Emulsifying wax is not a single ingredient, but a blend of Cetyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol & Polysorbate 60. Without it, our oil/water formulas would separate over time or have an non-uniform consistency. This wax helps improve and stabilize the texture of our lotions and mousse spray without leaving a heavy/greasy film where applied. Emulsifying wax’s main use in our formulas is that it acts as a stabilizer with a creamy and moisturizing consistency that is easily absorbable.
This wax is the perfect emulsifier for leave-in hair and beard products because of the soft, non-greasy, light after feel it leaves and its unmatched consistency. This wax is also known to be hydrating and lighter than other emulsifiers.
Emulsifying wax is made by adding a surfactant (Polysorbate-60) to vegetable oil. Although we don’t like using surfactants to cleanse our skin and hair, we have made a small exception for not compromising the light feel and stable texture of our milk lotions and mousse despite changes in temperatures and humidity levels.
Emulsifying wax comes in a solid pellet form, which we then melt down to blend it with our other ingredients. Here is a more detailed break-down of the 3 main ingredients that constitute Emulsifying Wax:
Cetyl alcohol is a gentle fatty alcohol used as an emollient (moisturizing ingredient), emulsifier, thickener, and carrying agent for other ingredients.
It is common for Cetyl Alcohol to be wrongly understood as the type of alcohol that has drying effects on the skin, such as rubbing alcohol; however, on the contrary, Cetyl Alcohol is skin-friendly with hydrating, conditioning, and softening properties that benefit both skin and hair. It is an alcohol that is derived from a fat, such as a vegetable oil. Not to be mistaken for Ethyl Alcohol – the main ingredient in alcoholic beverages – Cetyl Alcohol receives its name from the Latin word cetus, meaning “whale oil,” as this was the substance from which Cetyl Alcohol was first obtained.
When Cetyl Alcohol is added to natural cosmetic preparations, it functions as an agent that helps homogenize components that naturally separate (emulsifier), as a soothing lubricant (emollient), as a thickener, as an opacifier, and as a carrier for other ingredients in a formula. These stabilizing properties ensure that the oils and water remain combined, thus promoting an ideal, smooth texture that ultimately gives the final product an easy glide on the skin or hair.
Stearyl alcohol is another fatty alcohol used as an emollient and to help keep other ingredients intact in a formulation. It is not to be confused with the drying, irritating types of alcohol such as SD alcohol or denatured alcohol. Stearyl alcohol is a compound produced from stearic acid, a naturally occurring fatty acid that is usually found in animal sources such as cattle, by the process of catalytic hydrogenation. Catalytic hydrogenation is a process of adding hydrogen atoms to a molecule using a metal as a catalyst. Stearyl alcohol takes the form of white granules or flakes, which are insoluble in water.
Stearyl alcohol is mainly used to improve the texture of formulations, to make them more appealing to the senses. While this may not seem like an important element to a product, it is vital to ensure the product doesn’t separate or become clumpy so that the key ingredients can be distributed evenly to the skin. The main way the stearyl alcohol does this is through acting as a thickener. Thickeners and gelling agents are widely used throughout the cosmetic industry due to their ability to provide the products with the desired feel. Thickeners improve the consistency, viscosity, or adhesion to the skin. The term viscosity corresponds to the concept of “thickness”, for example, honey has a higher viscosity than water. Thus, stearyl alcohol can be used to thicken formulas, adding body and viscosity.
Another function of stearyl alcohol is as an emulsifier. An emulsifier is needed for products that contain both water and oil-based ingredients. When water and oil are mixed together and vigorously shaken, a dispersion of oil droplets in water – and vice versa – is formed. When shaking stops, however, the two types of ingredients start to separate. To address this problem, an emulsifier like stearyl alcohol can be added. This helps the droplets remain dispersed and produces a stable smooth textured product.
As an emollient, topically applied stearyl alcohol has the ability to soften and soothe the skin. The fatty acids that make up this ingredient create a barrier on the skin that effectively seals moisture in while keeping the air and other environmental elements out. Therefore, stearyl alcohol can be used in creams, lotions, and ointments that are designed to improve dry, flaky skin. Emollients help to maintain the skin’s natural barrier which is vital to the health of the skin. Disruption of the skin’s natural barrier has been linked to conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis. The emollient properties of stearyl alcohol also help to smooth and detangle hair, which is why this ingredient is used in various hair care products.
Polysorbate 60 is a sorbitol-based emulsifier and surfactant, it is also a common additive used in processed food products for its emulsifying properties (ability to keep fats from separating out). Polysorbate 60 is produced by the ethoxylation of sorbitan. Sorbitan is the dehydrated form of sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that can naturally be found in some fruits. Ethoxylation is a chemical reaction in which ethylene oxide is added to a substrate, in this case, sorbitan. Sorbitan is reacted with 60 units of ethylene oxide, hence the 60 in the ingredient name. The final step is the reaction with fatty acids obtained from vegetable fats and oils, such as lauric acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, or oleic acid. In addition to its function in cosmetics, polysorbate 60 can be used to prepare a wide variety of products in the food and pharmaceutical industries.
We use Emulsifying Wax in all our milk lotions as well as our Foaming Mousse Spray to give it the most stable consistency despite changes in atmospheric temperatures or humidities, which is something other natural emulsifiers lack.
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