Friday, February 3, 2012

Emulsifiers - Check what you've got!

There are many things we can call emulsifiers for our products, but when you're making a lotion or other emulsified product, what you probably want is an emulsification system, which generally consists of at least two ingredients - a low HLB emulsifier like glycol distearate or glycol stearate and a high HLB emulsifier like ceteareth-20 or one of the polysorbates - that we can include in the heated oil phase of our products to create an emulsion. (Click here for more information on the HLB system, including a ton of links!)

Something like Polawax is an emulsification system - sorry, the actual ingredients are a mystery - as is Incroquat BTMS-50 - INCI: Behentrimonium methosulfate (and) cetyl alcohol (and) butylene glycol - or Ritamulse SCG - INCI: Glyceryl Stearate (and) Cetearyl Alcohol (and) Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate - or emulsifying wax NF (INCI: Cetearyl alcohol and polysorbate 60). (The NF stands for National Formulary. The INCI for Polawax is Emulsifying wax NF, but it isn't this combination.)

Okay, these are really bad examples because we want to focus on non-ionic or neutrally charged emulsifiers, like the HLB emulsifiers or Polawax or e-wax, and Incroquat BTMS-50 is cationic or positively charged and Ritamulse SCG is negatively charged or anionic. But these are the ones you keep asking me about, so I shall write about them! (Click here for more information about the charges!) 

You definitely need to check the INCI on your emulsifying wax before you buy. Make sure you're getting a complete emulsification system and not just a component of an emulsification system.

This emulsifier was brought to my attention recently - the base emulsifier from Aromantic in the UK - and this is NOT an emulsification system. This a low HLB emulsifier, which requires a high HLB emulsifier to create an emulsification system. You'll see that the supplier recommends using cetyl alcohol at 2% with the product to create an emulsification system, and makes a point of noting that "when used with 2% Cetyl alcohol, is equivalent to Emulsifying Wax...". Be careful when your supplier notes that you MUST use this product with something else to get a successful product. This means you do not have an emulsification system - you have a low HLB or high HLB emulsifier that must be combined with something else. If you want to use the product, that's just fine, but ensure that you have the other ingredient to make it work!

An aside...It isn't as easy as saying that you need 2% of this and 2% of that to make a successful HLB emulsifier. As you will see from the posts I've written on the HLB, in one lotion I might need 1.5% glycol distearate and 2.5% ceteareth-20, and in another that is only slightly different, I might 2.5% glycol distearate and 1.5% ceteareth-20. (Click here for an example recipe using the HLB system.) I'm not really sure how these emulsifiers are supposed to work, but I'm guessing it is based on the assumption that you are using all natural oils and butters, which tend to have HLB values in the 7 range for oils and 8 range for butters. But then you get into the whole what if you use beeswax (12) or castor oil (14) or fractionated coconut oil (5) thing, not to mention adding fatty alcohols and acids (in the over 15 range). There's just too much math involved to say "just add something% of another thing and you'll be fine". (Please let me know how this emulsifier has worked for you because I'm really curious!)

As an aside, one supplier I visited stated that most emulsifiers are made from animal products, and this is simply not true. If you check, most - if not all - of our fatty alcohols, fatty acids, and emulsifiers are derived from coconut, palm, or other oils. If you're in doubt, ask your supplier. If you're still in doubt, ask them for their data bulletin sheets so you can make sure it's from vegetables, if that's important to you.

Be aware that suppliers may create their own names for products. This isn't a bad thing, but if you get too reliant on trying to find Super Lovely emulsifier and you need to go to another supplier for some reason, you won't have a clue what to buy! Always look at the INCI name of the product and see what you're getting. I hate buying something like Coconut derived surfactant from one supplier and Smooth & Silky coconut surfactant from another, only to find out they're the same thing! Read your INCI names!

Related posts:
Reading INCI names
What's an INCI name and why should I care?


Unknown said...

Hi Susan,

I have been using an emulsifier that the INCI is Cetearyl Alcohol and Ceteareth 20. When I check the HLB chart those both seem to be High HLB emulsifiers. According to what I read on your blog, I think that means this is not a complete emulisfier? It works fabulously in lotions so now I am confused. Can you help me see what I am missing?


dizzi said...

Dear Susan,

I wonder if you can help with an opinion? I learned to make creams and lotions by following recipes from the UK company Aromantic, which i gather you are familiar with. Recipes for most of their basic creams advocate using an emulsification system which involves two so-called 'VE' and 'MF' emulsifiers (see below), specifically by adding VE to the fat phase, and MF to water phase, after which it proceeds conventionally by heating up both phases separately (i also hold for 20min, as learned from you), mix, add vitamins & essential oils in cool phase etc. The recipes always include additional Cetearyl alcohol in the fat phase. 

It turns out that the VE and MF are actually glyceryl stearate and sodium stearoyl lactylate which, together with cetearyl alcohol, appear to be the three ingredients in Ritamulse aka Ecomulse emulsifier you seem to like. 

So i am intrigued about the business of adding one emulsifier in fat phase and the other in water phase, which does not seem to feature in your recipes, why split them up?

My two questions:
1) am i correct to assume this emulsification system is good, reasonably 'natural' and therefore a good choice for most creams and lotions (except, as you point out, when adding more acidic ingredients)?

2) why do you think they recommend splitting the VE and MF into two phases, why not add the whole lot into the fat phase?

I know that the simple answer to no2 would be for me to just try adding all three in the fat phase (which i will!) but maybe it wouldn't work? Even if it does, i'd still like to hear your opinion about it?

Here is an example recipe that i make (in %)

mix of oils and butters (e.g. almond/avocado/olive/cocoa) 13.1 %
cetearyl alcohol 2
VE emulsifier (glyceryl stearate) 2.5

water 72
glycerine 3.7
MF emulsifier (sodium stearoyl lactylate) 4.5

vitamin E 1
preservative 1
essential oils 0.2

Much appreciated and thanks for all great advice you provide.


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Diana. I've written a post addressing your question and it should be up and on-line on February 4th. (Click here for that post.) The short answer is that this isn't Ritamulse SCG, that is is a complicated process to use it properly, and I have no idea why they would tell you to use it in the water phase.

Paige B said...

Hi Susan,

I've tried to search through your extremely thorough and exceptionally helpful blog for this question, but haven't found what I want (hope I haven't missed it somewhere).

I'm a fairly new DIYer but have really been enjoying it. I like making my own products for several reasons. First, I get exactly what I want in the product, nothing missing, nothing extra. Second, I know what's in it and as I want to avoid harsh chemicals and petroleum products and such, I can control that to a large degree (I sometimes have to make compromises, but I can minimize those). Finally, in the end it's less expensive to make my own high-quality cosmetics, plus I can make great gifts to give friends and family!

Anyway, my question is about emulsifiers. I have been using BTMS-25 because I use a high oil/butter content but still want non-greasy creams, and I don't want the petroleum-based butylene glycol in BTMS-50. I started making anhydrous only products to avoid preservatives, but gave in and got some NeoDefend, Optiphen plus and Germall Plus to make o/w formulations because in hot N. California weather the anhydrous were just too greasy. I have actually had great luck with my emulsifications and have made sunblock, CC cream, body butter, shave cream, and night moisturizer. As long as I use BTMS-25 at 25% of the total oil phase, it seems to emulsify just fine. With high oil recipes though, the amount of BTMS-25 I end up using makes for a very thick cream...which is fine sometimes, but when I use zinc oxide in sunblock or CC cream, I also have to use my tint mix powders, making the result VERY thick. I'm thinking about adding some Polysorbate-60 to the combining BTMS with Emulsifying Wax NF, but since BTMS-25 already has 75% cetearyl alcohol, I don't think I need more thickening! I was thinking that since e-wax seems to be 10-30% p-60 (please correct me if I'm wrong) and BTMS-25 is around 75% cetearyl alcohol, I could mix PS-60 with BTMS at a 93:7 ration giving me 23.25% Behentrimonium Methosulfate, 69.75% cetearyl alcohol and 7% PS-60 (or thereabout). I'm hoping that I can use a bit less wax giving a less viscous cream while still getting properties I want. My question is have you tried anything like this? Any thoughts or alternative suggestions?

Thanks for sharing all your recipes and experimental results! I've found so much info on your blog that has been helpful.


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Paige. What are you trying to do here? Are you using e-wax? Have you tried using less BTMS? If you use polysorbate 60, you'll need to use a low HLB emulsifier with it or it's just a solubilizer. 7% polysorbate 60 is a lot!

Please don't make your own sunblock. In a sunny climate like California, it's even more vital that you buy something that has been tested. I've written extensively about this. Emulsifiers can inactivate the sun blocking mechanism of every sun screen ingredient.

Paige B said...


The INCI for E-wax is cetearyl alcohol and PS 60 (10%-30%). The INCI for BTMS 25 is cetearyl alcohol and behentrimonium Methosulfate (25%). The common ingredient here is cetearyl alcohol. As we know that BTMS (25 or 50) is compatible with E-wax or Polawax, what I am proposing by adding PS 60 to BTMS 25 is creating a mixture that is closer to BTMS-50 plus E-wax, plus stearic acid, minus the butylene glycol. Why would I have to add another low HLB emulsifier when there is a lot of cetearyl alcohol in the BTMS 25? Would it really be that much different than mixing BTMS 50 and E-wax? We are just losing the humectant in BTMS 50 and adding some stearic acid, which we might do in a cream or lotion recipe anyway. And I didn't mean I would add PS 60 to the lotion recipe at 7%, only that the emulsifier mixture would be 7% PS 60.


P.S I am aware of your stance on DIY sun protection, and respect your point (and even agree with it). Rest assured I don't COUNT on it as sole sun protection or even as having high SPF. I have run in-vivo 'experiments' with my formulation side-by-side with commercial high SPF products and mine appears to perform as well, or better, but I know it might not be consistent and take precautions. It's a better-than-nothing measure. I also switched to an emulsifying system that evidently boosts SPF in products, so that isn't an issue.

Mary Walton said...

regarding the simple formula posted by Diana, that is separated into oil and water phase with emulsifier in both (don't like this idea), would this work without the sodium stearoyl lactylate in the water phase and thicken instead with xanthan gum? in other words, I am asking whether the cetearyl alcohol and glyceryl stearate would provide sufficient support to create a stable emulsion? thank you!

mix of oils and butters (e.g. almond/avocado/olive/cocoa) 13.1 %
cetearyl alcohol 2
glyceryl stearate 2.5

water 72
glycerine 3.7
sodium stearoyl lactylate 4.5

Tawakana said...

According to New Directions Aromatics PolawaxTM NF consists of four ingredients. These are Cetearyl Alcohol, PEG-150 Stearate, Polysorbate 60, and Steareth-20.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Tawakana! This has been debated quite a lot here and in other forums and Facebook pages as no one knows where that information came from. There is no confirmation anywhere that what they've posted is true. I would love to know how only NDA knows this information when no one else does.