Saturday, October 3, 2009

Emulsifying systems: E-wax, Polawax, and BTMS-50

From left to right: Emulsified with ceteareth-20 and glycol distearate, emulsified with Olivem 800, and emulsified with Polawax. Really no huge difference in appearance!

It's hard to know exactly which emulsification system you want to use in a lotion until you try it. There are so many considerations when choosing an emulsifier...cost, availability, ease of use, how to incorporate it, what ingredients you want to avoid, what ingredients you want to emulsify, and so on.

My first consideration is always ease of use. I want something I know is going to work - when I follow good manufacturing procedures - and will be consistent every time. I think it's safe to assume that if you follow the instructions for use, it will work.

My next consideration is skin feel. And each of us has our own definition of what we want in a lotion. I'm a big fan of a glidy, non-whitening, slightly greasy lotion. But you might prefer something thicker, less greasy, more powdery and so on. So please keep this in mind when choosing an emulsifier. Assuming it emulsifies well, I think this is going to be one of your top priorities.

My next consideration is availability. I don't have a lot of choices living in Canada and it's not a good option to order from the States. The shipping charges, minimum order amounts, and costs incurred at the border can raise the price 75%.

Remember, these are only my opinions. Please share your ideas on various emulsifiers in the comments section! And tell us why you like them!

EMULSIFYING WAX NF (various manufacturers)
INCI: Cetearyl alcohol and Polysorbate 60
Comes in pellet or flake form and must be heated and held to use.

As you can see, this is a high HLB emulsifier (polysorbate 60, HLB 14.9) and a low HLB emulsifier (cetearyl alcohol, HLB 4.5 to 4.7) combined to create an emulsifying system. The cetearyl alcohol is a fatty alcohol that offers some low level conditioning, emolliency, and thickening (much like cetyl alcohol).

Emulsifying wax offers emulsification with the addition of emolliency (the cetearyl alcohol is like cetyl alcohol). So your lotions will have more slip and glide and more greasiness than some other emulsifiers. Some of us (including me) like this feeling and others find it annoying. You can add IPM to the mix to reduce the greasiness, choose other esters, or use dryer oils like macadamia nut or hazelnut oil.

There seems to be some debate about the HLB of cetearyl alcohol with some saying it is as high as 15.5 and as low as 4.5. Since it makes no sense to me that you would combine two high HLB emulsifiers and have them work, I'm going with the lower number. Having said this, I find emulsifying wax NF is not as reliable as I would like, and I tend to use it only in anhydrous scrubs or bars in which I want emulsification on the spot without worrying about stability.

Note: If you find an emulsifying wax that isn't cetearyl alcohol and polysorbate 60, it is NOT emulsifying wax NF (the NF stands for National Formulary and is a standard). It may not work as well as regular e-wax, so check the INCI posted by your supplier.

POLAWAX (only made by Croda)
INCI: Emulsifying wax NF
Comes in a pellet form and must be heated and held to use.
Use at 2 to 10% of your lotion.

Croda won't tell us what is in Polawax, but I love the stuff. It works really well and the only fails I've had using it are definitely my fault! I use it 25% of my oil phase (so if I have 10% oils, I'd use 2.5%) and it does make your lotions slightly more greasy than using something like BTMS. (But only slightly...)

Polawax is more expensive than regular e-wax. I find it worth the difference - you might not. It does all the things emulsifying wax NF might do - adds a little emolliency, emulsifies oil and water lotions - but I find it more stable and less likely to separate. I have no idea why this is because I don't know the ingredients in Polawax.

For a technical data sheet, please click here.

INCI: Behentrimonium methosulfate (and) cetyl alcohol (and) butylene glycol

BTMS is a great emulsifier, but it imparts a dryer, less greasy feel to your lotions. As it is cationic, you are going to be making a cationic lotion. The e-wax and most other emulsifiers are non-ionic, meaning they carry no electrical charge. (Cationic lotions are positively charged). As a result, some preservatives may not work well with BTMS as the emulsifier - Tinosan, for one - so always check out how the other ingredients in your lotion will be affected by changing to a cationic emulsifier.

BTMS-50 will offer skin conditioning benefits to your lotions, which is always a good thing. And if you're using a lot of silicones, BTMS is the best emulsifier for the job. You can make lotions with up to 50% silicones with BTMS.

For more information on using BTMS-50 as a hair conditioner, please click here.

For the most part, if you have a recipe calling for one of these emulsifiers, you can substitute it for another one without a lot of difficulty. You are going to get a different skin feel - especially with the BTMS - and I'd keep notes as to what you like.

As a secondary note, I always use a co-emulsifier or thickener like a fatty acid (like stearic acid) or fatty alcohol (like cetyl alcohol) in my lotions. Generally I use stearic for creams, cetyl for lotions. (What's the difference between a cream and a lotion? Join me on October 5th for a discussion on this topic!)

For some great information on emulsifiers from the Herbarie please check out these links...


LittlePanda said...

Addicted to the blog.
Do you think Optiphen plus will work with BTMS?
Also have you tried Ewax or polawax with BTMS?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

E-wax or Polawax can be combined with BTMS without problems. (I'm sure I've posted a recipe here somewhere with both!) I have never used Optiphen, but I don't see a disclaimer saying you shouldn't use it in cationic products, so I don't see an issue.

Here's a link to a the brochure on Optiphen Plus. I don't see any disclaimers there either...but I have heard it can make lotions curdle, so you'll have to get ready for some practice batches!

LittlePanda said...

Hi Susan,

Suggestions for preservative instead of optiphen plus? I liked the paraben free aspect. My test batches just with ewax nf seem to be holding up.

Actually did have a curdle but it as because I tried an attempt of adding xanthum gum...and it made a gloppy mess...

Mya Symons said...

I am planning on making a conditioner with 25% natural oils and butters. My hair is very dry. I am going to be using Cupuacu butter, Argan Oil, and Avocado Butter. Do you think a combination of BTMS and Emulsifying Wax NF (Lipowax)would work? Last time I used BTMS alone and it did not turn out good. It was globby and part of the mixture was not emulsified.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Mya. BTMS-50 should be able to emulsify 25% oils, so my guess is that you are using BTMS-25 if it didn't emulsify well. I guess my question is why 25% oils or butters?

Take a look at this recipe - click here for the intense winter hair custard - with 13% oils. Moisturizing dry hair isn't just about oils - you have to consider the conditioning agents and humectants as well. And e-wax isn't a good idea for your hair. It will help rinse out the oils, which defeats the purpose of using them, and it won't adsorb to your hair to condition it!

Have fun formulating!

Mya Symons said...

Thank you. I did use less oil and added panthenol and soy protein. It worked very well.

PS I meant to thank you earlier but for some reason the system would not let me sign on.

Mya Symons said...

Thank you. I did use less oil and added panthenol and soy protein. It worked very well.

PS I meant to thank you earlier but for some reason the system would not let me sign on.

Kate Melton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate Melton said...


I like your blog, because it's very informative.

Little question: is it true that when you use an ''all in one kind'' emulsifier like the e-wax/polowax/BTMS, you don't need look at the HLB of your oil phase etc.(like you do in this post

I really hope you want to give me some clarification about this:D!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Kate! The short answer to your question is - you don't need to worry about the HLB value of your oil phase if you are using an all in one emulsifier. The long answer - find it in this post, which I'm posting on Sunday, February 10th! Great question!

Unknown said...

I bought some BTMS and it is the the 25. I have read Optiphen works but can't find anything about the PLUS. I have the plus and am not willing to ahve it curdle. What about Germall Plus or Phenonip, any suggestions about using them with the BTMS..Thanks so much for your help

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Unknown! Could you please leave your name in future comments?

If you look in the preservatives section of the blog, you'll see a post in Optiohen plus and the other preservatives you mention.

Anonymous said...

Hi Swift,
first of thank you so much for sharing all this information. Am new and learning a lot from your blog. I was wondering if you can use Polawax for a lip balm, instead of beeswax? I have Polawax at home but no beeswax and I really want to make a moisturizing lip balm.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Sera! I've answered your question in today's Weekend Wonderings. The quick answer is sorry, no.

Ann said...

Hi Swift,

I am making lotion. Does BTMS-50 work with phenoxyethanol alone? If not, would it be ok to use it with a phenoxyethanol and emulsifying wax mix?


Alexis said...

In 1997 Polawax consisted of cetyl alcohol and a non-ionic surfactant according to:

G.M. Eccleston, (1997) "Functions of mixed emulsifiers and emulsifying waxes in dermatological lotions and creams." Colloids Surfaces A. Physicochem. Eng. Aspects 123-124, 169-182.

Anonymous said...

I recently stumbled on your blog, and as a medical student I really appreciate your attention to the science behind the fun :) I read here that using a lotion containing an emulsifier on your skin is not a wise idea because it leaves behind a film that disrupts the skin's natural lipid barrier. The author goes on to suggest using straight oils on the skin instead. Is that something you've heard before? Is there any validity to this claim? Thanks! - Abby

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Abby. I have never seen this opinion before, and it makes no sense to me. If you use oils, you're only trapping in the moisture that is in the skin. With dry skin, you don't have that moisture, so what are you trapping in? Secondly, he gives no rationale for using certain oils, like the amount of linoleic acid in sunflower oil, which helps speed up barrier repair. I wouldn't take it seriously.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan! I'm Tom!

Go to New Directions Aromatics site and search Polawax. That sites says Polawax contains the following ingredients:

Polawax is a preparation of higher fatty alcohols that produce thick emulsions without the addition of stiffening waxes. Recommended usage level is 2% - 10%.

INCI: Emulsifying Wax NF

Emulsifying Wax NF consists of four ingredients. These are Cetearyl Alcohol, PEG-150 Stearate, Polysorbate 60, and Steareth-20.

It mirrors the properties of Cetyl Alcohol while promoting the thickening features of Stearyl Alcohol.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Tom! You are the second person in three days to post this. Is this a new listing on New Directions Aromatics or is something else going on here? Considering how guarded this proprietary mix is, I'm curious how NDA got the information when the makers of my textbooks can't get it. Is there a way of confirming that this is, in fact, the list from Croda? Any information would be appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan! I'm Tom!
Sorry, I can not confirm this. I am only going by what New Directions Aromatics has posted on their site. I am assuming that NDA site has to be correct on posting their information otherwise they would face legal consequences from Croda. Maybe NDA is a top distributor of Polawax and they have an agreement with Croda stating that they will not sell their product unless they are allowed to tell the customers what is in Polawax?

val said...

Hello! I'm new to making lotions and creams. I have the polawax from new directions and would like to make a cream moisturizer. Sometimes i find recipes with and without cetyl alcohol to thicken things up. My question is, if new directions polawax has a thickener in it, do i still need to add cetyl alcohol? Or would that make things too thick if i did add cetyl alcohol? I liked the emulsifier/thickener idea. I only have the polawax and eager to make a batch that turns to cream or at least not liquid lump. Lol. (my own mistake). And i like your blog. Thank you. From Val

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Val. NDA's Polawax is Croda's Polawax, which is to say that anyone using the name Polawax is using the ingredient from Croda. They aren't different than other companies' Polawax in any way. I'm not sure where they got the information they have posted or if it is correct as it is proprietary information and not available to the public.

As for using cetyl alcohol, why don't you try a recipe with it and one without it and see what you think. I did this with a body butter when I was starting out and I was shocked to see what 3% cetyl alcohol or 3% stearic acid brought to a lotion or cream. Let us know how it turns out!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Okay, I think I've gotten to the bottom of this debate. What NDA has listed is taken, word for word, from WiseGeek's entry on emulsifying wax NF. (Isn't that somehow unethical?)

For more information, check out this post I wrote this morning - What's in Polawax?

Valerie Tinga said...

I applied to get accepted on Croda's website and they sent me back approval but once i follow the link and am prompted to change the password they sent me, it won't work. Then when i hit "Contact Us" button it goes in a loop back to the password fiasco. Very frustrating. Has anyone else managed to get onto their site?

Ryan Kern said...

Hi Susan,
I'm interested in using both BTMS-50 and E-WAX in a facial lotion. Your comments say you have a recipe using both. I've searched and searched trying to find it to get an idea on that ratio to use the BTMS and E-WAX. Could you post a link to that recipe?

Maggie's Muse said...

Thanks for the science! My grandkids and I indulge in a fun science project every couple months because I believe future scientists come from curious kids that are encouraged to ask "why". Last week, my 6-yo grandson and I made lotion for his mom. He learned how to help H2O and oil become best friends. You inspired us.

Lotion making, blowing up balloons with baking soda and vinegar and Rube Goldberg machines. Life doesn't get much better :)


Melanie Klar said...

If we don't know what is in Polowax, How can we put the INCI on the label? Is "Polowax" acceptable in an ingredient list?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Melamie. It's Polawax, which is the proper name. As I mention in the post, the INCI is emulsifying wax NF.

Asha said...

Hi Susan

Love love your blog. There is so much of information explained in easy to understand manner. I have a question regarding Benhentrimonium methosulfate. I am getting it as a 80% active and there is not any kind of fatty alcohol added to it. Could you please let me know how it can be used as a self emulsifying conditioner on the line of BTMS-25? Do we need additional emulsifier system along with this 80% active of behnetrimonium methosulfate?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Asha! Thanks for your kind words! The BTMS we generally use is 50% active, which means you would want to use less when you're using it as an emulsifier. So let's say you're using 8% BTMS-50, you're really using 4% behetrimonium methosulfate. If you're using your version, you'd want to use 5% so you get 4% active ingredient. You'll have to do the math when you're working with it - figure out what the active is, then do the math to use that same amount!

Asha said...

Thanks Susan for the reply!!
My question is regarding the emulsion system using BTMS in different active form than BTMS-50 which is from Croda. I want to make a conditioner using Genamin BTMS from Clariant which is behentrimonium methosulfate (80% active) without any added fatty alcohol. Unlike BTMS-50, it is not a self emulsifying conditioning agent. So, my question is, can I make a self emulsifying conditioner using Genamin BTMS if I add cetearyl alcohol to it just like BTMS-25 and be able to emulsify around 10% oil phase? I want to replicate your conditioner's recipe using BTMS-50 and don't want to use any additional emulsifier system.

Thanks again for patiently replying to my queries.

just me said...

This comment is in regards to asha's enquiry

I have used 4% varisoft btms/CRODA btms-25 - in a previous formula and i have switched to clariant with no problem.

To get 100% active form clariant btms - you need 1.25% clariant

For a btms-25 active used at 4% - 3% cetearyl alcohol and 1% btms

For btms - 80 used at 4% - 3% cetearyl alcohol and 1.25% genamin btms

A straight forward alternative is to achieve a 20% active BTMS

For btms -80 used at 4% - 3% cetearyl alcohol and 1% genamin btms

Hope this helps


Mia Prajuwita said...

If we don't have polawax, what should we use?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Mia! This post should have given you a few ideas for other emulsifiers. If you'd like to learn more, check out the FAQ and the newbie section for all kinds of posts on emulsifiers!

Rex Tremendae said...

As a relative newbie who is trying to create the best formulation possible for lotions (after having become obsessed with making cold process soaps), I'm running into a roadblock. I'm posting my question here because you seem to be the most knowledgeable on this subject. (I'm not trying to be sycophantic, but... if that will help, I'll do whatever I need to. haha). My question is about the amount of emulsifier required in a recipe. You have mentioned having to use "the proper amount" but I can't find anywhere that say what that "proper" amount is. There is always a range of percentages given, but that drives me nuts. As I understand it, the emulsifier bonds the water with the oils, yes? So, there must be a minimum amount of emulsifier needed to bond x-amount of water with x-amount of oils, yes? I assume that the higher percentages will result in a thicker lotion, but in order to formulate something, I really want to know what that minimum amount is and whether it is based on the amount of water, the amount of oils, or both together.

For example, what if (and I would never do this) I had a recipe that had 40% water and 60% oils. How much emulsifier would be required? If i had a recipe that was 90% water and 10% oils, what would I need then? Is my emulsifier a percentage of my oils? or is it a percentage of my water?

For reference, I'm currently using "Emulsifying Wax Traditional" from Crafter's Choice and Stearic Acid (which I understand is only a thickener and does not contribute to emulsification).

Thank you SO SO SO much in advance. You have no idea how many websites and blogs I've read in search of this answer.


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Justin! In the posts on each emulsifier, I note the suggested usage rate for each emulsifier, so I encourage you to click on those links to learn more. There are no hard and fast rules; it varies with each emulsifier. As well, check out the FAQ for more information on emulsifiers. And if you want more detail, take a look at the sections on the HLB system to see the chemistry behind making your own emulsifier combinations.

Lyndy said...

Hi Susan
I have ewax o from new direction. And it needs a second emulsifier to work. But could I use poly 20 or 80? I also have peg 40. I just don't have poly 60. The ewax o from new direction is just cetearyl alcohol.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lyndy! Your question was answered in the Jane Barber's Facebook group, so I'll refer you back there. Or refer you to the post on the HLB system and you can figure out what you have and what you can combine from that list. You know what you have in your workshop, and it's easier for you to read that than to list everything you own in this thread! I have a post that contains the formula for figuring it all out, so I'll refer you to that as well.

Honestly, the easier thing to do is buy a new emulsifier and use this "emulsifying wax" that is really cetearyl alcohol as a thickener.

I will, however, suggest that you invest in some emulsifing wax from a company that doesn't name things in a misleading way. The ingredient you bought from NDA is in no way an emulsifier and they must know this. Why they called it an emulsifying wax is beyond me, but it feels very dishonest. Yes, I use that word purposefully because no supplier who knew their stuff would think that cetearyl alcohol is an emulsifier. So either they don't know their stuff or they're being dishonest. Either way, I wouldn't trust a company that didn't know that cetearyl alcohol isn't an emulsifier. We have so many suppliers in Canada who know their stuff, I'd encourage you to use one of them instead.

Clara Buddig said...

Hi Susan.

I've been reading everything I could fin on your blog about emulsifying waxes. I am having some sisuen with my var and have realized that I have bought it before knowing enough about the chemestry in it. I can't get it to work proportioner ( it will not thiken much, and if it does, it take 4-5 days)

I am using something Called emulsifying wax Glyseryl stearate & PEG- 100 stearate. Usagte level is 3 to 10%. From new direktions uk.
Since I couldn't get it to work, I bought Ceteratyl Alcohol, because the bag says that it is often used as a thikener.

You have writer somewhere that new directions is promoting a emulsifying wax as a system falsely... Could this be the one I have?

I am hand beating as the mechanical emulsification, because the times I have used a blender, the lotion because more of a runny mousse.

What should the persentage of the Ceteratyl alcohol be compared to my e- wax? (I use 25% ewax of my Oil ratio)
Should I just keep trying?
Is there something I should do different?

I really hope you have some clever infights... I am about to give in and give up.


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Clara! Can you please link to the emulsifying wax so I can get an idea of what it is? That would help me greatly.

renie said...

Could someone please tell me the difference, and please name one of each, between a emulsifying wax and a conditioning emulsifier? OH my goodness this is killing me....I have seen a recipe that calls for both and every time I look it up online I come back thinking they are both the same thing. I just haven't found a website where it's explained simply. Thank you.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Renie. As you can see above, emulsifying wax is emulsifying wax, a non-ionic emulsifier for our products. It should be called emulsifying wax NF or Polawax at your supplier. Conditioner emulsifier is whatever the supplier thinks is a conditioning emulsifier, but generally it's a cationic or positively charged emulsifier that can be used for lotions or for hair conditioners. In this post, you'd notice it as Incroquat BTMS-50, but it could be BTMS-25. What you want to do is look at the INCI at your suppliers' web site to see what you're getting. For more information on INCI names, please look at the FAQ.

Anamaria said...

Hi Susan, thank you so much for taking your time to answer so many questions, you can't imagine how much I'm learning from you, as soon as I can I'll buy one of your books. I would like to ask you if it's possible to include a tincture in a lotion? Would it be possible to emulsify it? I 'd like to make a bug off lotion with vanilla and clove's tincture. Thank you again

Face said...

Hi Susan! I am having an issue with failed emulsification in an aloe cream that I am making. Aloe/water mix is 63%, oil 23%, candelilla wax, 4%, BTMS 25 8%, I am using BTMS 25 at 8%. Optiphen - Plus 1%, fragrance 1%. I feel my problem may be because my aloe content is too high, so I intend to lower that. It was also suggested that the issue could be with the BTMS 25. I do not have BTMS 50 on hand. Could I use an emulsifier wax -NF and cetyl alcohol to help stabilize my cream? If so, would I use the e-wax at 8% as well, along with the cetyl alcohol at 3%? When I alter the recipe I would drop the candelilla wax. Thank you in advance.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Anamaria! Yes, you can use a tincture in a lotion, but it depends on what it is. If you could post your recipe in percentages, I could offer more information.

Hi Face! I see you've asked your question in a Facebook group and had it answered, so I won't bother answering it again. I will say that you can't use BTMS-25 to make a lotion with such a huge an oil phase. Plus, Optiphen is known for destabilizing lotions. My suggestion is to make a lotion with e-wax and leave the BTMS-25 out.