I don’t like the sounds of emulsifying wax—can I use beeswax (or a plant based wax) instead?

Sadly, swapping out emulsifying wax for anything other than a different complete emulsifying wax (which beeswax isn’t) is like using a paint chip instead of an egg because they’re both yellow. You can pair beeswax with borax to make an emulsion, but then you can only do a 1:1 ratio of oils to water, which makes for a very heavy, waxy, greasy lotion. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s typically not what most people want when they are looking for a lotion.

I have seen plain beeswax mixtures succeed, but these are not true emulsions and do not pass the tests used to determine if something is a true emulsion. Formula Botanica has done an excellent blog post on this here.

Emulsifying wax isn’t a single ingredient: there are a lot of different types, made from different ingredients. All of these ingredients are usually derived from plants—mostly coconut & palm as they’re inexpensive and versatile. Not everything sold as “emulsifying wax” is a complete emulsifier (some are just thickeners, or only partial emulsifiers), so be sure to read up on the precise emulsifying wax you’re considering before buying it.

I’ve worked with (and had good results with) these emulsifying waxes:

  • Polawax
  • Emulsifying Wax NF (INCI: Cetearyl Alcohol (and) Polysorbate 60)
  • Ritamulse SCG/Emulsimulse (INCI: Glyceryl Stearate (and) Cetearyl Alcohol (and) Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate)
  • Olivem 1000 (INCI: Cetearyl Olivate (and) Sorbitan Olivate)
  • BTMS-50 (INCI: Behentrimonium Methosulfate (and) Cetyl Alcohol (and) Butylene Glycol)

This is by no means an exhaustive list of emulsifying waxes, but I find these ones are easily accessible in most parts of the world. Some suppliers like to rename the emulsifying waxes they sell, so make sure you’re checking the INCI (basically, the ingredients list for the ingredient) so you know what you’re getting.

Polawax and Emulsifying Wax NF are typically the easiest emulsifying waxes: they’re nearly foolproof, widely available, and inexpensive. They make beautiful, smooth emulsions and work well with a wide variety of phase sizes and are quite forgiving when it comes to manufacturing methods.

Ritamulse SCG & Olivem 1000 are considered to be more “natural” emulsifying wax options. They tend to be more expensive and can be harder to find depending where in the world you live. They can be more challenging to use than the other emulsifying waxes I’ve worked with, but I still find them to be very reliable emulsifying waxes.

BTMS-50 is a cationic (positively charged) or conditioning emulsifying wax, and it’s fantastic. If you’re interested in making emulsified hair conditioners I highly recommend it—that cationic charge gives the end product some serious conditioning magic that’s downright wonderful. I love BTMS-50 for all kinds of lotions, balms, serums, and conditioning type projects, but it is more expensive than most other emulsifying waxes, so I typically save it for places where I want both conditioning and emulsifying—if I only need emulsifying, a different emulsifying wax will do the trick for less money.

Posted in: Substitutions

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