Home Cosmetic Science Talk Formulating Face Serum without emulsifiers - Need help to minimize pilling

  • Face Serum without emulsifiers - Need help to minimize pilling

    Posted by AnaK on May 21, 2024 at 4:37 am

    Hello everyone,

    I have been trying to formulate a “natural face serum” without emulsifiers (cannot use any synthetic polymers etc.) - taking help of gelling agents only to combine 1-2% oil phase in water. (FYI - We dont want to use an emulsifier because of its waxy and complete feel - there is no need of face lotion of oil after the application of the serum).

    We have achieved a stable formula, with minimal or no sopaing, but slight pilling. The pilling appears after application of serum, when it is followed by the face oil or sunscreen. Pilling is not very evident, unless someone tried to rub in the oil or sunscreen, but we are still a little bothered by it. Some commercial serums also pill this much, but we still want to know if there is a way to remove pilling altogether?

    Here is what we tried so far:

    In the oil phase we used mainly Isoamyl Laurate and Squalane. We added the oil phase to improve the texture of the serum, and reduce stickiness. We have 14.5% actives. We disperse the gum in pentylene glycol, and then add water followed by homogenize for 3 min at 9000 rpm. We tried the following gelling agents, with diffent Pentylene Glycol concentrations.

    - Xanthan Gum X 34 at 0.5% and 0.6% (with 1% oil phase)

    - Xanthan Gum Soft at 0.5% (with 1% oil phase)

    - Xanthan Gum. X 34 0.3% + Ecogel at 0.5% (with 1% oil)

    All the above serums passed the centrifuge stability test at 3000rpm.

    We tried these gelling agents with different Pentylene Glycol concentrations (from 1% to 2.5%), and arrived at a percentage that helped in quicker absorption, leading to thinner film formation, causing less pilling as a result. We found that at 1.75% the absorption was very good, with no visible film formation. But this formula pills after it is followed by face oil or sunscreen - this happened even if the face serum is completely dry before the 2nd layer.

    I will be very grateful if you can help me with any tips or suggestions:

    - Are gel based serums bound to pill? Or there a way to formulate without pilling?

    - If they are bound to pill, how can we minimize it, with the constraint of using only natural gelling agents?

    - We also did a few experiemnts with HEC, Siligel, Ecogel alone, Xanthan Gum + Hyaluronic acic - but all of these either pilled worse, or were very sticky.

    AnaK replied 2 weeks, 4 days ago 7 Members · 16 Replies
  • 16 Replies
  • MarkBroussard

    May 21, 2024 at 7:54 am


    Why do you not just make this as a two phase system that you shake before use? Xanthan Gum is not going to “emulsify” the oil and water phases. And, you have a high level of gums, so they are going to pill.

  • Richard

    May 21, 2024 at 4:06 pm

    You could try 0.2-0.5% SF-75H (hydrogenated lecithin) from the same manufacturer as the Xanthan gums.

  • remakeanddump

    May 21, 2024 at 5:12 pm

    Have you tried solgaum gm?

    • AnaK

      May 23, 2024 at 2:38 am

      Thank you, I didn’t know about it. When I checked, I came to know that it does not support adding oils. How is your experience with it? We are planning to try with Sclerotium Gum and Solagum Tara once.

  • AnaK

    May 22, 2024 at 2:00 am

    Thank you so much for your time and suggestions.

    No we have never worked with Solagum GM. We have made one sample with Solagum AX 0.5% and Xanthan Gum X 34 0.3%, and the pilling was very less, but it had microfoaming.

    I tried to make it with 0.5% Xanthan Gum and 1% Phospholipon 80, and was good. But we didn’t go that route thinking that formulations with Hydrogenated Lecitin might not be very stable in the long run? What do you think?

    Can someone help with this question - will there always be pilling whenever we use a gum, expecially Xanthan gum? Or is there a way to control it without removing the gum - maybe by adding an emulsifier, or increasing penetration agents such as Pentylene Glycol?

    • Richard

      May 22, 2024 at 10:08 pm

      It is possible to get stable products with hydrogenated lecithin but always you will need to do some preliminary stability work.

      • AnaK

        May 23, 2024 at 2:31 am

        Thank you very much for the advise, we formulated a serum with 0.7% Phospholipon 80, and 0.4% Xanthan Gum. It is a very nice texture serum, with light feel, and also passed the Centrifuge stability test at 3000 rpm. We will do the freeze thaw cycles. Is there anything else you would advise us to test to be sure if it is stable in the long run?

        • Richard

          May 24, 2024 at 2:09 am

          Normal stability should be enough to determine stability with samples at ambient and elevated. With lecithins you should probably aim your your pH for the top end of the spec because it will probably drop by 0.5-0.8 units. And where possible, do stability in the final packaging material also.

          FYI, I just disposed of some hydrogenated lecithin emulsions today that were 4 years old and still in good condition so lecithin derivatives are fine to use.

          • AnaK

            May 31, 2024 at 5:20 am

            Thank you so much, this is very helpful. We were able to create some emulsions with Hydrogenated lecithin at 1%, and Xanthan Gum at 0.4% - with non-sticky and beautiful texture. However, when we do centrifuge test, the emulsion is stable except for some white frothy material on top. Please check this picture if it looks familiar to you. This remains even if we decrease Hydrogenated Lecithin content. We think that this could be the bubbles formed in emulsification - what do you think?

            We also made some serums with Heliofeel 22 by Lucas Meyer. They also had a similar froth. Picture attached for reference

            • ketchito

              May 31, 2024 at 6:54 am

              In my experience, an emulsion can pass centrifugue and still have stability issues. Heat is a better predictor. For the top layer, it’s hard to tell without knowing the rest of ingredients (eg., non polar oils tend to separate faster in aqueos formulas).

            • AnaK

              May 31, 2024 at 7:01 am

              Thank you for your reply. There are no actives in the emulsion yet, we did centrifuge before adding any actives. This contains 2% Heliofeel, 4.7% oil phase, 0.3% Xanthan Gum and Water - thats it. The other one contains 1.5% Heliofeel, 4.7% oil phase, 0.3% Xanthan Gum. The Oil phase is - Isoamyl Laurate, Squalane, Sea Buckthorn, Vitamin E, and 0.1% Essential oil blend

  • Graillotion

    May 22, 2024 at 3:35 am

    This is not my area….but making sure we did not overlook the elephant in the room….

    Have you looked at Colonial’s D6 and D9

    Not sure what all rules you are working against…but usually their stuff is embraced by the greenies?!

    (Don’t let descriptions like ‘fragrance solubilizer’ scare you off….these products are used for all sorts of purposes….. If ever there was a Swiss Army knife in cosmetics…. ???? )

    • This reply was modified 3 weeks, 6 days ago by  Graillotion.
    • AnaK

      May 23, 2024 at 2:33 am

      Thank you for the suggestion of D6 and D9. We have D9 but dont like to use it unless it is absolutely necessary. In this serum we are adding oil to improve the serum texture, and also to reduce the stringiness of the gums

  • ggpetrov

    May 22, 2024 at 6:06 am

    Or use just Olivem 1000 as emulsifier/emollient with a bit of Xanthan gum.

    • AnaK

      May 23, 2024 at 2:36 am

      Thank you for the suggestion of Olivem. We have not tried it with Olivem yet, as I heard that it brings soapiness which is hard to remove. And do you think it is good for a light weight serum, not a lotion. We want a very light serum which needs to be followed by a face moisturizer.

  • ggpetrov

    May 23, 2024 at 5:40 am


    This is very light

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