|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.|
|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.|
|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 Recipes that Use Lecithin
- Nourishing Lip Mask
- Creamy Stick Lip Tints
- Creamy Lip Balm
- Lavender Patchouli Body Butter
- Basic Moldable Lipstick Base
- Pumpkin Shimmer Lip Gloss
- Lavender Cardamom Lip Balm
- Coconut Citrus Cleansing Balm