Natural Emulsifiers: Healthy Binding Agents in Your Products

by Ingela

Most of us use our skin care and cosmetic products day in and day out without giving thought to how they were made. Or what they were made of.  The process is a delicate one, and one worth knowing about as the end user.

A well-crafted beauty product is a balanced blend of function and style, a work of art.  Many ingredients, useless independently, come together to create a masterpiece.  Within this masterpiece, something has to function as the base, the foundation, the glue that binds all the rest of the ingredients together.  In beauty products, the “glue” is an emulsifier, or binding agent.

Most skin care and cosmetic products are made up of five key parts: emollients, humectants, emulsifiers, surfactants, and preservatives.  This article will discuss the function of emulsifiers in common beauty products and what natural alternatives are available.

Synthetic Emulsifiers

All products need an agent that keeps everything together.  The product base is a delivery method, but it’s equal as important as the other parts of the formula.  Without it, other ingredients wouldn’t interact correctly.  And without a proper emulsifier, your skin might react badly to a product.

Unlike some of the other ingredient categories (preservatives or emollients, for example), many synthetic emulsifiers are harmless to the skin.  The waxes used as emulsifiers haven’t been shown to cause damage. These include:

  • Sorbitan Stearate, Laurate, Palmitate, and Oleate
  • Ozokerite, Ceresin, Silicone and Montan
  • Isopropyl Stearate, Laurate, Palmitate, and Oleate

You won’t find toxins or long-term damage in these synthetics, per se, but you may find you have sensitivities to them.  Many are used in harsh cleaning agents and have been known to irritate the eyes and scalp. For those with delicate skin or allergies, these emulsifiers might be causing a reaction.  Switching to natural emulsifiers is a good idea all around.

Simply put, natural emulsifiers are healthier for the skin.

The Dangerous Chemicals

Some synthetic emulsifiers, like those listed above, are derived from petroleum or hydrocarbon sources.  Others have ties to more toxic substances and, though effective, can wreak havoc on your unsuspecting skin.

Try to stay away from dangerous chemicals such as the Alkoxylated Amides.  These include TEA, DEA, MEA, and MIPA compounds.  They have been shown to undergo nitrosation when coming in contact with the skin to form nitrosamines, or carcinogens.

PEG compounds should also be avoided, as they have been linked to the toxic substance dioxane.  Skip these ingredients altogether to reduce your risk of irritation, allergic reaction, and even extreme consequences, like some forms of cancer.

Natural Choices for Emulsifiers

Fortunately, there are several natural emulsifying agents out there to hold your products together safely.  Some companies use these emulsifiers, which are often derived from nuts, berries, and leaves.

Choose products that utilize plant waxes, such as Candelilla, Carnauba, Jojoba, or Rice Bran.  You may also see Xanthan Gum or Quince Seed listed in your natural beauty products.  These natural alternatives are much healthier for the skin and less likely to cause irritation.  Obviously, if you are allergic to nuts, avoid using products with nut-derived emulsifiers.

Otherwise, you’re all set!

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