Testing emulsifiers

Making emulsions can be daunting, especially with the many different emulsifying systems available on the market. Which one should you use? How do they differ? To make things easier, I’ve tested five of the most common oil-in-water (O/W) emulsifiers available here in New Zealand.

Updated content: separation issues after several days.

To test I used the same formulation and percentages for each emulsifier. Here’s the formulation I used:

Oil phase:Sweet almond oil25%
Emulsifier5%
Water phase:Distilled water69%
Preservative (Spectrastat G2 Natural MB)1%

The preservative I’m using here is Spectrastat™ G2 Natural MB. It is a 100% natural complete system, which differs from the usual natural preservatives in that it contains no biocides or typical preservatives. Instead it uses multifunctional ingredients that have excellent efficacy as biostatic and fungistatic agents. It’s supposedly to be every mild and suitable even for the most sensitive of skins, which is why I want to test this one out. So far I’ve had really good results with it. It’s available from The Sourcery.

The 5 emulsifiers

All emulsifiers tested are derived from plant sources and are vegan-friendly.

Emulgade PL68/50

INCI: Cetearyl Glucoside & Cetearyl Alcohol

Vegetal, Montanov68, and Emulsifier PL are similar, but contain a lower quantity of cetearyl glucoside and more of the cetearyl alcohol.

Oil-soluble
Melting point: 75º C
Non-ionic
pH stable between 4-10
Usage rate: 3-5%

Derived from coconut and palm oils. PEG-free, COSMOS and ECOCert approved.

Emulgade PL68/50 is available from Pure Nature. Vegetal is available Go Native. Emulsifier PL is available from The Sourcery.

Montanov 202

INCI: Arachidyl Alcohol, Behenyl Alcohol, Arachidyl Glucoside

Oil-soluble, but can be dispersed in hot water
Melting point: 80º C
Non-ionic
pH stable between 5.5-7.5
Usage rate: 3-5% with 5-30% oil phase

Derived from plant-sourced glucoses. Palm oil-free, PEG-free, ECOCERT and COSMOS approved.

Available from Pure Nature

NatureMuls

INCI: Candelilla/Jojoba/Rice Bran Polyglyceryl-3 Esters, Glyceryl Stearate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate

Oil-soluble
Melting point: 70º C
Anionic, which can create pH sensitivity
Usage rate: 3-6%

NatureMuls has been designed for O/W systems with a medium to long break for luxurious emulsions regardless of viscosity. PEG-free.

Available from Pure Nature

Olivem 100

INCI: Cetearyl Olivate (and) Sorbitan Olivate

Also known as Emulsifier O

Oil-soluble
Melting point: 70º C
Non-ionic
pH stable between 3-12
Usage rate: 3-5% with up to 25% oil phase

Made from natural olive derivatives and palm oil. PEG-free, ECOCERT and COSMOS approved.

Available from Pure Nature, The Sourcery

Plantasens HE20

INCI: Cetearyl Glucoside, Sorbitan Olivate

Also known as Emulsifier HE20

Oil-soluble
Melting point: 60º C
Non-ionic
pH stable between 5.5-7.5
Usage rate: 3-6%

Natural, plant derived. Palm oil-free, PEG free. ECOCERT and COSMOS approved.

Can be used as a ’one-pot’ formulation where all the ingredients are combined before heating.

Available from Pure Nature, Go Native

The testing

So I tested the emulsifiers all using the same method. I combined both the water phase ingredients and the oil phase ingredients in two separate beakers and heated both to 80º C and then mixed them together and hand whisked them.

Note I did not use an electric mixer (high shear). I wanted to test if the emulsifiers would work if they were only whisked by hand, because not everyone has access to one of those cool little hand mixer tools.

They were each whisked for a few minutes, before placing them in the fridge for 30 minutes to cool and set.

I took notes during the making, after cooling down and after 24 hrs.

The results

To my surprise, all of them gave really good results. They all worked with just hand whisking and without high shear from an electric mixer. It seems the key to the emulsion is not so much the whisking itself, but the temperature at which they are combined. Getting them to 80º C is much more important, especially the oil phase, than the method of mixing. The phases were at a lower temperature when combining, usually somewhere between 75-80º C, but reaching the initial 80º C is key. Once combined, it is important to mix the phases thoroughly, but as you can see, you can do this just as easily by hand whisking.

Here are the results of the emulsifiers I tested. Note a cream of thin consistency would still be quite fluid and could still pour it into another container. Like a thick lotion. A medium consistency would be a cream that has thickened, but if you turned the container upside down, it would still pour or plop out. A thick consistency is a cream that stays put in the container, even if you turned it upside down.

Emulgade PL68/50

Melts easily during heating the oil phase.

After combining the oil and water phases and hand whisking: Remains very fluid even after whisking for several minutes by hand.

After cooling in the fridge for 30 minutes: Thickens but still a fairly thin consistency.

After 24 hrs: Thickened to a nice, thick cream.

Final verdict: The cream with the thickest consistency after 24 hours. It feels just how you expect a cream to feel like, not too light, but also not too heavy. It is also one of the whitest creams in colour.

My suggested usage rate: 5%

Montanov 202

Has a high melting point, which was noticeable because it only completely melted when it reached 80º C.

After combining the oil and water phases and hand whisking: thickens while whisking by hand to a medium consistency.

After cooling in the fridge for 30 minutes: did not thicken much more. Still a medium consistency.

After 24 hrs: No change, remained at a medium consistency.

Final verdict: Requires oil phase to be heated to 80º C, but otherwise easy to use. Final consistency of the cream is reached when it cools and doesn’t need 24 hours. A nice light cream with a light feel to it.

My suggested usage rate: 6-7% and/or add a thickener, high shear will probably also improve thickness of cream

NatureMuls

Melts easily during heating of the oil phase.

After combining the oil and water phases and hand whisking: Very thin still, even after whisking by hand for several minutes.

After cooling in the fridge for 30 minutes: thickened to a light to medium consistency.

After 24 hrs: thickened to a medium-thick consistency.

Final verdict: Despite the cream coloured pellets of the emulsifier, the cream itself is a white colour. A thick cream, which feels light initially but then has more of a waxy, balm-like feel to it.

My suggested usage rate: 5%

UPDATE: separated after several days. Hand mixing is not enough and you need to use an electric mixer (high shear) for it to emulsify properly.

Olivem 1000

After melting the combined oil and emulsifier turns into a waxy, paraffin-like mixture.

After combining the oil and water phases and hand whisking: Remained fluid after whisking by hand.

After cooling in the fridge for 30 minutes: thickened to a medium-thick cream.

After 24 hrs: thickened only a little more.

Final verdict: A very nice thick cream but had the lightest feel when applied, similar to a light lotion. The only one that was not white, but more of an off-white creamy colour.

My suggested usage rate: 5-6%

UPDATE: started showing signs of separation after several days, and requires high shear to emulsify properly (electric mixer)

Plantasens HE20

Quickest to melt (due to its lowest melting point of 60º C).

After combining the oil and water phases and hand whisking: Didn’t thicken at all during hand whisking, and was still very fluid.

After cooling in the fridge for 30 minutes: thickened to a slightly thicker consistency.

After 24 hrs: thickened considerably, but still thin.

Final verdict: The whitest of all the creams in colour, and also the one which remained the most fluid, runny consistency, more like a lotion.

My suggested usage rate: 6-7% and/or add a thickener

UPDATE: separated after a few days (see photo below). Not suitable for hand mixing. Needs high shear (electric mixer)

Unfortunately some of them separated or showed signs of separation after a few days. This implies that either the mixing wasn’t sufficient or it wasn’t heated to a high enough temperature. Since I heated all to 80ºC, I know that it wasn’t the temperature, and this was a test to see if we could make emulsions without the need of a special electric mixer. So the following are NOT suitable for hand whisking and require high shear to emulsify properly: Plantasens HE20, NatureMuls, and Olivem 1000.

So here you have it. The 5 most commonly available emulsifiers in New Zealand. Personally, my favourite one to use is Emulgade PL68/50, because it feels most like how I expect a cream to feel like and it works well with just hand whisking.

Note the FREE Formula Botanica Masterclass uses Vegetal, which is similar to the Emulgade PL68/50, and you can use this one as a substitute. Or you can use any of the emulsifiers that I have tested here. They will all work but will give you different consistencies, each with a slightly different feel.

If you want to learn how to formulate your own skin care products, sign up for the FREE Masterclass by Formula Botanica*. This is the accredited school that I am studying with.

*Affiliate link


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