Natural Soapmaking (once Soap Naturally) Natural Skin Care Handbooks
Ingredient Information

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Creams & lotions: emulsions, emulsifying agents, e-wax

What are creams and lotions?

Creams and lotions are made by combining oil-based and water-based ingredients, and are therefore the only skin care applications that have at the same time moisturising and nourishing effects. The water (or water-based ingredients) supply the "moisturising" properties, and the oils or fats the "nourishing" properties.

Technically, creams and lotions are emulsions. In an emulsion, tiny droplets of one of the liquids are suspended in a second liquid, which would not "naturally" mix with the first. This is the case with water and oils: it is always possible to mix together water and oil, but unless something is done to create an emulsion, the oils (which are lighter than water) will always sit on top of the water and not "blend" with it.

This physical incompatibility of water and oils can be overcome by agitating the water and oil mix. Agitation disperses the molecules, and generates an emulsion. However, emulsions made by simply agitating water and oil will separate within a short time, with the water part falling to the bottom, and the oils floating on top.

The only way to obtain a stable emulsion is to add an emulsifying agent to the mix.

Emulsifying agents

Emulsifying agents are substances that help water and oils bind together, and allow to prepare stable emulsions where water and oils do not separate (or "fall out of emulsion", as some chemists say).

A common emulsifying agent you might already be familiar with are fresh eggs: the lecithin and fats in egg yolks are the emulsifying agents that make mayonnaise such a nice, soft and stable emulsion.
It is of course possible to use eggs for binding water and oil to make creams or lotions. However, eggs are perishable, and the shelf life of a natural water/oil emulsion bound with eggs is therefore very short.

Another common emulsifying agent used to make all-natural creams and lotion is beeswax (or any other natural wax). Emulsions made using beeswax are however not so stable as others, and borax might need to be added in order to stop the cream from separating. While borax is a natural substance, it is not particularly skin friendly, and several people prefer to avoid using borax in skin care applications.

If you want to be sure that your creams and lotions do not separate, the only option is to resort to an emulsifying compound.

Emulsifying compounds and e-waxes

Often referred to as "e-wax", emulsifying compounds are widely used, both in the cosmetic and in the food industry, to prepare stable emulsions that do not separate.

Virtually all emulsifying compounds and e-waxes are blends of chemically prepared substances. The vast majority of commonly available emulsifying compounds include a significant portion of petrochemical materials (fossil hydrocarbons), and several are considered or feared to be possible sources of irritation and sensitisation reactions.

If you decide to use a prepared emulsifying compound and want to make sure you are not "contaminating" an otherwise natural cream/lotion with fossil hydrocarbons, take the time to do some research on the available options, and consider for instance emulsifying compounds made from food grade ingredients only. The only ingredients of one of the "most natural" emulsifying compounds (e-wax), AquaSapone's AS102, are non-ethoxylated glyceryl monostearate, cetearyl alcohol and sodium stearoyl lactylate.

Skin-friendly emulsifying compounds are available from DIY Cosmetics, in the United States, and Aromatics & More, for Australia and New Zealand, who are also the only authorised distributors of AS102 in the world.

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[ Soap book authors: Soap Naturally - Ingredients, methods and recipes for natural handmade soap]
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This page was last updated on 5th March 2006

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