohol/Ceteareth-20. This is a combined product which offers emulsifying and thickening properties and is widely quoted and an ingredient in recipes and formulas for creams and lotions. Because it contains Cetearyl Alcohol, it will thicken a product proportionally to the amount used. These ingredients are also the basis of Emulsifying Wax B.P. which is the recognised formula for emulsifying wax in Britain.

Polysorbate-60. (Polyoxethylene sorbitan fatty acid ester). This is an effective emulsifier/solubiser and is another ingredient in Emulsifying Wax NF. On it's own it comes as a semi-solid of yellowish colour with a texture similar to Vaseline and needs warming before use. It is a food-safe emulsifier and within the toiletry indusry is recommended mainly for rendering essentail oils and fragrance oils soluble in water. On it's own it is not generally suitable for emulsifying oils and water into lotions and creams. It is very useful in getting fragrances into water before emulsifying into lotions and creams using a suitable emulsifying wax. It is generally recommended as a simple solubiser in the manufacture of room sprays and skin cleansers although the resultant mixture loses clarity. Polysorbates also come in other varieties, i.e. Polysorbate-20 or Polysorbate-80, which can also be used in various emulsifying applications either on their own or in combination.

Hydrogenated Castor Oil. This is an effective emulsifier for rendering essential oils and fragrance oils soluble in water. It comes as as semi-solid, pale whiteish-to-transparent in appearance with a texture similar to Vaseline and requires warming before use. The advantage of using this product over polysorbate-60 is that the product remains clear or nearly clear rather than slightly milky in appearance, which makes it extremely suitable for products where clarity is important. It is the main functional ingredient in fragranced waters and fabric sprays etc.

Uses and Quantities.

The emulsifyers and related products above can be used as follows...

Steareth-20 (0r 21). (or Ceteareth-20 (21)). Use between 2% and 6% of total ingredients for emulsifying the oil and water phazes of creams and lotions.

Cetearyl Alcohol. Use between 1% and 25% of total ingredients to thicken a product from a light lotion consistency to a rich hand cream consistency and between.

Cetearyl Alcohol/Ceteareth-20. Replaces the above 2 products. Use between 2% and 6% of total ingredients to emulsify and thicken a product. Important to note that using separate products will usually offer more versitility.

Polysorbate-60. Use between 1:1 and 1:2 (1 part polysorbate-60 to 1-2 parts oil/s) with fragrance or essential oils to solubise in water. Excellent for pre-preparing fragranced water phazes for use in lotions and creams. Also good for the preparation of room sprays, skin cleansers etc. but final product loses clarity.

Hydrogenated Castor Oil. Use between 2:1 and 5:1 (2-5 parts hydrogenated castor oil to 1 part fragrance/essential oil) for the preparation of room sprays, fabric sprays and fragranced waters. This product forms the main functional ingredient in solubisers such as Ressasol, which are specifically designed for the manufacture of these types of products. The main additional ingredients being antioxidents and antimicrobials.

Important. When making lotions, creams, fragranced waters etc. it is important to minimise the possibility of deterioration mainly due to microbial presence in water. None of the above functional ingredients offer any preservative effects. If making for sale, a suitable preservative system should be used. Many recipes and formulas from American sites recommend adding 'Germaben II' This is a trade name for what is basically 'Mixed Parabens'. Parabens are a recommended preservative system for water/oil preparations. A suitable Mixed Parabens preservative is available from our shopping site called 'Liquid parabens'. We also offer paraben-free alternatives.

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