What is Emulsifying Wax?

Donn Saylor

Emulsifying wax is a type of cosmetic emulsifying ingredient used primarily in the manufacturing of creams, lotions, and other beauty products. The emulsification occurs when two substances — in this case, oil and water — are successfully bound together, creating a sort of glue that combines the ingredients of a product. The wax is sometimes labeled as emulsifying wax NF, which means it meets the standards of a National Formulary, which is a medical manual containing approved medicines in a particular country — the US, Britain and Australia are a few countries that have national formularies.

Some cosmetics products are made using emulsifying wax.
Some cosmetics products are made using emulsifying wax.

This type of wax is used by both cosmetics manufacturers and individuals who make their own beauty products. When included in a recipe, it thickens the liquid and marries the oil and water-based elements of the creation. The wax itself is made of either petroleum or vegetable wax that has been enhanced with a chemical detergent. It is white in color, solid, and possesses a light alcohol scent. The commonly prescribed amount of emulsifying wax NF is three to six percent of the total weight of the recipe.

All emulsifying waxes act as a type of magnet, drawing the oil and water molecules together.
All emulsifying waxes act as a type of magnet, drawing the oil and water molecules together.

All emulsifying waxes operate on a molecular plane. They act as a type of magnet, drawing the oil and water molecules together. These two types of molecules possess very different structures. Oil, for instance, is a non-polar — or water-resistant — ingredient. When it encounters the wax, oil's innate resistance to water is broken down, allowing it to blend seamlessly with the water in the recipe.

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Emulsifying wax NF consists of four ingredients. These are Cetearyl Alcohol, PEG-150 Stearate, Polysorbate 60, and Steareth-20. It mirrors the properties of cetyl alcohol while promoting the thickening features of stearyl alcohol.

Cosmetic concoctions are not the only products than can benefit from this substance. It can also be used in candle making, helping to solidify the wax, glycerin, and water-based ingredients. The wax ensures the end product will hold together and burn evenly.

Some emulsifying waxes are produced from petroleum-based compounds. Many major cosmetics manufacturers utilize this form of emulsifying wax. Petroleum-derived wax is often cheaper and more readily available than its vegetable-sourced counterpart.

Vegetable-based emulsifying wax, however, is becoming more and more popular. Soy and carnauba are two types of waxes harvested from plant sources. They offer the same benefits for emulsification, and when used in candles, often burn cleaner and more evenly than petroleum wax. They consist of the natural fats and esters found in plants. It is processed into a flake-like form that is then marketed and sold. These flakes can be easily purchased in bulk to make products at home.

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Discussion Comments


I assume the vegetable-based waxes are better for skin than those made with petroleum? Are there any side effects of using lotions and creams featuring the petroleum version?

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