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
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
(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.
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.
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.
(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.
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...
(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.
between 1% and 25% of total ingredients to thicken a product
from a light lotion consistency to a rich hand cream consistency
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.
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.
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.
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.
BACK TO RECIPE CHOICES