Natural or Synthetic, Emollients?


Emollients are used in cosmetic products to form a protective waterproof layer on the skin preventing the evaporation of water from the skin’s surface. Emollients don’t provide moisture, they prevent it from escaping.

Emollients act by sealing in moisture in the skin, causing the skin cells to swell which reduces the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines and prevents dry skin. It’s different from a moisturizer in that it doesn’t impart moisture itself, rather it keeps the moisture from evaporating.

In that way, emollients and moisturisers work together in cosmetics products.

There are two classes of emollients:

1. NATURAL EMOLLIENTS

The word “natural” doesn’t mean that every natural emollient is found in nature, they have to be processed from their raw forms.

Natural emolleinets include cold-pressed almond oil, jojoba oil, sunflower oil, olive oil, hazelnut oil, avocado oil, safflower oil, wheat germ oil, apricot kernel oil, and natural waxes such as unrefined beeswax, shea butter and cocoa butter.

PROS

  1. They don’t contain residues of toxic metal catalysts or petrochemicals
  2. They don’t restrict the skin’s respiration in the same way as synthetic emollients
  3. They cause fewer breakouts and skin reactions

CONS

  1. They can feel oily and greasy and create stability challenges for formulators
  2. They are expensive to use in bulk production of cosmetics

2. SYNTHETIC EMOLLIENTS

Synthetic emollients are lab produced esters used to stabilise cosmetics products on a large scale.

They include cetyl alcohol, silicones, emulsifying wax, petroleum jelly, hydrogenated oils, isopropyl myristate, mineral oil and paraffin (among others).

PROS

  1. They create a nice texture in skincare products
  2. They help to deliver performance cosmetic ingredients effectively
  3. They are relatively easier to use in formulations and cheaper to use.

CONS

  1. They can clog pores and cause skin irritation, contact allergies, inflammation of the hair follicles etc
  2. Some synthetic emollients can worsen acne or cause an unpleasant rash (perioral dermatitis)

When formulating with emollients here are some of the characteristics you need to consider:

  1. Performance: how does the material make skin feel and how does it work with your formula?
  2. Colour: does the material impart any unwanted colour to your formula?
  3. Odour: some emollients have an undesirable odour
  4. Origin: some consumers and marketers want you to avoid animal-based ingredients or synthetic products
  5. Compatibility: stability can be a big challenge when using emollients
  6. Cost: your emollient should be cost-effective without sacrificing quality

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