emulsifiers in  hair products

If you are an avid DIYer, you probably know by now that water and oil do not mix.

Water, being the heavier of the two, would naturally settle at the bottom while oil stays afloat. No matter how much you shake and stir them together, nature dictates that these two compounds will never combine together to become one. You may wonder how all the oils in your conditioner and moisturizer manage to mix well with the other ingredients in your product.

An emulsifier is the ingredient that holds all the other ingredients together to create the perfect blend.

What is an emulsifier?

An emulsifier is the ingredient that prevents all of the other ingredients in your conditioner, shampoo or leave-in from separating.

Emulsifiers can be found in any product that contains oil and water, according to The Herbarie Resource Center. Because many hair products have a variety of ingredients in them that would naturally not combine well together, an emulsifier helps to ensure that these ingredients can bind together to produce a product that is appealing to the eye and will last longer. They are used in products such as lotions, creams, shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, beauty products and even in some food products (like mayonnaise).

5 Most Common Emulsifiers

Chances are, you will see one of these 5 common emulsifiers on the ingredient list of your holy grail hair and beauty products.

Emulsifying Wax NF (National Formulary)

Emulsifying Wax is the most widely used emulsifier in the cosmetic industry due to its ability to perfectly blend creams and lotions that contain oil and water. Emulsifying wax helps to improve the consistency and texture of the final product without leaving a greasy film on the outer skin or hair after use. It can also be used to make viscous (thick) or thin emulsions, depending on the concentration at which it is used. Emulsifying wax can be found at a concentration level of 5-10%.

Cetearyl Alcohol

This is a fatty alcohol derived from natural oils and fats (cetyl and stearyl alcohol). It’s used to thicken and stabilize products in order to enhance its consistency. Cetearyl Alcohol is present at a concentration level under 2% in products.

Ceteareth 20

This is a very common emulsifier because it mixes well with all kinds of oil. It works best when used in combination with another emulsifier such as glyceryl stearate. Ceteareth-20 is normally used at a 0.5-30% concentration level. A higher concentration is used in gel-like products.

 Glyceryl Stearate

This is a co-emulsifier that must be used in combination with another emulsifier such as polysorbate 20 or ceteareth 20. Glyceryl Stearate is also used as a thickener and stabilizer in cosmetic products.  The concentration level of Glyceryl Stearate in beauty products is usually around 1-3%.

Polysorbate 20

This is a commonly used emulsifier of essential oils and oil based fragrances and it is naturally derived from Lauric Acid (coconut oil). Polysorbate-20 can be found at a concentration level of around 2-10%. They are mostly used in a water-based product such as shampoos, hair sprays and shower gels.

Now, the next time you read through the ingredient list on your product, don’t be surprised if you see any one of these emulsifiers on the list.