Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Perfect Texture - About Emulsifiers

Texture is everything. You can have the greatest combination of ingredients that smell and look right, but just don't 'go on' well - reducing the entire experience of applying a new cream to a disappointment. To make a cream or lotion, you need an emulsifier. Mixing oil and water is just not possible without it.  If you insist on working with organic plant-based ingredients, there are but a handful of officially qualified emulsifiers on the market today. In my constant quest for the perfect texture, I have tried (and continue to use) every one of them in any number of different combinations.

What Do Pigs Have to Do With It?
The emulsifiers most common to the commercial industry are not plant-based, but produced from pig fats. And yes, your skin will readily absorb them.
If you are trying to avoid pig fat in your skin care products for any reason (vegan, muslim, the yuck-factor, etc), you can't really know for sure what's in the cream you are applying to your face every night unless you trust the company you are buying from. Why? because regulations don't require manufacturers to declare the source of the emulsifiers they are using – only to list their INCI name. Remember I wrote earlier about how reading and understanding cosmetics labels was a bit like wading through a jungle? This is just one of the reasons why.

Edible, but challenging
Derived from coconut, palm and rapeseed oil, the emulsifiers I use are safe to work with and even used in the food industry. A couple of them actually originated for use in vegan ice creams. They're fabulously stable, safe, neutral in scent, (edible!), and easy to work with. They are sourced from palm oil and have such 'exciting' names as Glyceryl Stearate (VE) and Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate (MF).

Others are more challenging to work with, needing very specific temperatures, cooling times, agitation (stir method) etc. One would think you could just make do with one type of emulsifier, but then you would need only one type of texture. For example, the emulsifiers I use for cream are just not ideal for lotion. They work "too well" and stiffen up the mixture so it won't flow out of the bottle after cooling.

It's not a problem working with emulsifiers... it's just a big, exciting challenge that I take pleasure in tackling (albeit with the occasional bout of swearing and frustration when batch number 15 still won't behave as I want it to).

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