Polyquaternium 10

What is it? Polyquaternium 10 is an ingredient that adds conditioning to our formulations and also thickens them. It is made from hydroxyethylcellulose.
INCI Polyquaternium-10
Appearance Soft, slightly clumpy off-white powder
Usage rate 0.05–2%

Start with less than you think you’ll need; Polyquaternium 10 is a very effective thickener. Making Cosmetics lists 2% as an upper range, but many manufacturers list an upper range of 0.3–0.5%.

Scent Fishy, though I don’t find the scent to be noticeable in finished products as the effective usage rate is so low.
pH 5–8 (Check with your supplier for specifics on what you have)

The manufacturer Nouryon recommends a range of 4–8 is recommended for finished formulations, but I have seen Polyquaternium 10 used in professional formulations that almost certainly have a pH lower than 4.

Charge Cationic (positive)
Solubility Polyquaternium 10 is water soluble
Why do we use it in formulations? Polyquaternium 10 thickens and adds conditioning properties. It is useful for haircare and skincare products in both rinse-off and leave-on applications.

In hair products (both wash-out and leave-in) it improves comb-through, improves the feel and appearance of the hair, reduces breakage, improves curl retention, and gives the hair a really lovely, substantive feel.

In skincare products a small amount (~0.05%) boosts viscosity, improves slip, and gives the overall product a rich, elegant feel: it makes serums feel more serum-y. A little goes a long way, though! Too much can feel a bit snotty.

Do you need it? No, but it is very useful, especially if you’re interested in formulating haircare.
Refined or unrefined? Polyquaternium 10 only exists as a refined product.
Strengths Potent and highly effective conditioning ingredient that leaves hair and skin feeling amazing.
Weaknesses It isn’t widely available.
Alternatives & Substitutions As always, begin by determining why Polyquaternium 10 is included in a formulation. It will add both thickening and conditioning, but are both functions essential to a formulation?

Cationic guar gum can work nicely as it is also a powder that conditions and thickens.

Polyquaternium 7 can also work nicely as an alternative. It is a very viscous liquid that is 8–10% active, so you can generally assume it’s about 1/10th as potent as Polyquaternium 10. If a formulation calls for 0.3% Polyquaternium 10, I’d try replacing it with 3% Polyquaternium 7, reducing the water in the formulation to make room for the extra 2.7%.

Depending on the formulation, you may be able to replace the conditioning benefits of Polyquaternium 10 with a fatty conditioning ingredient like BTMS-50 or Behentrimonium Chloride.

If the primary reason for including Polyquaternium 10 in a formulation is thickening, you can look at replacing it with a non-cationic thickener like hydroxyethylcellulose or soft xanthan gum. I recommend choosing something that creates smooth, clear gels.

You can also generally leave Polyquaternium 10 out of formulations (replacing it with more water to keep the formulation in balance). It’ll be a loss, but the formulation likely won’t fail. As always, make sure you understand why Polyquaternium 10 is in the formulation and what it’s doing for the formulation. If you’re making a hair conditioner and Polyquaternium 10 is the only cationic ingredient in the formulation, you’ll be losing the conditioning part of hair conditioner. If it’s a facial serum that includes a tiny amount of Polyquaternium 10 to boost viscosity and skin feel, removing the Polyquaternium 10 will result in a thinner and less luxurious feeling formulation, but it will still work.

How to Work with It Pre-disperse Polyquaternium 10 in a non-water liquid in your formulation (glycerin, liquid oil, etc.) before adding water to the formulation. Stir and allow to hydrate; this can be sped up by blending with a powered mixer like an immersion blender or a Mini Mixer.

In emulsions, Polyquaternium 10 can be included in the oil phase to prevent clumping.

Polyquaternium 10 can be hot or cold processed.

Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, Polyquaternium 10 should last at least 2 years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Despite its positive charge, Polyquaternium 10 is “compatible with anionic, nonionic, cationic and amphoteric systems.” (source)
Recommended starter amount 30g (1.06oz)
Where to Buy Polyquaternium 10 Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier. Mine is from Making Cosmetics.

Some Formulations that Use Polyquaternium 10


Posted on

June 30, 2022