Emulsifiers of natural origin in cosmetics: Using the power of nature

Emulsifiers play a key role in cosmetic formulations as they bridge the gap between oil- and water-based ingredients. They help stabilise and blend these different components, resulting in the smooth and even texture we expect from our skin, hair and body care products. In recent years, demand for emulsifiers from natural sources has increased as consumers increasingly seek products that meet their desire for more sustainable and environmentally friendly choices.


To understand. What are emulsifiers?

Emulsifiers are molecules with hydrophilic (water-loving) and lipophilic (oil-loving) properties. Their unique structure allows them to combine with both oil and water to form stable emulsions. We understand emulsions to be colloidal systems in which tiny droplets of one immiscible liquid (e.g. oil) are dispersed in another (e.g. water) with the help of an emulsifier. The emulsifier forms a protective layer around the droplets, preventing them from flowing together and separating. Emulsifiers act as molecular “glues” that ensure even distribution and stability of the various components in the cosmetic product.


Emulsions can be divided into two main types: Oil-in-water (O/W) and water-in-oil (W/O).

  • Oil-in-water (O/W) emulsion: In an O/W emulsion, the oil droplets are dispersed in a continuous water phase. The emulsifiers in this type of formulation surround the oil droplets and form a protective layer that prevents them from flowing together and separating. O/W emulsions are often used in moisturisers, lotions and serums as they provide a light and non-greasy texture.
  • Water-in-oil (W/O) emulsion: In a W/O emulsion, water droplets are dispersed in a continuous oil phase. Emulsifiers surround the water droplets in this case and form a barrier that prevents the water from evaporating. W/O emulsions are often used in products such as cold creams and some sunscreens because they have a more occlusive and conditioning effect.


Basis of natural emulsifiers

Natural emulsifiers are usually derived from plant or animal sources. Common examples are lecithin, beeswax, cetyl alcohol, stearic acid and glyceryl stearate. These emulsifiers contain complex mixtures of lipids, fatty acids and other naturally occurring compounds. By using these natural components, cosmetic formulators can avoid synthetic chemicals that may be harmful to health or the environment.


Advantages of natural emulsifiers:

First up is skin tolerance: natural emulsifiers are often better tolerated by the skin than their synthetic counterparts. They have a lower risk of causing irritation or allergic reactions and are therefore suitable for sensitive skin types.


Sustainability: Natural emulsifiers are derived from renewable resources, reducing dependence on ingredients derived from fossil fuels. Their production has a lower environmental impact and contributes to a more sustainable cosmetics industry.

Biodegradability: Many natural emulsifiers are biodegradable, meaning they can break down into simpler, environmentally friendly substances. This property reduces the accumulation of persistent pollutants in ecosystems.


Possible uses of natural emulsifiers:

It is important to note that emulsifiers can also affect the texture, viscosity and sensory properties of the final product. Formulators can experiment with different emulsifiers and combinations to achieve the desired results.

Natural emulsifiers are used in various cosmetic products, including:


  •  Moisturisers and lotions: Here, natural emulsifiers help blend water- and oil-based ingredients in creams and lotions, providing moisture and nutrients to the skin without leaving a greasy residue.


  • Sunscreens: Emulsifiers facilitate the dispersion of UV filters in sunscreens, providing even coverage and protection from the sun’s harmful rays.


  •  Shampoos and conditioners: Thanks to emulsifiers, creamy textures combined with stability can be ensured in hair care products, as well as efficient dispersion of active ingredients for optimal cleansing and conditioning.


As the demand for natural and sustainable cosmetics continues to grow, the role of natural emulsifiers is becoming increasingly important. By using the power of natural ingredients, formulators can develop high-performance products that not only deliver excellent results, but also meet the principles of environmental responsibility.


Did you know?

With our portfolio of natural emulsifiers, you are best equipped for all applications. Brand new in the portfolio:  Cosphaderm® GS Connect.  Our natural COSMOS-compliant emulsifier contains Glyceryl Stearate Citrate and leaves the skin feeling soft and comfortable. In addition, Cosphaderm® GS Connect can be perfectly combined with other co-emulsifiers such as lecithins Cosphaderm® SF-75H and Cosphaderm® E NGM.

Find the right emulsifier for your formulation here.

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