Are all emulsifying waxes (e-waxes) the same?

The short answer here is no—far from it.

Let’s start with a quick definition of emulsifying wax. It’s a waxy substance that’s a carefully blended mix of fatty acids and emulsifiers that will emulsify and thicken a mixture of oil and water into a lotion. These concoctions usually contain more water than oils, and the e-wax is counted as part of the oils part. E-waxes are really only useful for lotion type concoctions—they cannot be used for emulsifying things like room sprays.

The two broad categories of emulsifying waxes are incomplete and complete.

In my humble opinion, incomplete emulsifying waxes are dumb. These waxes need to be paired with co-emulsifiers to do their job, so despite being sold as an emulsifying wax, they are only half (or perhaps a third or a quarter) of an emulsifying wax. The necessary co-emulsifier is usually not specified, either, making these incomplete emulsifying waxes pretty useless if you aren’t really up on your chemistry.

Up next are complete emulsifying waxes, which are awesome. One package of pellets or flakes is all you need to bring together oil and water into creamy matrimony! They generally work at concentrations between 5–10%, but check with the retailer and/or manufacturer for usage guidelines.

Within the category of complete emulsifying waxes you’ll find differences in how the final product feels. I find BTMS-50 and Emulsimulse/Ritamulse create lotions with a more powdery finish than lotions made with Emulsifying Wax NF or Polawax. BTMS-50 also has the added benefit of being conditioning as it is cationic (positively charged), so it’s a must if you want to make hair conditioners.

These are the emulsifying waxes I usually work with and their INCIs:

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

Make sure you’re always checking the INCI of whatever you’re buying! The brand/trade name of the e-wax may change depending on where you live or where you’re shopping, so the INCI is the thing you really need to pay attention to. There are loads of places to purchase emulsifying waxes around the world; check out my big list of places to shop to find one in your home country.

Posted in: Ingredients

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