Cosmetic Formulation Basics – Styling Gel

Every cosmetic chemist should learn how to make a gel. It has a great look and consumers respond well to the product form. The most common type of gel in the cosmetic industry is hair styling gels so we’ll explain how they work and how to make them.

How a styling gel works

A hair styling gel is designed to help hold hair in a fixed shape. It is a clear product that is smoothed through the hair, coating it, and setting up a rigid film that inhibits movement. A well-formulated gel will remain flexible when initially applied but will become stiff when it dries.

Styling gel ingredients

The primary ingredient that makes a styling gel hold the hair is a styling polymer. These polymers are typically based on vinyl monomers and have names like PVP (Polyvinyl Pyrolidone) or VP (Vinyl Pyrolidone). These polymers give good hold while still being water soluble enough to be easily washed out of the hair.

The other ingredient that is critical to a styling gel is the thickening system. There are a number of cosmetic thickening agents that can be used but the most common for styling gels is Carbomer. Carbomer is an acrylic polymer that has an interesting characteristic. It is acidic when put into a water solution. When the polymer is neutralized with an ingredient like TEA, it causes cross-linking within the polymer which in turn creates the gel. It’s really quite cool to see it happen.

The rest of the ingredients in styling gels include colorants, solubilizers, solvents, emollients, spreading agents, preservatives, and colorants. While important, they have varying degrees of effect on the performance of the product. gel-formula

Here is a typical styling gel  Click on image to enlarge it.

Click here for a complete list of the the Cosmetic Formulation Basics series.

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