Friday, March 4, 2011

An aside...beeswax is not an emulsifier

Beeswax is not an emulsifier. We can use it as a thickener in our products - in lotions, scrub bars, lotion bars, and so on - but it will not emulsify your lotions. I know I've mentioned this before - in the how can I tell if it's a good recipe post - but the only time beeswax is considered an emulsifier is if it's combined with borax in a water in oil type lotion (and what we make are oil in water type lotions).

If you are using beeswax as the only emulsifier in a lotion, cream, or anything else that contains water, and it has worked for you, it won't be for long. Odds are good that you have kept that lotion together through the heat and mechanical emulsification because you don't have any chemical emulsification going on there. It will fail on you in the very near future, leaving you with a mess of water and oil that isn't considered a lotion.

I know people are searching for more natural emulsifiers, but beeswax isn't one of them. I know there's some confusion about "e-wax" vs "bee-wax" but the simple fact is that beeswax will not emulsify any product that contains water. It might thicken it, but it won't emulsify it.


Mychelle said...

Thank you Susan! This comes up everywhere I turn, and trying to convince people that beeswax doesn't emulsify seems like a losing battle. I think the beeswax/borax for w/o emulsions confuses people, and they don't realize it's the "soap effect" of the two that emulsifies, not the beeswax. From now on when this comes up I'm just sending people straight here (though I pretty do that for every B & B issue). Your blog is an inspiration, and very much appreciated. I hope you are feeling better!

p said...

If you are using beeswax as the only emulsifier in a lotion, cream, or anything else that contains water, and it has worked for you, it won't be for long. ... It will fail on you in the very near future, leaving you with a mess of water and oil that isn't considered a lotion.

This really is contrary to my experience. I certainly agree that you can't substitute beeswax for e-wax or Polawax in a recipe and expect it to work - it won't. And I'm sure you know what you're talking about when you say that the only emulsification that happens with beeswax is mechanical or through heat. But I really do think this statement is just too strong. I've been watching an water-in-oil cream I made two years ago using beeswax and no other emulsifier (and no borax), and it's going strong. I've repeated the recipe many times, varied it, and so far so good! From what I can tell, in this recipe the oils will go rancid before the emulsion fails, and that's all I care about.

When you're attempting to make an emulsion using beeswax, you have to use totally different rules and principles than when you use a purpose-made emulsifier like e-wax, Polawax, or BTMS. For starters, you're making a water-in-oil emulsion, so the water phase will be less than 50% of your formula. And every formula is different - you can't simply say that 7% beeswax and 40% water phase will make for a successful cream - your other ingredients matter as well. It's really an "emulsification system" you're formulating. I think it's analogous to what Angie wrote on the Herbarie's blog last fall, about how we should be talking about "preservative systems" rather than "preservatives" when attempting to use all-natural antimicrobials:

Notice that I often use the terms "antimicrobial" and "antioxidant" and "preservative system" instead of "preservative." We need to move away from the idea of creating fabulous formulas only to realize at the last minute that it needs a “preservative”. Instead, we need to consider the entire formulation including a preservative system that may in fact be multifunctional as well. Creating an effective preservative system takes time and testing for each and every formulation. What works for one formulation, may not work for another. So, please make note, it's always best to create a formula from start to finish with the preservative system in mind. (from

I think of a natural beeswax-based "emulsification system" the same way - sure it's tricky, and you have to build it into your whole formulation, but it's not impossible.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi p. Although I respect your experience, I don't understand how this works without seeing your recipe or reading your process. If your emulsification is doing well - and isn't rancid - after two years, then you've done something quite interesting and I'd love to hear more about it. (As you know, I'm always eager to learn new things!)

As Mychelle mentions, beeswax does mix with borax to produce a soap called sodium cerotate, but the borax is necessary to form an emulsion. (More about the borax and beeswax emulsification process can be found in this PDF. Very interesting reading!) You can neutralize the cerotic acid in the beeswax through other means, and I'm wondering if this is the way your emulsification system is working.

I don't feel I'm being overconfident in saying that beeswax on its own isn't an emulsifier for oil in water lotions. There is no evidence that it will work for any period of time in an oil in water lotion and this is the issue that is cropping up time and time again in comments and e-mails to me. As for water in oil lotions, it seems that the best way to make these is to find something to create the sodium cerotate. Again, please send me anything you wish to share because I'd love to know more about how you're able to make this work.

p said...

Hi Susan! I totally agree that you need to emphasize that beeswax will not work as a substitute for the emulsifier in the wonderful o/w recipes on your blog. Attempting that substitution would only lead to lotion failure, lots of frustration, and wasted ingredients!

And thanks for the pdf - I've been wondering about the details of beeswax & borax lotions for awhile!

One of the beeswax (without borax) recipes I've had good success with is from a book by the herbalist Rosemary Gladstar - the recipe, Rosemary's Perfect Cream, is reprinted here: I modify it by decreasing the percentage of the water phase to about 40% or even as low as 32% (in the original recipe, the water phase is about 49%) but I otherwise keep the proportions the same (1/3 of my water phase is aloe vera; about 30% of my oil phase is solid fat, i.e. cocoa butter or coconut oil). I think 49% water phase is just too much for a tricky emulsion like this, if you want a stable emulsion.

My guess is that the solid fats (butters or solid oils) are key to getting this cream to emulsify, as is the aloe vera gel (though I'm guessing a gum would work well in the water phase as well). Much seems to rely on textures when formulating this way - your oil phase has to be a soft, salvelike solid when you beat in the water phase, and in my experience you just can't get the right texture with beeswax and liquid oil alone (either the oil phase is too loose and fluid and the waters will separate out shortly like it does in salad dressing, or it's too firm and balmlike and the waters won't beat in at all). All very subjective and vague, I realize.

One other modification: Rosemary Gladstar's recipe doesn't involve a preservative, and I always use a preservative system. But I've often wondered whether water-in-oil emulsions are less prone to contamination... In w/o emulsions, the phase that is prone to contamination, the water phase, consists of little isolated pockets, separated by a continuous phase of oil. Which, it seems to me, means that contamination can't spread throughout the lotion as readily as in a o/w lotion, where the continuous phase itself is prone to contamination. Do you know if there's truth to this, i.e. if w/o emulsions are easier to preserve than o/w emulsions? Of course this is no reason not to use a preservative - I'm just curious!

kontakt said...

Actually, beeswax oil and rose water is the original cold cream recipe, hundreds of years old. I assume it is not as stable as modern emulsified lotions and creams, but depending on how you define if it "works" or not, you could say it works... or all those people who used it way back then were wrong!

But I assume it wouldn't give you stable enough products to give the shelf life we expect of normal products. Still, for some people who make their own stuff it's enough. If that's where people want to start out, I personally think that's quite OK. It's good if they understand the limitation of what they are making, though.

Anonymous said...

I think the question would be, what is really a normal product? If we compare our products nowadays as to what it used to be, I would say that what was is what it should be. We redesign and redesign our formulas because companies have developed synthetic and chemical ingredients so they can make money as well as the government. I mean natural products are as effective as what we buy from any kind of brands. It's simple, synthetics and chemicals may have skin benefits but if we look at our blood and test for chemicals, it's there. if we use too much cetyl alcohol, it's in our livers. yes the outer shows great effect but the inner parts of our organs suffer.
so if i may add, i've been using beeswax and oil no emu wax or whatever there is in the market, my customers love it.

the idea of great skin care is to understand our own issues and problems. for ex. if we have dry skin use good essential oils that has benefits for the skin. if we have oily skin, make use of astringents (non alcohol) to close pores and then use cold cream natural base. easy as that.

last note, if we support the system that chemists produce and government allows them to sell these poisonous chemicals, this only mean that we support them from making more money. so if the question is, does beeswax emulsify? it does. that's the natural and normal way of making cream and lotion even back in the days.

stay natural

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Anonymous. Beeswax on its own is not an emulsifier. Just as you cannot create a faster than light drive and violate the laws of physics, you cannot use beeswax as an emulsifier and violate the laws of chemistry. No matter how much you want it to be true, beeswax does not contain any properties that make it an emulsifier, and the emulsion you get using beeswax in an product as you would using oiive oil or cocoa butter, which is to say none.

Whatever emulsification you are experiencing with beeswax will have more to do with heat and mechanical emulsification than chemical emulsification. If you are talking about cold cream, you're talking about beeswax AND borax as the emulsifiers, and that's a very different discussion.

Natural isn't always good, just like synthetic isn't always bad. Astringents aren't always good for oily skin, and essential oils aren't always good for dry skin. I can't imagine someone with oily skin benefitting from cold cream - I can assure you that my skin would be horrendous with a product like this - which just shows that speaking in absolutes really doesn't serve us well when we are talking about something as creative as bath & body formulating or something as variable as skin types and chemistry.

Can you please provide me with the reputable links to studies backing up your claim about cetyl alcohol? I find this really interesting.

You mention customers. Are you making hydrous or anhydrous products? Are you using preservatives or anti-oxidants? What is the longest time you've left your lotions to stand to check the stability?

Can you post a recipe here so we can take a look at how you manage to make beeswax work as an emulsifier? People will tell me it works for them, but no one ever posts a recipe and a process for me to try!

As an aside, you really don't have to be so aggressive. Can't we have a pleasant discussion and hear each other out? I encourage you to check out the discussion above and other posts on my blog to see how we debate around here. It can get heated, but it's always civil.

p said...

Hi Susan,

You asked for a recipe and a process - did you get a chance to try the recipe by Rosemary Gladstar that I posted earlier? I'd linked to it before, but here it is again, copied below at the end of my comment. I'd recommend using less water phase than in the recipe below, and preserving in some way (no need to tell you that, of course!).

I've had really good luck with this cream and others based on this recipe. No doubt the cream is mechanically, not chemically, emulsified, but that's ok by me! If the cream doesn't separate before the oils go rancid, I'm a happy girl! And that has been my experience.




Although this recipe appears easy, it is also a bit challenging. You are attempting to combine water and oil; they don’t normally mix. Follow the recipe closely. If it doesn’t turn out right the first time, don’t be discouraged. Try again; the luscious cream is well worth your time and effort.

2/3 cup distilled water (or rose water)
1/3 cup aloe vera gel
1 or 2 drops essential oil of your choice
Vitamins A and E as desired

3/4 cup apricot, almond, or grapeseed oil
1/3 cup coconut oil or cocoa butter
1/4 teaspoon lanolin
1/2 to 1 ounce grated beeswax

Combine the waters in a glass measuring cup. Set aside. In a double boiler over low heat, combine the oils. Heat them just enough to melt. Pour the oils into a blender and let them cool to room temperature. The mixture should become thick, creamy, semisolid, and cream-colored. This cooling process can be hastened in the refrigerator, but keep an eye on it so it doesn’t become too hard. When the mixture has cooled, turn on the blender at its highest speed. In a slow, thin drizzle, pour the water mixture into the center vortex of the whirling oil mixture. When most of the water mixture has been added to the oils, listen to the blender and watch the cream. When the blender coughs and chokes and the cream looks thick and white, like buttercream frosting, turn off the blender. You can slowly add more water, beating it in by hand with a spoon, but don’t overbeat. The cream will thicken as it sets. Pour into cream or lotion jars and store in a cool location.

Anonymous said...

Carol's Daughter has a hair butter and here is the recipe: Water (Aqua), Glycine Soja ( Soybean) Oil, Zea Mays (Corn) Oil, Beeswax, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Simmondsia Chinensis ( Jojoba) Seed Oil, Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Oil, Phenoxyethanol, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), ( Rosemary) Oil, Cymbopogon Flexosus ( Lemongrass) Oil, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis ( Orange) Oil,Lavandula Augustfolia(Lavender) Oil

Am I over-looking something because I don't see an emulsifier but I do see beeswax and this is her top seller. How does this work?

craziedde said...

I was wondering what you think about this "new kid on the block".
Q-Naturale ( aka Quillaja saponins )


Document highlights

a b s t r a c t

is a natural food-grade surfactant isolated from the bark of the Quillaja saponaria Molina
tree. The major surface active components of Q-Naturale

are believed to be saponin-based amphiphilic
molecules. In this study, we compared the effectiveness of this natural surfactant for forming and
stabilizing emulsions with a synthetic surfactant (Tween 80) that is widely used in the food industry. We
examined the influence of homogenization pressure, number of passes, and emulsifier concentration on
the particle size produced. Q-Naturale

was capable of forming relatively small droplets (d < 200 nm) at
low surfactant-to-oil ratios (SOR < 0.1) using high pressure homogenization (microfluidization), but the
droplets were not as small as those produced using Tween 80 under similar conditions (d < 150 nm). QNaturale

-coated droplets were stable to droplet coalescence over a range of pH values (2e8), salt
concentrations (0e500 mM NaCl) and temperatures (20e90

C). However, some droplet flocculation
was observed under highly acidic (pH 2) and high ionic strength ( 400 mM NaCl) conditions, which
was attributed to screening of electrostatic repulsion. Indeed, Q-Naturale

-coated droplets had
a relatively high negative charged at neutral pH that decreased in magnitude with decreasing pH.
These results indicate that Q-Naturale

is an effective natural surfactant that may be able to replace
synthetic surfactants in food and beverage products.
2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved

We have carried out a detailed study of the interfacial, emulsion
forming, and emulsion stabilizing properties of Q-Naturale, a natural
food-grade surfactant based on quillaja saponin that has recently
become commercially available. Q-Naturale was found to be highly
surface active, and had similar interfacial properties as Tween 80
a synthetic non-ionic surfactant widely used in the food industry. QNaturale-coated droplets had a large negative charge at neutral pH,
which decreased in magnitude at acidic pH values, which was
attributed to the presence of a carboxylic acid group. Q-Naturale was
able to form oil-in-water emulsions with relatively small droplet sizes
(d < 200 nm) at low surfactant-to-oil ratios (SORz1:10), which were
stable to a range of thermal treatments (30e90

C), salt concentrations ( 300 mM NaCl), and pH conditions (pH 3e8). In addition, they
had good long-term stability (one month) when stored at various
holding temperatures (5, 37, and 55

C). The emulsions were unstable
to flocculation and creaming (but stable to coalescence) when stored
at highly acidic (pH 2) or high ionic strength (400 or 500 mM NaCl)
conditions, which was attributed to the reduction in the electrostatic
repulsion operating between the droplets. Overall, our results show
that Q-Naturale is an effective natural surfactant that may be suitable
for utilization in a variety of food and beverage products. Nevertheless, its successful application in the food and beverage industry will
also depend on other factors, such as its taste profile, potential
toxicity, reliability of supply, and cost.

Anonymous said...

No-one seems to have noticed the presence of lanolin in the provided recipe - a known emulsifier!

Sam said...

I make a beeswax body cream with no lanolin, lecithin or aloe gel.
It is:
250g rose water
1 tsp vegetable glycerine
175g liquid oil
75g solid oil or butter
25g beeswax
Make it like mayonaise except adding the rose water to the oils versus the other way around, blending constantly until cool.
I have a pot here that I've had for over a year. Still stable.
Science discovers new things every day that challenge the evidence of yesterday. Perhaps one day they'll find the reason as to why it behaves the way it does. But for now, I just know this is one of the quickest and easiest creams I can knock up in minutes that remains 'emulsified' for as long as the cream remains.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Sam. Can you be specific about the oils and butters you used. Which preservative did you use?

Anonymous said...

Such an interesting post. I made a chaga lotion about 6 months ago using beeswax, chaga, water, vitamin e, coconut oil, and avocado oil. It was my first try at a lotion, as opposed to lotion bars which I have mastered. I think I got really lucky because I did not use a thermometer for the water or oil before I blended them. It is still very stable and lovely still. I have not tried to make lotion again since doing research on the process. :)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lisa. What preservative did you use? Do you still have this lotion?

Mendo Leslie said...

After using straight coconut oil as a skin moisturizer, I want to make a creamier body lotion that does not liquify at warmer temps. I am vegan and do not want to use beeswax or lanolin. I also have psoriasis and my skin is very sensitive and dry. I have been unable able to find any recipes for body lotion that don't use beeswax. I have researched the benefits of other oils in addition to coconut oil, like jojoba, avocado, kukui net, hemp seed, sunflower, apricot kernel, pomegranate, and grapeseed oil. Any recipes and suggestions would be most appreciated. I am also curious about your mention of preservative systems. I will only be making this for my own use, one batch at a time, and probably wouldn't need a preservative system.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Mendo. If you use water, you need a preservative. This is not optional. And do a search on this blog for lotions as I have written hundreds of them.

Anita Renee said...

I just made a cream using beeswax with oils and coconut milk no water. I ran out of my emulsify wax.I did not add borax.I'll see how it holds so far 24 hrs it's nice and creamy.If it holds,the key will be using less liquid has possible to keep a firm cream.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Anita! Put some aside for six months on a shelf - not the fridge, somewhere at room temperature - then let us know how it is. It's simple to get something to emulsify for a day - it should remain stable for years if it is done properly, and beeswax isn't an emulsifier. Out of curiosity, did you use lecithin or lanolin?

Trista Rundatz said...

I use it alone in all of my creams and they stay emulsified just fine. Its in how you do - melt your beeswax with your oils, take off heat and wait until its starts to congeal. Then mix in your liquid.

Athene said...

This site word for word copies your explanation of how beeswax isn't an emulsifier. Don't know if you care about that type of thing, but plagiarism bothers me!!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Thanks, Athene! Get in touch with me as I'd love to send you an e-book of your choice as thanks!

Kim said...


Thank you for posting your recipe.

I have been using it for about 4 months now. I've made 3 batches, and it is a great recipe. I now add about an 1/8 th Cup more of veg glycerin after everything is mixed and cooled just to make a "lighter" lotion.

I don't know much about the chemistry behind it, but I know your recipe works, so thank you, thank you for posting!

I do travel a bit and the only time I've had this lotion separate is after a significant change in pressure (like on a plane) or temperature (like in a very hot car). However, I literally just have to shake it a bit, just like we used to have to do in the good ole 70s, and it just magically comes back together. Fascinating, really.

Cheers to you, Sam, for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I recently tried my hand at making my own face lotion- it is a recipe from the internet, and so far I love it! I don't think it has an emulsifier- though I did use a store bought aloe vera gel and it might have one in it- not sure about that. Anyway, it has water, aloe vera gel, various oils, and beeswax. It has not separated- though I only made a small amount (about one to one and a half month's worth). Also, I did not use a separate preservative in it- though there are some preservatives in the aloe vera gel. Is that enough? Also, I made a honey/sugar scrub with some cleansing oils in it. Of course, it does not mix and the oil stays on top, which is really ok, bc when I dip my fingers in, I get both oil and the honey/sugar combo, but I would like to figure out a way to keep the oil and honey/sugar mixed. Any ideas? Also, do I need a preservative for that? Thanks for your help!!

Anonymous said...

this may be a silly question but i cant seem to find anything about it anywhere... im brand new to lotion making and i really want to incorporate beeswax into my recipes, but i prefer the consistency of a lotion/cream over the balm... im not really interested in trying the borax thing at this time... can you just combine e-wax for its emulsification and beeswax in a recipe? all recipes i have seen so far use either/or but not both...

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Anonymous. Please amend your comment with your name or I will delete it. Thanks in advance!

You can treat beeswax like an ingredient in your oil phase and use it that way. If a recipe calls for 10% oil, substitute a little bit of the oil for beeswax and use it that way. Beeswax, as I mention in the post, isn't an emulsifier and should always be considered as part of the oil phase.

I don't tend to use it much in lotions - I have a hand lotion or two in which I use beeswax - because it is quite draggy and waxy feeling and most people don't want that in their products. Why do you want to include it? Just curious...

Jessa said...

Hi all! I just recently began whipping up my own natural body butters. After reading through these posts it seems like I may not have a water phase in my recipe but it came out super whipped and velvety and was very heat stable. My subsequent batches however are having heat issues. They are fantastic in a home or environment below 80 degrees but melt and separate at any temps above. As I live in a desert with regular summer temps being above 100 degrees I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions for me? Thank you so much! Much love and light to all!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Jessa. Can you please post your complete recipe with measurements so se can help you troubleshoot it?

Tamie said...

Susan, I just wanted to say... I love you! I think you are quite amazing! You definitely know what you are talking about. You also have such a graceful way of dealing with those who are not so nice. Please don't ever stop posting and sharing your wisdom....most of us out here truly appreciate you.

Penny Lane Organics said...

and we love you too. You're such an amazing source of information. This blog about beeswax (not) being an emulsifier was a perfect read for me today since I've been thinking of posting something on our own blog about companies not reporting all ingredients on their labels, or reporting those that sound better, greener and cleaner while all of us that make natural personal care products know that their recipes can only work in a dream land. Thank you for all your hard work in educating the public. Don't ever stop :-) All the best - Bo

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Thanks Tamie and Penny Lane Organics! How lovely are you? It's so nice to hear nice things!

Steven said...

Hi Susan, thanks for so much great information on formulations. I'm new to this craft and I don't have much experience yet.

I fully agree with your statements about beeswax NOT being an emulsifier. Yet I scratch my head when so many recipes omitting borax are succeeding. I can't help but notice that many are beating their oil and water together a particular temperature - that moment when the beeswax has allowed the oil mixture to be still flexible, but starting to solidify.

It reminds me of an old candle-making craft book I had years ago. In it, there was instruction for whipping candle wax into a foam that would harden, for use in making candles that needed to look like sea foam or beer foam. I'm left wondering if these non-borax creams are actually just wax-and-oil foams, being held in that state by the cooled beeswax. Chemically speaking, those cream still have not been emulsified because the oil and water are not unified by any kind of chemical bonds or linking molecule; they are simply particles held next to each other by wax. Because beeswax has a melting point much higher than even a summer's day, these creams aren't becoming unstable on the shelf.

So my question is this: will a chemically emulsified cream remain stable when heated above the melting temperature of beeswax? If it will, a good test for my theory here is to have those using no borax to heat their creams to that temperature to test if they remain stable. If they cannot, they have simply made a hardened beeswax foam.

Your thoughts?

Shawna Dowd said...

Thank you for posting this subject Susan, it really opened up an interesting discussion.
This really was a point of interest for me, as I have recently heard of this beeswax lotion concept and did not understand how it could work. As you said, beeswax is not an emulsifier, so this left me scratching my head. After reading the comment thread attached to this post I think I have it figured out. Not the full scientific explanation, but an idea.
This is not a true emulsion, but as you said it is a mechanical emulsion. I am a cook by trade and we make mechanical emulsions all the time, by using a high speed blender and adding oil to water very slowly while blending. I have seen dressings made this way with juices, fruits, vinegar and oil without seperation. Although they are kept in a cool environment in the fridge.
I bet that these creams people are making are only as stable as the beeswax and are therefore subject to seperation at temperatures above the melting point of beeswax as Steven said. Which would be ok by me, it takes a pretty high heat to melt beeswax (around 145 degrees F) which would really only require taking mild precaution, like not leaving your cream in a hot car.
Anyways, this post and comment thread have left me intrigued and I will now be setting out to do some experimentation and put these theories to the test. Thanks for bringing this conundrum into question.

Justin said...

I've read several different articles that claim beeswax is not an emulsifier, so I never questioned it. Last night I was watching a video on youtube from a guy who makes his own creams using herb-infused olive oil and and some herbal tea; to my surprise though, he used beeswax as an emulsifier.

After watching his video, I took 1 cup of cheap oil that I had, 1 1/2 cups of distilled water, and 1 oz of beeswax, and (using the simple method in the video) I made a thick cream out of it. 18 hours later it is still the same consistency as it was last night and seems to be stable. I'll keep an eye on it, but it's holding steady so far!

Link to his video:

Claire said...

Hi Susan (and all),

I came across this post while researching for my recipe and I don't know why but I found the discussion quite fascinating. I wonder if you may humor me and allow me to throw in my two cents.

After thoroughly reading the comments, I think the "confusion" stems from the very basic definitions of "emulsion" and "emulsifying agent" that we all learned in high school, etc.

Emulsion is a subset of colloid system (i.e. any two phases, one dispersed in the other), in which there are two immiscible liquid phases, one dispersed in another, with or without the presence of an emulsifying agent. In colloid, the components can be of liquid/solid/gas phases. Example of (fluid) colloids are milk and blood. In emulsions, the components are in liquid phases, all immiscible of each other (i.e. do not mix).

Emulsions are inherently unstable, we all know that. To stabilize the system, one must put "something" into it to make it more stable: either by physical of chemical means, like you described.

Emulsifying agent is a substance that stabilizes the system (to throw in more technical terms, lower the entropy of the system). Emulsifying agents come in different flavors: surfactant is one of them (specifically that it lowers the surface tension by virtue of having hydrophilic and hydrophobic parts in the molecules). A colloid (such as lechitin in egg yolk, lanolin, etc.) can act as an emulsifying agent. When the entopy of a system is lower, the system is more stable, per se -- afterall, entropy is a measure of the disorder of a system.

So, technically you are right by saying that beeswax is not an emulsifier; if by emulsifier you mean emulsifying agent. However, the absence of an emulsifying agent in an emulsion does not preclude a stable emulsion. Just common sense, the beeswax stabilizes the emulsion by increasing the viscosity of the hydrophobic phase and therefore the water droplets can be dispersed in it. Think of it as a scaffolding that holds the water droplets apart.

Stability is a relative terms: all emulsions -- unless it is in complete isolation from the rest of the universe--, with or without emulsifying agent, will separate at some point in time (second law of thermodynamics). We may be talking hundreds/thousands of years, or a mere months and weeks. It is all relative.

Bottom line, I think emulsion without an emulsifying agent can "work."

Just my two cents.. Thank you for providing an informative website and allowing for such discussion to occur, I welcome comments & inputs.


Justin said...

Over a month later, my basic oil, water and beeswax test is still just as stable as it was when I made it. I've since made some other attempts that weren't quite as successful, but the first one is still holding strong. Whether it's considered a "mechanical" or "chemical" emulsion it still seems to have the same feel and functionality of any thick creme I've ever purchased from the store.

TJ said...

Very interesting. Im so new to this, I haven't even made my first batch, lol! I want to make a hair cream using the water in oil method. Im just wondering if Beeswax and ewax can be used together to form a stable emulsion.I see alot of blogs that say beeswax isnt an emulsifier, but I see recipes that use only beeswax and no emulsifier. Im confused. I just purchased both to try together. Please help!

SIMONE said...

Hi there. I have been making my own moisturizer for a few months now. I have had success with just beeswax. I have 66% waters and 34% oils and have not had separation. I also mix when oils are cold and set and waters are room temperature. I keep in the fridge for a week. I freeze the rest in cubes and defrost when needed. So no preservatives.

Anonymous said...

I have been making beautiful lasting creams (up to 2 years) with beeswax, plant butters, plant oils, and aloe/water base for 8 years now (and commercially selling for 2 years).

I am sure that you are right in your 'true' emulsifying theory, but that does not mean that by whatever process, the creams don't hold (unless you leave them in the full sun on a hot day).

What saddens and concerns me in these statement posts is that people like me and others that have figured out how to work around 'true emulsifiers,' have our integrity put into question by speculation of not showing our whole or true ingredient lists.

Lets please find ways to express our opinions and experiences, while leaving space for other possibilities.

Malene xxx

Luna Love Farm said...

Hello all - this is a fantastic read and is just what I, a noob lotion maker, needs. I'd like to add a quick something to P's comment about contamination in the water phase (March 5,2011).
I am a massage therapist by trade and we use either sesame or coconut oil as our massage oil, both of which are naturally anti viral and anti bacterial. Would that not help with the contamination issue? If the water is suspended in the oil, then at least the outer circumference of that water droplet would become 'safe' by being in contact with the anti cootie properties of the oil? I am assuming that the fluid within the droplet would then become safe? Again, I am a noob; one learns by asking questions and then listening to the masters. =)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Luna Love Farm. I've answered your question is more detail in Monday, December 1st's Weekday Wonderings, but the short answer is that any anti-microbial properties our ingredients have are not enough to preserve our products.

Hafiz Parman said...

hey Susan!

May I know how to use beeswax, borax and soy lecithin as emulsifier. Do you post about those and how to emulsify it? your answer much appreciated. Thank you :)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Hafiz! I haven't used those emulsifiers as I don't make water-in-oil lotions. Sorry.

Rose N said...

Hi Susan,

Forgive me if I've missed something here but I'm curious to know why you don't make w/o lotions? Is it flawed or is there an issue with using a emulsion system for this. Feel free to reference a link if this was addressed already.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Rose. It's actually more simple than that: I don't like the skin feel. I find them to be very greasy, which is funny because I like greasy products. I do like the idea that they cool the skin more than o/w lotions, but they just aren't my cup of tea. Do you make them? What do you think of them?

Julie said...

Hi, I wonder if anyone out there has my problem or any answers to it. I was on massive medication over a period of a year for an auto immune condition, the final version of which was a cocktail of steroids, 2 immune suppressants, statins, stomach protection and heaven knows what else. The net result was anaphylactic shock and subsequent allergic reactions or intolerance to everything I was eating, using or in contact with at the time.
I now 'chose my poison' on a daily basis. This is easy to do with food but skin preparations are a problem. While I can swap main ingredients on a regular basis, basics such as emulsifying agents and preservatives are fairly common in all products, even those labelled organic or natural.
Another problem is the expense. I rarely reach the end of a product before reacting to it, especially moisturisers and other skin products. I am researching the possibility of making my own products, so that I can make very small amounts and change them without waste.
My biggest hurdle at the present is emulsifiers. Looking at the common ingredients of emulsifying wax and emulsifying recipes they all include those I have problems with.
Preservatives are less of a problem as making small amounts to be used within a two week period can probably do without.
Any ideas, comments or suggestions are very welcome.

p said...

Hi Julie, I feel for you!! I'd recommend making simple anhydrous recipes (it's easy to make small batches of them, so you can figure out what your skin likes without too much waste). If you want a cream with a water phase and without emulsifying wax, I'd recommend trying out Rosemary Gladstar's Perfect Cream -- I posted the recipe upthread. (But note that the recipe doesn't contain a preservative!) Here's a blog post with a variation on the recipe -- maybe it'll be helpful to you: Good luck!!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Julie. I don't feel comfortable making recommendations of any sort for someone with such reactive skin. What I can say is that it is dangerous to make a product that contains water if you aren't using a preservative. Stick to anhydrous or non-water containing products.

I guess my other question is this - what in an emulsifier is troublesome for you? There are quite literally thousands of different combinations one could use for an emulsifier, and I would hope that you could use one of them. Can you share what ingredients you have to avoid and perhaps we could brainstorm a few ideas.

Julie said...

I used to work in a lab using sulphur and toluene and have problems with anything chemically close to alcohol or sulphur and petroleum based products. I was checking out the standard contents of emulsifying waxes and found a warning not to apply ceteareth 20 to damaged skin. This worries me as I would consider my skin to be permanently damaged and scarred in places.

When I have a reaction to anything I get eczema and most products considered good for eczema sufferers contain petroleum based elements, which make things worse for me. Specialists think any trace of sulphur or sulphate sets me off, I even get a reaction to the sulphates in wine!

I work outside all day so moisturising is important for my mature skin (I'm almost 60). I have managed to make and use lip balms using natural ingredients; jojoba oil, almond oil, coconut oil, coconut butter, shea nut butter, beeswax. I have no adverse reactions to these whereas commercially produced balms can make my lips swell. I was wondering if there was anyway to use these ingredients to make a moisturising lotion or cream?

Any advice on what I could use as an emulsifier would be very welcome.

Many thanks

Lisa said...

Julie my Dad has a very similar problem to you. He has been on,and still is on a crazy cocktail of drugs and he is now super sensitive to detergents and also develops allergic reactions to random foods.

I am less technical than most people here but what they are saying is a great idea- a body butter would be great. I made one with Shea butter, cocoa butter and coconut oil - plus an essential oil but you can leave that out. It's amazing and I'm giving some to my dad, his skin is very dry.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Julie! May I make a suggestion - make yourself a nice water soluble spray, use that, then use a balm or whipped butter to trap the moisture in. If your skin is dry, putting a layer of oil on top of it isn't going to offer much moisturization 'cause there's nothing to trap in. You can use a balm to stop more water from coming from your skin, but you won't get an improvement in the dryness.

I suggest doing a search for one of my toners - something with aloe vera, witch hazel, hydrosols, a protein for moisturizing, and so on - and making one of those. Spray that on your skin, let it sit for a minute, then apply a balm, lotion bar, or whipped butter on top. That way you're trapping in some moisturization.

Lainie G said...


I'm following this and find this fascinating. I have extremely reactive skin. What would be the gentlest emulsifier to use, in your opinion?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

HI Lainie! I cannot make suggestions for anything if you have very reactive skin as I would feel horrible if I suggested something and it turned out to cause you more pain. I encourage you to check out the FAQ and take a look at the various emulsifiers and how they compare.

There is no such thing as a gentle emulsifier as there is no such thing as a harsh emulsifier. These are terms that aren't used for these ingredients. It would depend upon what oils you could handle on your skin and in what amounts.

Good luck in your search!

xflickx said...

hi susan,

thank you for giving the information. I have read so many articles that you wrote.
i want to make some hair-wax (water based), i use peg-40 Hydrogenated castor oil and soy lecithin for the emulsify.
i want to ask something, can i replace borax with sodium tripolyphosphate?
because in my country borax is not safe, so i find that sodium tripolyphosphate (food grade) can subsitute the borax.

thankyou in advance.
Merry Christmas anyway.. :)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi xflickx. Why are you adding borax to a hair wax? Can you please share your exact recipe in percentages so I can help more?

Lisa said...

Susan, I purchased a bag of Emulsifying wax O accidently thinking it was a complete Ewax. The NDA description says that on its own it will not bind oils and water at all but with a second emulsifier it will effectively thicken the final product (based on amt used). The NDA website says it improves upon beeswax as an emulsifier. Should I even use this and beeswax to attempt an emulsion? its 50% cetyl alcohol /50% stearyl alcohol. I am very new to lotion making and if I attempted the blend I'm not sure even how much beeswax to use. my formula is 42 gram oils 12 grams ewax (soft silky) 12 grams stearic 3 gram preservative 157 gram water.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lisa! Can you send me a link to this e-wax? I'm not sure what this is, but it sounds like cetearyl alcohol, which isn't an emulsifier in any sense of the word.

Lisa said...

the description says that its 50% cetyl alcohol/50% stearyl alcohol. I just substituted some beeswax in for kokum and used the recommended 12 g of ewax.
however being that I am impatient and new I made the lotion
157 g aloe juice
23g shea butter
10 g kokum butter (my choice instead of cocoa butter)
9 g beeswax
12 g ewax O
12 g stearic acid
3g germal +
I have lots to learn, this is my first impatient attempt and will purchase your ebooks. This lotion is as thick as a butt paste but rubs in to a luxurious silkiness. It did not fluff up much when whipped I'm sure I made lots of mistakes here but for a foot cream or really dry elbow et al its fantastic.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lisa. I'm very upset with NDA calling this an emulsifier in any way because it is not. It is a fatty alcohol that will thicken a product and give it a more waxy feeling. They know it isn't an emulsifier because a two minute search will bear that out, so to call it emulsifying is simply wrong.

As an aside, I am finding more and more NDA is providing customers with inaccurate information, and it's getting harder to trust what they write. I'm saddened by this...

Please get some proper e-wax. If you're in Canada, there are many other lovely suppliers from whom you could order, like Voyageur Soap & Candle or Windy Point in Calgary. Look at my FAQ to see a list of suppliers in Canada!

Lisa Dender said...

Susan... you are the reason I started making lotions and hair conditioners... LOVE your BLOG... I would like to recreate the Boom Cotton ( product but have never worked with beeswax and don't know where to start... can you point me in the right direction?



Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lisa! This is a balm or lotion bar. Quite simple to make with oils and beeswax. But how do they emulsify the honey and witch hazel? Methinks Boom Cotton is leaving an ingredient or two out of the mix because there's no way to include a decent amount of witch hazel - and there should be a good amount considering it shows up before the beeswax - without an emulsifier. I think you could add a titch of emulsifying wax to the mix and create something really lovely with it. And when you add water soluble ingredients, you need a preservative, which I'm not seeing here either. If you want to make this product, ensure you have a good preservative in there - broad spectrum, take a look at the preservative section of the blog - and throw in some emulsifying wax!

Do a search on the blog for "lotion bar" or "balm" or check out the post on lotion bars in the newbie section. I have a series called "Back to Basics" on the blog where we make anhydrous products, or you can check out my e-book by the same name.

Lisa Dender said...

@Susan.... THANK YOU.... I'm going to play with it a bit... and will add emulsifying wax (I have on hand) and a preservative (always)... I'll circle back with you on what I discover.... the water phase ingredients troubled me too...

Lisa Dender said...


I deconstructed the Boom Cotton formula (as best I can based on the tricks you taught me)... and I have tried a batch. I assumed that the recipe was a lotion bar (1/3 each of the shea butter, jojoba oil and beeswax) and that the other part (extra jojoba oil and witch hazel extract was a bit of lotion to cut down the 'bar' part to make it easier to use. As you pointed out... either they didn't list the emulsifier or didn't use one..I chose your advice to add some. I ad-lib'd a bit (to stay with what I knew)... I replaced honey with honeyquat. I was worried that honey added at cool down would make it too sticky. I didn't have the Tocophyrals (vitamin E) so I skipped it... again, I think it would make the final product 'more sticky'. I reduced the beeswax a bit so the formula isn't exactly in the order listed on the Boom Cotton site.

The formula:
Water Beaker:
- 46 grams witch hazel
- 8 grams honeyquat

Oil Beaker:
- 54 grams jojoba oil
- 40 grams shea butter
- 36 grams beeswax
- 2 grams seabuckthorn oil (because I love it...) This isn't part of Boom Cotton
- 8 grams emulsifying wax NF (I've had great luck with Lotioncrafter's brand)
- 4 grams cetyl alcohol NF

Preservative (at cooldown): 9 grams Leucuedal Liquid (REACH compliant)

Keep in mind that this product was advertised for older skin (0ver 60) as a sheer moisturizer that won't 'shine'.. The formula above does 'shine' but not as much as other moisturizers.

The good:
- I think it will be great for a winter moisturizer where wind burn or other environmental stress on skin is found
- It came together very easily and sets up as a very firm cold cream.
- I like the yellow color from the seabuckthorn oil...but that might not be everyone's cup of tea...
- It is water repellent... which I think will work great for my hands when I'm doing a lot of dishes or gardening...

The surprise:
- This sets up a LOT faster than lotions and cools quickly down past the 40 degrees C where you add the other ingredients (preservative, essential oils, vitamin E)... so don't leave it alone or you won't be able to mix the cool down stuff into it.

The 'not so good' (my opinion):
- It is greasy (likely the shea butter as you cautioned. I'm going to try mango butter the next time)
- It is heavy (likely the beeswax)... it feels like I'm wearing a 'glove'.. now.. in winter with the harsh weather; I think this could turn into a huge plus... OR when I age a bit more (I'm early 50's) I might like it better.

The Cost:
- Boom Cotton sells for $54 per 4 oz's not counting shipping. I estimate that I spent about $25 for 8 oz's.. that's because I bought the jojoba oil and shea butter at retail locally.

Thank you so very much for your help and your blog!!! I would love to hear if you have any suggestions to cut down on the heavy feeling (likely lower beeswax), the greasy feel (likely switch to mango butter).. and how about the honey?>.. should I take a chance and put some in?



Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lisa! This is awesome! I think you're on the right track with your thinking as the beeswax can feel quite heavy. As well, consider reducing the butter or wax a bit and see what happens.

Get the honeyquat into the cool down phase as it doesn't like to be heated! It can smell fishy or plastic when heated.

I can't wait to see what you do next! Please continue to share with us!

Lisa Dender said...


Thanks for the tip on honeyquat (it did leave a fishy/plastic smell behind..yuck).. Also the Witch Hazel I used previously was alcohol based and I don't think my skin on my face liked the alcohol part too much (.. on my feet, elbows, knees, hands and problem). I got all my new materials together for another go around today... and I am so very close to perfection... This new version is lighter, less greasy and smells so good! As advertised by Boom... this one is less shiny.

The new formula:

Water Phase:

52 grams Witch Hazel (alcohol free, from The Homestead Company on Amazon)

Oil Phase:

54 Grams Jojoba Oil
32 grams Mango Butter (I LOVE THIS!!!)
30 grams beeswax (yellow)
1-2 grams seabuckthorn oil (personal choice because I love it/color)
6 grams emulsifying wax
4 grams cetyl alcohol

Cool Down Phase:

8 Grams Leucuedal Liquid (preservative, REACh compliant)
5 grams honey (from the farmer's market... it actually works fine, not sticky)
1-2 grams vanilla fragrance (I was making lipstick... used the LIP SAFE version)

Heat to 70 degrees C and hold for 20 mins; mix for 4-5 minutes (it cools very fast); add cool down materials at 45 degrees C... then package...

Happy Mango Booming!!! I can't think of a think I'd change about the formula above.. and Thank you so very much for your help!