Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Question: Why are behentrimonium methosulfate and cetearyl written together?

Angel wrote to me to ask: Why are behentrimonium methosulfate and cetearyl alcohol often written together as though they are a compound solution?  I understand your explanation of why the cetearyl alcohol is used with the behentrimonium methosulfate in hair conditioners.  But is there a reason why I’ve found the two written together as one compound in almost every definition of behentrimonium methosulfate or explanation of what this single product is? What is all the hoopla about concerning behentrimonium methosulfate in the “natural” community? Isn’t this a synthetic?

A note before I get to the question...I don't discriminate between what I call minimally processed ingredients - those that are closer to how we find them in nature, like oils, butters, or hydrosols - and those I think of as being more processed - like fatty alcohols, fatty acids, esters, preservatives and so on. I don't think any of our ingredients are straight from nature; everything is processed in some way. We don't use olives, we use olive oil. We aren't using salt directly off the shores of the Dead Sea - they're cleaned before we see them. Clay, mud, hydrosols, essential oils - every last one of these ingredients is processed in some way before we can use them in our products. Synthetic ingredients would be those made in the lab, like cyclomethicone or some of the cationic polymers, for example.

If you really want to mess with your conception of natural vs. synthetic, read this article about the poor little mineral oil molecule. I feel a bit like that Ikea guy - do you feel sorry for this molecule? (Click here for that great Ikea ad! And people wonder why I'm a bit hoarder-ish?)

So why BTMS and cetearyl alcohol are always written together? Behentrimonium methosulfate is an ingredient that can stand on its own, but it's generally found with a fatty alcohol. This would be what we call a compound (specifically a cationic quaternary compound). You'll find BTMS-25 or BTMS-50 or other types of BTMS or BTM as product names, and it could be the writer is referring to the compound instead of the ingredient. I don't think you can buy behentrimonium methosulfate on its own - we always find it with a fatty alcohol, regardless of manufacturer - so this is why you see it referred to in this way.

The reason you find behentrimonium methosulfate paired with a fatty alcohol, often cetearyl alcohol but sometimes cetyl alcohol? Because fatty alcohols work to boost the substantivity of cationic quaternary compounds, making them more conditioning and moisturizing (click here for more information).

There is no way I would consider something like behentrimonium methosulfate as being even remotely close to minimally processed, and I wouldn't consider cetearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, and the other fatty alcohols minimally processed. Anyone who considers these things as natural is fooling themselves. The problem is that you can't make a natural conditioner and people really want to make a natural conditioner. So instead of accepting that they can't make a natural conditioner, they stretch the definition of natural to include anything they want to use.

If you want natural, then accept there are ingredients you won't be using. Don't twist the definition so you can get what you want. When you see the phrase "derived from" ask yourself why is this ingredient listed in this way? We don't write olive oil (derived from olives) but you will see cyclomethicone (derived from sand) or sodium coco-sulfate (derived from coconuts), for example. These last two ingredients are heavily processed to become what they are, and the phrase "derived from" is generally used as a weasel word to hide something that's not really natural but the manufacturer would like you to believe might be. Behentrimonium methosulfate may be derived from Colza seeds, but everything is derived from something - that doesn't make it natural!


DuhBe said...

As usual, I agree with your statements. I think the confusion comes from the many B&B makers who list the INCI of behentrimonium methosulfate (and) Cetearyl Alcohol the same as it appears on the supplier label. Most don't realize that is not the proper way to list the INCI. The (and) is not required and should be replaced with a comma, even when you don't know the percentages. I probably didn't explain that well - but blog comments should be short so I won't try.

As far as calling it natural I don't think people are trying to fool themselves, but rather, trying to compete against all the other BTMS based conditioners marketing themselves as natural. Sort of a "when in Rome..." kind of deal.

gstark123 said...

Overuse of 'Natural' is so common it's funny.

It doesn't come close to 'Chemical Free' though which never fails to make me sieze up with a giggle fit.

Robert said...

Perhaps the most natural hair conditioning agent available today is known under the tradename Emulsense™.

This ingredient is ecocert approved and compliant with COSMOS, NaTrue and NPA standards. The ingredient is described by Inolex ( the manufacturing company) as made from only non-GMO fermentation chemistry and the oil from brassica plants. More information may be found on a google search.

We have a obtained a sample of this ingredient from a Cosmetic Ingredient tradeshow but have not yet worked with it.

This ingredient is very new and specialized and probably not yet available from the usual cosmetic ingredient suppliers/resellers.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi DuhBe! Don't be short - write as much as you like! Hi gstark123! I think the word natural has been so overused, we really should ban it and replace it with something else!

Hi Robert! I found the listing for Emulsense here - click here for the page - and it has an INCI of brassicyl isoleucinate esylate (and) brassica alcohol.

Here's the company's description: Emulsense is an ideal ingredient for the natural products marketplace. It is derived solely from fermentation and plant materials using sustainable green chemistry principals. Its composition is 65% active (natural cationic) and 35% fatty alcohol. Emulsense is a primary active cationic agent, enabling both excellent emulsion performance and all-natural claims. In skin care, it is an emulsifier with an entirely new sensory profile, providing a silky initial-feel and a powdery after-feel that are unmatched.

Is brassica alcohol a fatty alcohol? If it had to be processed to get there, then I wouldn't personally consider it to be a "natural" ingredient by my definition. But I'm just one person and my opinion isn't that relevant, but it seems to be that something that has to be generated in a lab is quite the distance from the concept of natural!

As an aside, I hate the brassica family of plants. I can smell them a mile away and I avoid them all costs. I wonder if the smell comes through?

Robert said...

A key concept for defining what is natural or not natural is the process used to obtain the ingredient.

A standard such as Ecocert is a process standard. Some processes are considered natural, others are not. For example, fermentation and carbon dioxide extractions are considered to be natural processes whereby ethoxylation is not. It can be quite tricky as the same ingredient can considered (for example by Ecocert) to be natural or not natural depending upon the process used to make the ingredient.

This is why ingredient certification standards are very important. Of course, there are many certifications standards and they do not all have the same criteria.

This entire topic is very interesting but confusing as there are no uniform standards.

I have my own standard,you have your standard, Susan has her standard, Eco-cert and NPA has their standard. Whose standard do you believe and trust?

Anonymous said...

I've got a question. Often times, I see conditioners that list Behentrimonium methosulfate, cetyl alcohol and do not list Butylene Glycol. Are they just leaving it out of the ingredients list or are they purchasing it this way. I have yet to see it listed this way even with large suppliers like Croda.

I would like to use the BTMS-50 but don't want to list Butylene GLycol if its not required.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

If you're seeing a label without the butylene glycol, it could be that they are buying 100% behentrimonium methosulfate and making a recipe that includes this ingredient and cetearyl alcohol, it could be that they are using something that doesn't have the butylene glycol, or it could be they are choosing not to list it. If it's the latter, then it's simply dishonest. If you use an ingredient in your product and it's in the INCI name, you have to list it.

Jen said...

The word 'natural' is most certainly abused, but the idea of 'chemical free' is absurd. Everything is made up of chemicals. The word 'organic' is completely misunderstood. I can't tell you how many people ask me if my mineral make up is organic!

People SHOPPING for completely natural products are often educated about the ingredients, but not what's necessary to creating a product. Truly natural emulsifiers, for example don't work the same or feel as nice. Go natural, but don't expect a conditioner or lotion to feel as smooth as one using BTMS. Preservatives that actually work are not natural. For the most part, if you want products that are really, truly natural, you better learn to make them in your kitchen.

Anonymous said...

Refreshingly honest!

Hilda Agopian said...

but how do we use this emolsifier? water in oil or oil in water?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Hilda. I'm sorry I don't think I understand your question. Are you asking how to use Incroquat BTMS-50? If so, click on the link on the right hand side of the blog that says "Incroquat BTMS-50" or do a search for that ingredient to learn more.