Article by: Perry Romanowski

Emulsifiers are great for keeping mixtures of oil and water together but they do have a number of downsides that has prompted researchers to look for alternatives. Some of the problems include skin irritation, questionable stability, cost, environmental problems, regulatory issues and difficulties in emulsionsproduction.  There are a few options you can try to remove your emulsifier from your formula. These technologies are relatively new and haven’t taken over the industry but this may represent the future of emulsification in cosmetics.

Polymeric emulsions – The basic idea in a polymeric emulsion is that the polymer is able to tie up a number of different particles so an emulsion can be created. But since polymers are such large molecules they are not able to penetrate the skin and cause any of the problems typically associated with emulsifiers. Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose or Acrylic Acid polymers like Carbomer can be used to create these emulsions.  I expect polymeric emulsions will eventually take over in the cosmetic industry since they are easy to use, highly stable, and can be done via cold processing.

Acoustic emulsification – If you don’t want to use a chemical method for creating an emulsion you might try a physical method.  Acoustic emulsification is a method by which you mix water and oil then use ultrasound to break up the immiscible particles into particles that are so small that they stay suspended in the solution.  Thus you have a stable mixture of oil and water without an emulsifier.

Shake before use – Of course, you can also make a formulation that is a mixture of water and oil but requires the user to shake the product before using it. Mechanical mixing like this can lead to short term stability which may be just long enough for your purposes.  This is a rather crude method of formulating but it will work in some cases. The oil and water phases just have to have some level of compatibility. You can get this by using an oil that has a high HLB.

Have you used any of these methods? Leave a comment below and tell us about it.



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    Hi, I am working on EOs which repellent the insects. I have to make o/w emulsions for repellency skin tests. May I shake them up to make emulsions? I’ll use it immediately after shaking. Is there any references? Thanks a lot.

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      Perry Romanowski

      Yes, shaking will emulsify (briefly) some systems but this isn’t going to be a real product that you could sell people. EOs also don’t work very well as insect repellants.

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    Hello I mixed cetyl alcohol and behentrimonium together but it didn’t mix is it because one is cationic and the other?

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      No, you should be able to mix those two ingredients together. It could be your mixing or the fact that you didn’t heat it up.

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    I need my conditioner ti make the hair feel silky so that it give hair the slip like professional conditioners. Coconut and the oils are not doing it . I am trying to make a coconut and shae butter sulfate free conditioner with lavender but I need to know what can I use that is natural to make the hair silky .

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Nothing “natural” will work as well as synthetic ingredients like Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone, and Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine.

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    Francois Bolduc

    Yes the third shaking option works well as describded, but it may have a packaging regulatory concern with this method. Because of the phases separation when the product is not in use, some regulation may need to use a childproof cap since each phases may be considered as a pure product and then in some cases more dangerous than when it is all mixed. It will be the case in Canada and i expect that it is the same in USA for consumer products.

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    I laughed when I got to the “Shake before use”-I don’t know if you intended to be comical, but it worked out really well.
    I believe soda is made with the second option, but I forgot the name of the machine they use-it is similar to a homogenizer, but it goes by a different name.

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    Last option is trending in Japan for face moisturizers and even sunscreens.

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      Perry Romanowski

      Interesting. It really is the easiest if you can get consumers to go along with it.

      1. Kelly

        Definitely a trend in Japan… Biore Sarasrara Sunscreen Milk has been around for a few years and is a good example. The container includes a metal bead, like nail polishes used to, to aid in mixing.

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    I use carbomer in more than half of my skin creams to produce stable emulsions that would not otherwise be stable.

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      Perry Romanowski

      You probably use an emulsifier too though right? Most emulsions also have Carbomer for stabilizing. But these new polymeric emulsifiers don’t use a standard emulsifier.

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