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Top 10 best natural emulsifiers in homemade cosmetics

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Learn the top 10 best natural emulsifiers to use when making homemade skin care cosmetics to ensure that your products are safe and effective.

I love making homemade natural cosmetics. The main advantage is that you can control your ingredients and ensure they are toxins-free. I hardly buy any hair and skin care products in the shop. My favorite beauty products are natural face cream, mango body butter, healing salve, DIY nettle lotion, or homemade shampoo.

emulsifiers and preservatives

While body butter or salve don’t require emulsifiers, lotions, and creams, they do. Do you know why? Well, body butter and salve contain only oily ingredients and don’t require any emulsifier. In contrast, lotions and creams are formulations that use water and oil, and water does not naturally mix with oil. And this is the role of the emulsifier. 

In this tutorial, you will learn emulsifiers, how they work, and the top 10 best natural emulsifiers for your homemade cosmetics.

two layers oil and water
two layers oil and water that don’t mix

What are emulsifiers?

Oil and water don’t mix naturally and tend to separate because of their different molecular structures and the difference in the attractive forces between their molecules. The molecules of water are attracted to each other more than they are to oil molecules, which causes them to push the oil away. Therefore, these Oil and water-based recipes need an emulsifier for mixing ingredients.

Emulsifiers help blend oil and water ingredients and form a stable, homogeneous mixture. According to Shelly Schmidt, Ph.D., a professor in food science, emulsifiers are composed of molecules that have both a hydrophilic part, which is attracted to water, and a hydrophobic part, which repels water.

Without an emulsifier, the oil and water in a cream or lotion will separate, resulting in an unpleasant texture and ineffective product. Using emulsifiers ensures that the ingredients are evenly distributed and make stabilized emulsions.

Emulsifiers are often used in the food industry as a food ingredient to improve the texture and consistency of dairy products, baked goods, and salad dressings. A typical example of natural food emulsifier is egg yolk, mustard, or soy lecithin.

diy nettle lotion
diy nettle lotion

How do emulsifiers work in formulations?

Emulsifiers form a protective layer around oil droplets, allowing them to mix throughout the water. They are surfactants with unique chemical structures with hydrophilic (water-loving) and hydrophobic (oil-loving) properties. The hydrophilic end of the emulsifier molecule interacts with water molecules, while the hydrophobic end interacts with oil molecules, creating a stable mixture. Emulsifiers are used to stabilize the mixture and thus are sometimes referred to as stabilizers.

Based on the emulsion you want to create, there are two types of natural emulsifiers oil-in-water (O/W) and water-in-oil (W/O) emulsifiers.

Oil-in-water (O/W) emulsifiers would disperse small droplets of oil throughout the water in lighter and easier-to-absorb skincare. Some examples of natural O/W emulsifiers include lecithin or candelilla wax.

Water-in-oil (W/O) emulsifiers disperse droplets of water in the oil phase. These make havier beauty products such as ointments and balms. Some examples of natural W/O emulsifiers include Olivem 1000 or lanolin.

What are emulsifiers?

Is there any difference between natural and organic emulsifiers?

Natural-based emulsifiers are derived from natural sources such as plants, wax, or lecithin. These natural ingredients are minimally processed and free from synthetic chemicals.

On the other hand, organic emulsifiers are derived from organic sources certified by regulatory bodies such as the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). In addition to being completely natural, organic emulsifiers must meet specific requirements for how they are grown, processed, and handled. This means they are free from synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and processed using organic methods.

Not all natural emulsifiers are organic, but all organic emulsifiers are natural. 

making deodorant stick
making deodorant stick

Choose the best natural emulsifier for your emulsion.

Many different emulsifiers on the market are used in skin or hair care formulators. They can be oil-in-water (O/W), water-in-oil (W/O) emulsifiers, or cold or hot-processed. For those looking for more natural alternatives, below is a list of my favorite natural emulsifiers to help stabilize, combine, or thicken your beauty products.

1.Olivem 1000 (Cetearyl Olivate (and) Sorbitan Olivate)

Olivem 1000 is a natural emulsifier derived from olive oil. It is a water-in-oil emulsifier that creates stable emulsions with a silky texture and moisturizing benefits to the skin.

2. Olivem 900 (Sorbitan Olivate)

Unlike Olivem 1000, a water-in-oil emulsifier, Olivem 900 is an oil-in-water emulsifier. It helps blend oil and water-based ingredients to create a stable emulsion. Olivem 900 provides a light and non-greasy texture to beauty formulations.

3. Xyliance

Xyliance is a natural and ECOCERT-certified emulsifier made from Cetearyl wheat straw glycosides and Cetearyl alcohol. It creates stable oil-in-water emulsions with a light and smooth texture with moisturizing benefits to the skin.

4. Vegetal/Montanov

This eco-friendly natural emulsifier composed of a blend of Cetearyl Alcohol and Cetearyl Glucoside creates a stable base for oil-in-water emulsions with a light and silky texture. Cetearyl Alcohol is derived from vegetable oils like coconut and palm oil, while Cetearyl Glucoside is derived from corn and coconut. 

5. Lecithin

Lecithin is a natural emulsifier derived from soybeans, egg yolks, or sunflowers. It is great for creating O/W emulsions and provides skin hydration.

6. Candelilla Wax

Candelilla Wax is a natural wax obtained from the leaves of the Candelilla shrub, which is native to North America. It is a vegan alternative to beeswax and is often used with other natural emulsifiers to create stable oil-in-water emulsions. Candelilla wax is rich in nutrients and absorbs well into the skin. In addition, it has moisturizing benefits and reduces fine lines and stretch marks.

making calendula cream
making calendula cream

7. Xanthan Gum

Derived from corn sugar this natural emulsifier gives the water something called viscosity. It is a thickening and stabilizing agent with moisturizing benefits to the skin. It can be used in both oil-in-water and water-in-oil emulsions and is often used in combination with other natural emulsifiers to enhance their emulsifying properties.

8. ECOMulse (GLYCERYL STEARATE, CETEARYL ALCOHOL AND SODIUM STEAROYL LACTYLATE

ECOMulse is naturally derived emulsifying wax composed of glyceryl stearate, cetearyl alcohol, and sodium stearoyl lactylate. These ingredients are sourced from acyl lactylates, coconut oil, and vegetable oils. Ecomulse is suitable for oil-in-water emulsions. 

9. Lanolin

Lanolin, also known as wool wax, is a natural substance produced by the sebaceous glands of sheep. The wax coats and protects the sheep wool and has been derived and used for centuries for its excellent moisturizing capabilities. Lanolin is highly effective at binding water and oil-based ingredients together, creating a stable emulsion. It also has excellent moisturizing properties, helping to keep the skin hydrated and supple.

I have been using lanolin to make this lotion and healing calendula cream, and both appeared non-greasy and stable.

10. Emulsifying wax NF

Emulsifying Wax NF is a plant-based wax composed of fatty alcohols and a blend of vegetable-based emulsifiers. It worked greatly by binding oil and water-based ingredients, creating a smooth and consistent texture in this DIY hair conditioner. Due to its natural and plant-based origins, Emulsifying Wax NF is a great alternative to synthetic emulsifiers. In addition, the initials NF indicate that it conforms to the specifications of the National Formulary.

How do emulsifiers work in formulations?

How to use emulsifiers in your cosmetic products?

First step: Choose the right emulsifier:

Make sure the emulsifier you choose will work with the ingredients in your product and at the correct dosages. Decide whether you want to create an oil-in-water emulsion or a water-in-oil emulsion, and choose a natural emulsifier accordingly.

Second step: Mix oily ingredients.

Blend oily ingredients, you may need to melt them in a double boiler if using butter or coconut oil.

Third step: Weigh and melt the emulsifier.

Weigh the required emulsifier and add it to the oily ingredients. Stir well to combine.

adding emulsifier into a oily phase

Fourth step: Add water phase ingredients.

Mix the water-based ingredients in a separate container and heat them until they reach the same temperature as the oily melted phase with the emulsifier.

Fifth step: Mixing oil and water.

Slowly pour the water-based ingredients into the oil-based ingredients while stirring continuously. Continue stirring until the mixture thickens and becomes creamy.

making emulsion

Sixth step: Add any additional ingredients.

Once the emulsion has cooled down, add preservatives, use essential oils or vitamins. Transfer the mixture into a sterilized bottle.

transfering emulsion into a sterilized bottle

Is beeswax an emulsifier?

While I love using beeswax in my homemade beauty products, we cannot call it an emulsifier. It is instead a thickener and binding agent in water-free beauty products such as body butter or salve.

Is Glycerine an emulsifier?

Also known as glycerol or glycerine, vegetable glycerin is a popular ingredient in natural and organic skincare products due to its moisturizing and skin-friendly properties. Derived from coconut, soy, or palm oil, glycerine is a humectant and emollient. However, while glycerine dissolves in water and alcohol, it does not dissolve in oil. Therefore, it cannot serve as an emulsifier.

Do I need to use preservatives?

When adding water to your homemade natural products, it’s crucial to use a preservative to ensure your product is safe and to prevent contamination. Therefore, emulsifiers and preservatives often work together, protecting against harmful microbes such as mold and bacteria.

Are emulsifiers safe?

While in the food industry, some emulsifiers can negatively affect gut health and inflammation, emulsifiers used in cosmetics are considered safe if you use a natural option. 

I make homemade cosmetics because some commercially available products may contain emulsifiers that can harm the skin.

Is there any difference between natural and organic emulsifiers?

Can you make a cream or body butter without an emulsifier?

It is possible to make a cream or body butter without an emulsifier. Still, it requires a different method, such as using a water-in-oil technique or creating whipped butter without water to avoid emulsifying wax and prevent an unstable emulsion.

Can you substitute one emulsifier for another?

In some cases, you can substitute emulsifiers for one another. Still, it depends on the specific formulation and the product’s intended use, as each emulsifier has unique properties and characteristics that affect its performance, texture and consistency.

natural emulsifiers for your beauty products
Vladka Merva on April 25th, 2023

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