Organic and natural emulsifiers are some of the trickiest ingredients to work with when you’re making clean, green and organic skincare or haircare formulations. We know, because we’ve been doing it for years! We’ve also been writing about natural emulsifiers for years, so this article summarises (and will continue to summarise) everything you’ve ever wanted to know about organic and natural emulsifiers.Learn everything you wanted to know about natural emulsifiers. #GreenBeauty Click To Tweet
An emulsion is a blend of water and oil, which are brought together by the use of an emulsifier – creating a homogenous blend. There are many emulsifiers on the market that may be used by organic skincare and haircare formulators. They can be oil-in-water (O/W) or water-in-oil (W/O) emulsifiers, or they can be hot processed or cold processed.
How to choose the best Organic & Natural Emulsifier
An oil-in-water (O/W) emulsifier disperses fine droplets of oil through an aqueous base. These O/W emulsions tend to be more liquid, such as milk or a skin cleansing lotion. A water-in-oil (W/O) emulsion disperses ultra-fine droplets of water throughout the fatty base ingredients. These emulsions tend to be quite thick and greasy. We often see that many of our students at Formula Botanica prefer O/W emulsions possibly because they are quite similar to conventional lotions and creams.
Your choice of emulsifier is a personal preference but you need to consider many other factors.
Which Organic & Natural Emulsifiers should you use?
We’ve taken some of the hard work away from you and tested out a number of natural emulsifiers for you. As we trial more natural emulsifiers, we will add them to this list.
Learn how to make an emulsion with:
- Vegetal / Montanov 68 (Cetearyl Alcohol and Cetearyl Glucoside)
- Xyliance (Cetearyl wheat straw glycosides and Cetearyl alcohol)
- Olivem 900 (Sorbitan Olivate)
Many online DIY blogs and books will tell you that you can use beeswax as an emulsifier. We put their hypothesis to the test to once and for all demonstrate that beeswax cannot be used as a stand alone emulsifier.
Working with Organic & Natural Emulsifiers
If you follow online blogs or courses taught by online DIYers, then you might have learned how to use the ‘heat and hold’ method. This method is a myth and we recommend that you ignore everything you’ve read about it.
The Hydrophilic-Lipophilic balance of a surfactant expresses the balance between the hydrophilic (water-loving) and the lipophilic (oil-loving) parts of an amphiphilic molecule (a molecule that has both lipophilic and hydrophilic parts).
Anyone who encourages you to calculate the HLB of your emulsifiers will be mainly used to working with synthetic emulsifiers and won’t necessarily understand the nuances of organic cosmetic formulating.
Testing Organic & Natural Emulsifiers
Theoretically, knowing the Hydrophilic-Lipophilic Balanace (HLB) of your chosen emulsifier should help you determine whether you’ve prepared a water-in-oil (W/O) or an oil-in-water (O/W) emulsion. We’re here to tell you that unfortunately the science is not always that simple. Depending on the emulsifier you choose, it is possible that you come to unexpected results and that your cosmetic emulsion is not what you think it is.
One of the biggest challenges faced by formulators making emulsions is ensuring that those emulsions remain stable.
If your emulsion isn’t stable, then over time you may start to see the water and oil splitting away from each other again. This process is called ‘phase separation’ and means that your beautiful lotion now looks like a complete mess.