Konjac Glucomannan vs Carbomer - Who's Best?

The race is on for texture perfection! Who's best? Konjac Glucomannan or Carbomer? Before we continue; which ingredient is easier to pronounce? And, which is the plant-based ingredient? Does this make sense? Do we care?

 All right, enough silliness.

Let's get scientific (dons glasses and looks serious). I've been comparing these 2 ingredients for a few weeks and have (almost) concluded testing and shall therefore reveal all.

Test One

My first test was to see if konjak glucomannan really could make a clear gel. Pictured, Comfort Zone Eye Serum in 2 versions. On the left, a version with carbomer, on the right, with konjac glucomannan.

Ahem. I recalled my suppliers words 'creates a clear gel' as I was making this first comparison.

Just as I was ready to write them and 'harruumph' about the not-even-close-to-being-clear qualities, I realized I had used a different kind of Aloe Vera in the test batch (which is kind of imperative when you're comparing stuff). The batch on the right contains liquid aloe vera (which is quite cloudy by nature). The batch on the left contains a gel made with powdered aloe (which makes a crystal clear gel).

I whipped up a new batch.

That's Better

Here is a close-up of the result. You can barely tell where the gel is. Teehee. (I giggle like a schoolgirl when things go well in the lab.)

Gold star for test one!

But Then, There Were The Other Tests

Fully expecting everything else to be equally perfect, I charged ahead and tested konjac glucomannan in several different ways. Unfortunately, the overall results do fall shy of carbomer, but they come closer than anything I've ever worked with before. Here's a chart with my observations.

Comparing Gels with Carbomer to Gels with Glucomannan on the LisaLise Scale

Carbomer gets 100 out of 100 because it is the ideal: the standard by which I have compared all the others.

Konjac Glucomannan has a slightly detectable tackiness, but I could live with that. Where it really falls short is in stability and behavior.


In stability, I look at whether or not the gel is keeping its structure and unwaveringly 'holding on to' any other ingredients in the mix. The glucomannan gel couldn't keep 5% oil dispersed over a longer period (it pooped out at around 4 weeks).


In behavior, I look at how the gel behaves when it is applied to skin in various ways – for example, prior to applying other products. Here's where it fell short: my Comfort Zone Eye Serum is typically applied after cleansing the face and before make-up. Every batch of Eye Serum I made with glucomannan 'interfered' with subsequent application of makeup. It would 'roll off' and mix with the make-up, making it impossible to apply an even layer of make-up. My testers had the same experience.

When something like that happens, I'm afraid the 'luxury factor' gets precedence.

The Poll

You may remember a poll on this blog not too long ago. (You're forgiven if you don't remember – I didn't leave it up very long).

Here are the results.

I was a little surprised that 78% answered they'd choose less perfect texture. But then again, I didn't describe in detail what I meant by less perfect texture, did I?

What Would You Answer Today?

Now that you know how konjac makes a texture less perfect, would you still choose the product with less perfect texture? Remember that the alternative petrochemical ingredient (carbomer) is perfectly safe (honest engine).

In principle, I choose plant-based any day of the week, and have pretty much made it my mantra. But there are exceptions. Lanolin, potassium alum, and beeswax come to mind right off hand – these are stock LisaLise ingredients despite their non-plant origins because they absolutely rock at what they do.

And as for the eye serum: luxury factor wins. I fear the quest for a plant-based alternative to carbomer will have to continue.

But All is Not Lost

I am working on a couple of new products that include konjac glucomannan, because in discovering what it can't do, I've also discovered what it can do and promise to update.

PS: The asterisk after 'clearness' on the chart under glucomannan is because glucomannan it seems to have a tendency to make any semi-cloudy liquid (like the aloe liquid pictured above) even cloudier.


alicyn said…
if i had the resources to buy any product and the knowledge to understand all ingredients / the production process, i would aim to choose the safest and most sustainable products. so in that idealized scenario, i would avoid products with petrochemicals in an effort to conserve petroleum for end uses with a higher priority than my face. :) in practice, i just put very few things on my face and thus avoid the cost-benefit analysis of infinite combinations of ingredients.

again, i love hearing about your process!! i'm really impressed that you waited four weeks to test ingredient separation. you have such dedication and patience. :)
LisaLise said…
That is sooo sweet Alicyn! Thank you so much for your kind words. I have all kinds of processes and tests ongoing at any given time. Example: I've got a product on the shelf (foot cream) I made 5 years ago that is still good with no sign of rancidity (that's how efficient paraben preservatives are by the way).

You and I are on the same page as to petrochemical ingredients. I have to be honest though. The more I learn about ingredients - both plant-based and petrochemical based - the more exceptions to the rules I find (petrochemical ingredients that are not only safer, but even more planet-friendly and plant-based ingredients that are really unhealthy and allergenic). It's impossible to draw a line in the sand and say: petrochemical = bad, plant-based = good. I will however - ALWAYS choose plant based first.
Mary Walton said…
I love konjac too, you didn't say at what percentage you used it, what oils you used, you say 5% and it separated in 4 weeks, maybe you were using high polar oils? I have found konjac to be stable with up to 5% of "light" oils. Would be interesting to know your formula please.
LisaLise said…
Hi Mary,

I have been using Konjac in aqueous solutions, and only as a gelling agent. It would be interesting to hear a bit about how you have used it with oils. :)
Lisa said…
How did you make the Konjac gel? Did you use hot water or cold water? I heard hot water makes it gel better. Have you tried this using cold water?
LisaLise said…
Hey there Lisa, I used a liquid at room temperature for these tests. I've never had much luck using cold water, and have actually never tried making gel with glucomannan using hot water. Now I'm intrigued!
Claudia said…
I experienced the roll off when I applied my homemade gel using Konjac root powder as the main thickener and gelling agent. Do you have any advice on preventing this? Maybe use it in combination with another thickener or gelling agent?
LisaLise said…
Hi Claudia, yeah, it's one of the main reasons I stopped using konjac (aside from the fact that I could only source it one place and shipping costs were prohibitively expensive).

My work-around was to use the active in my eye serum - hyaluronic acid - as a thickener, which made for the perfect serumy viscosity for an eye serum. It works really well, but hyaluronic acid is a bit of a bucket of worms to work with. I still haven't found any gelling agents that can measure up to carbomer.
Unknown said…
Do you believe this would work as a hair gel for curly hair?
LisaLise said…
Hi Alana Clare - For curly hair I would recommend guar gum -- it's what gave the best results in my ckc products -- click the ckc label under topics for more info on this series. You could probably use the konjac, but I believe the curls would love the guar :)
Unknown said…
I’m curious if the scoby from making kombucha, which is a natural polysaccharide similar to kojac gel.
LisaLise said…
Hi Steve - My knowledge of kombucha is very limited so I'm afraid I am unable to give you any kind of answer based on experience. I would probably do a side by side comparison test to begin with. Hope this is a bit of help.
Unknown said…
what aloe powder do you use to make a clear gel and how do you make it?
LisaLise said…
Hi Unknown — I used Aloe Vera Juice :)
Anonymous said…
Thanks for sharing - you have no idea how much I appreciate this article and your honest opinion. I've had "natural carbomer like gels" project going on for years but I'm picky so not much luck so far. :P It'd be great to find more suppliers for non volatile silicones and carbomers in EU. I'd choose synthetic option if skin benefits are equal (not easy task these days, referring to phospholipids in ecogel). Cheers, Johanna
LisaLise said…
HI Johanna - Thanks for sharing - I think we are seeing a shift in available natural ingredients overall - a welcome change!