In my time working with emulsifying waxes, I’ve found that they vary quite a lot. There are two main categories of emulsifying waxes—complete and incomplete. We’ll be looking at complete emulsifying waxes (or e-waxes) here as incomplete e-waxes require co-emulsifiers to work, and that’s silly.
So, before we dive in—what’s e-wax? In the most basic sense, it’s what we use to make foolproof emulsified lotions. At usage rates of 5–10% you can make lotions that are ~75% water, 25% oils that emulsify easily and stay emulsified. E-waxes are made from blends of fatty acids like Cetearyl Alcohol and Glyceryl Stearate, and sometimes other emulsifiers like Polysorbate 60. Despite having “wax” in the name, e-waxes perform nothing like beeswax or the c-waxes (carnauba and candelilla), and cannot be substituted for them (or vice versa).
After those basics, e-waxes can vary quite a lot in composition and performance. Some thicken faster than others. Some make lotions that feel a bit powdery. Some have longer shelf lives than others. So, in this entry I’ll be looking at three different common e-waxes.
My basic formula will be:
- 5% emulsifying wax of choice
- 20% soybean oil
- 75% water
The e-waxes I’ll be testing are:
- Emulsimulse (Glyceryl Stearate, Cetearyl Alcohol, and Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate)
- Emulsifying Wax NF (Cetostearyl Alcohol and Polysorbate 60)
- Polawax (Cetearyl Alcohol, PEG-150 Stearate, Polysorbate 60, and Steareth-20)
The characteristics I’ll be looking at will be:
- When does the lotion thicken? How thick is it?
- What does the lotion feel like? Right after making? After it’s fully set up?
- What is the shelf life like?
Because I’ll be testing shelf life, I’ll store each batch of lotion in the same open-mouth jars next to each other on a sunny windowsill. Open mouth jars are ideal for lotion moulding quickly, which is what I’m going for here so I don’t have to wait for ages to report my results.
My process was:
- Weigh 5g (0.17oz) of each emulsifying wax into a different 125mL (4 fl oz) mason jar
- Add 20g (0.71oz) of soybean oil to each mason jar
- One at a time, melt the e-wax and oil together by placing the jar in a shallow pan of simmering water
- Once melted, remove the jar from the heat and whisk in 75mL (2.54 fl oz) of just-boiled water
- Continue whisking occasionally as the lotion cools
My emulsifying wax observations
Polawax Emulsifying Wax
The mixture quickly emulsified into an opaque, milk-like liquid. No noticeable thickening after 20 minutes, and after about 40 minutes it had thickened a little to a consistency closer to light cream than milk.
Once fully set, the lotion was thick and creamy. It had a slightly mealy texture, similar to the Emulsifying Wax NF. You couldn’t tell from feeling the lotion, though—only by looking. It absorbed into the skin quite quickly, leaving it feeling noticeably moisturized (slightly “skiddy” compared to areas around it) for several minutes after application.
After the 4 week waiting period this lotion was in the best shape, with the smallest amount of mould, but it was still mouldy.
Emulsimulse / Ritamulse SCG Emulsifying Wax
The mixture quickly emulsified into a mostly opaque, whitish liquid. As I whisked I started to noticing it thickening up within about three minutes, and after 20 minutes it had thickened into a creamy, luxurious lotion.
Once fully set, the lotion is thick and creamy, and glossy in appearance. It absorbs quickly and leaves the skin feeling almost powdery and dry (though still moisturized) after application.
After the 4 week waiting period the top was covered in some nice greyish greenish mould spots.
Emulsifying Wax NF
The mixture quickly emulsified into an opaque, milk-like liquid. The top thickens up, leaving a bit of a skin that needs to be stirred back into the lotion.
The lotion ends up being quite thick and creamy, with a rather interesting texture. The best thing I can compare it to is a fat-free yoghurt that’s been thickened up with other ingredients. It’s almost mealy in appearance on the skin, though you can’t feel that at all when rubbing it into the skin. It sinks in reasonably quickly and feels smooth. The skin is left with a discernable “lotioned” feeling when compared to the skin around it, similar to the Polawax.
After the 4 week waiting period the top had sprouted some spots of black mould.
Some Emulsifying Wax Conclusions
In the end, all the e-waxes produced an equally thick lotion, though it sometimes took several days to get there.
Polawax and Emulsifying Wax NF have quite a lot in common in terms of feel and thickening speed, while Emulsimulse stands off on its own.
None of them keep very well when stored on a sunny windowsill.
Well, there you have it! Some insight into three different emulsifying waxes 🙂