Lecithin

What is it? Lecithin is a blend of lipids that can be found in egg yolks, soybeans, and sunflower seeds. The precise composition varies with the source of the lecithin; I typically use soya lecithin. This entry does not distinguish between soya and sunflower lecithin—both are lecithin.
INCI Lecithin
Appearance It can be purchased in dry granules or in liquid form (the liquid is a dark amber colour). The liquid form contains up to 35% triglycerides, and is much easer to use.
Usage rate Typical use is 0.5–5%; the CIR limits its use to 15% or less in leave-on products.
Texture Waxy granules or a smooth, viscous, syruppy liquid.
Scent Somewhat nutty—different sources can vary in strength
Absorbency Speed Very slow.
Charge Non-ionic
Solubility Oil
Why do we use it in formulations? Lecithin can serve a variety of purposes in formulations. It does have emulsifying properties (I’ve found HLB values from 4–9 listed for lecithin, so check with your supplier for the one you have), but they are fairly limited and emulsions made with lecithin as the lone emulsifier are quite tricky to create. If you are looking to create lightweight, fast-absorbing creams, lecithin is not going to be your emulsifier of choice.

Lecithin is an excellent emollient and occlusive, making it wonderful in products for extremely dry skin or lips (it also helps with barrier repair). Lecithin also contributes a beautiful creamy consistency to anhydrous lip products. Its consistency is really unique—gooey, silky smooth, and sticky in high concentrations—and it brings those properties to our products in varying amounts, depending on how much is used. Lecithin contains antioxidants, thickens our products, and functions as a humectant (this is very rare for oil-soluble ingredients).

While I have made emulsions with lecithin, I prefer to use it in anhydrous products to make them richer and creamier. I especially love it in lip products for the rich, creamy feel.

Do you need it? No, but if a recipe calls for lecithin it is very hard to substitute.
Refined or unrefined? Make sure you get the liquid version; the granules are a slightly different composition and are much harder to work with. If it’s a choice of granules or nothing, go with nothing.
Strengths Excellent multi-purpose emollient and occlusive that is wonderful for the skin.
Weaknesses Can be harder to find than some ingredients.
Alternatives & Substitutions Liquid lecithin from different sources can be used interchangeably (soy, sunflower).

I really can’t recommend anything as a great alternative to lecithin. You could try blending some lanolin with castor oil, but that will mostly just approximate the consistency and also be oil soluble.

Lecithin cannot be used as a replacement for a complete emulsifying wax like Polawax, or vice versa.

How to Work with It Include lecithin in your heated oil phase.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, lecithin should last about two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Lecithin can help stabilize emulsions as a co-emulsifiers.
Recommended starter amount 100–200g (3.3–6.6oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Lecithin

Cholesterol

What is it? Cholesterol is a fatty sterol that works as a wonderful emollient. It is extracted from lanolin.
INCI Cholesterol
Appearance Fine white powder
Usage rate 1–10%
Texture Smooth powder
Scent Mine smells distinctly of lanolin, though I don’t notice it in finished formulations.
Approximate Melting Point 147–150°C (297–302°F)
Solubility Oil
Why do we use it in formulations? Cholesterol is an excellent emollient for irritated/damaged skin and hair. It also helps support/repair barrier function. It can also help stabilize emulsions and thicken products.
Do you need it? No.
Refined or unrefined? Cholesterol only exists as a refined product.
Strengths Cholesterol is an easy-to-use additive that is wonderful for the skin.
Weaknesses Cholesterol is not vegan, and the smell may put off those with sensitive senses of smell.
Alternatives & Substitutions Lanolin would likely be your best bet. Liquid lecithin or Brassica Campestris Aleurites Fordi Oil Copolymer could be decent vegan alternatives. Keep in mind that all of these options will be significantly less potent than pure cholesterol, so you may wish to alter the formulation to include more of the replacement ingredient to compensate.
How to Work with It Include in the oil phase of your formulations. It can be hot or cold processed.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, cholesterol should last 24 months from the time of manufacture.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks I first used cholesterol in this formulation from The Acid Queen. Check it out!
Recommended starter amount 30g (1.06oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Cholesterol

Brassica Campestris Aleurites Fordi Oil Copolymer

What is it? Brassica Campestris/Aleurites Fordi Oil Copolymer is a biodegradable natural polymer made from canola and tung oils. It functions as an emollient, occlusive, film-former, and skin protectant.
INCI Brassica Campestris / Aleurites Fordi Oil Copolymer
Appearance Dark brown liquid
Usage rate 1–10%
Texture Thick, sticky, unctuous paste-like liquid
Scent Bland
Absorbency Speed Slow
Approximate Melting Point Liquid at room temperature
Solubility Oil
Why do we use it in formulations? Brassica Campestris/Aleurites Fordi Oil Copolymer is an excellent skin protectant and emollient, with great smoothing and moisturizing properties. It’s great in both hair and skin formulations, and also helps fragrances last longer.
Do you need it? No
Refined or unrefined? Brassica Campestris / Aleurites Fordi Oil Copolymer only exists as a refined product.
Strengths Naturally derived, biodegradable polymer with great moisturizing and skin protecting properties.
Weaknesses I haven’t seen it for sale very many places.
Alternatives & Substitutions I think liquid lecithin would probably be your best bet; lanolin may also work well.
How to Work with It Include Brassica Campestris / Aleurites Fordi Oil Copolymerin the oil phase of your formulations;
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, Brassica Campestris / Aleurites Fordi Oil Copolymer should last at least two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks You’ll probably be surprised by how incredibly thick Brassica Campestris / Aleurites Fordi Oil Copolymer is—I don’t recommend using a pipette to dispense it!
Recommended starter amount 100g (3.5oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier; mine is from Essential Wholesale.

Some Formulations that Use Brassica Campestris / Aleurites Fordi Oil Copolymer

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