Emulsifying wax; what is it and why I don’t recommend using it

Emulsifying wax is a very popular emulsifier in homemade cosmetics. I wanted to do this article because emulsifying wax is an unknown thing to many. The name of the substance is somehow misleading and many people think it is a natural wax like beeswax.  Emulsifying wax has been used for a very long time. That is why a popular name has also been invented for it. In reality, emulsifying wax contains chemical compounds like other emulsifiers. Now, let’s find out what emulsifying wax actually contains.

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Emulsifying wax

Emulsifying wax; what is it?

An emulsifying wax is a solid, white, waxy substance. It is combined during the heating process with the oil phase of the emulsion. Emulsifying wax is a very popular and common cosmetic emulsifier. It is used in both washing and care products. The popularity of emulsifying wax is based not only on its versatility but also on its stability and easy use. Emulsifying wax is easy to use even for a beginner. You can make products with a pleasant composition with emulsifying wax. The structure of the product withstands storage and temperature fluctuations well.

Emulsifying wax has nothing to do with natural waxes such as beeswax or candelilla wax

I have heard someone said that an emulsifying wax is a natural wax that emulsifies. This is certainly not true. Sometimes the word wax can mislead us. Emulsifying wax is in no way comparable to natural waxes such as beeswax, candelilla wax or rice wax. In the case of emulsifying wax, the word wax only describes the phase of the product, meaning waxiness. There is no other similarity between these ingredients.

Natural waxes do not contain synthetic chemicals. They cannot be used as an emulsifier, meaning to combine water and oils. Natural waxes are also not detergent surfactants like emulsifying wax.

What chemicals does the emulsifying wax contain?

Emulsifying wax is not an ingredient in natural cosmetics. The chemicals it contains are completely synthetic with the exception of cetearyl alcohol. The emulsifying wax has a slight odour of fatty alcohol. It indicates the cetearyl alcohol contained in the product. Cetearyl alcohol is a fatty alcohol most commonly made from palm oil, and sometimes also from coconut oil.

According to the NF standard, emulsifying wax contains the following chemicals.

  • Steareth-20; emulsifying, waxy, fully synthetic chemical
  • PEG-150 stearate; emulsifier, PEG compounds may be contaminated
  • Polysorbate 60; synthetic surfactant
  • Cetearyl alcohol; white, waxy, naturally occurring fatty alcohol

The NF standard is a very old chemical standard. It is from the 1880’s USA.  The NF standard indicates the composition of chemicals. In this case the standard specifies the ingredients that the emulsifying wax may contain. That standard does not apply worldwide. That is why there are quite a variety of chemicals for sale under the name of emulsifying wax. The emulsifying wax we see in Europe often contains SLS, a compound called sodium lauryl sulphate, and cetearyl alcohol. SLS is a non-natural cosmetic chemical that irritates and dries the skin.

You can read more about SLS here: SLS in cosmetics, find out the facts and dangers. https://helenatur.com/sls-kosmeteti-assa-tiedosta-faktat-ja-vaarat-2/

What is emulsifying wax used for?

The main applications of emulsifying wax are creams and emulsified detergents. An emulsifying wax is both a surfactant and a detergent. It is used as an emulsifier to combine the fat-soluble portions of the cream with the water-soluble portions. Emulsion creams containing emulsifying wax can also be used as detergents.

In detergents, emulsifying wax is also used as a detergent ingredient. Often, the product may contain other detergent ingredients as well. Emulsifying wax is very popular in industrially made cosmetics precisely because of its versatility. Shampoos as well as shower soaps often contain caring oils. It is desired to compensate for the skin drying effect of the product with oils. The emulsifying wax combines the oil contained in the product with water. Without an emulsifier, the oils in the product do not form a stable emulsion with water.

How can I replace emulsifying wax in homemade cosmetics?

I understand very well the popularity of emulsifying wax. It is an easy, inexpensive and versatile product. You can continue to use emulsifying wax in your products. In this article, I just want to clarify the nature of emulsifying wax. An emulsifying wax is an emulsifier.

  • Emulsifying wax is not a substitute for natural or vegetable waxes
  • Emulsifying wax is not part of natural cosmetics
  • Emulsifying wax is not very gentle on the skin

In case you have used emulsifying wax already in your products and you haven’t noticed any problems, and your passion is not to make 100% natural cosmetics, then you may well continue to use emulsifying wax in your products. The emulsifying wax is in no way toxic. Anyway, get emulsifying wax from a reliable supplier as there are huge quality differences in the products. A product bought cheaply from far away may be contaminated.

Two eco-certified emulsifiers

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Three different emulsifiers; top emulsifying wax, left Vegetal and right Olivem 1000

If you want to change the emulsifying wax to more natural emulsifiers, I warmly recommend you the Olivem 1000 emulsifier. Olivem 1000 is sold as light, waxy flakes that are combined with the oily phase of the cream. Olivem 1000 is a herbal emulsifier made from olive oil. Olivem 1000 contains Cetearyl oleate and sorbitan oleate.

 Olivem 1000 is a COSMOS and ECOCER approved, easy to use and stable emulsifier. It does not have a washing property like emulsifying wax. Therefore, it also does not irritate or dry the skin. Olivem 1000 is also suitable for sensitive skin and small children. Olivem 1000 emulsifiers are easy to find in online stores that sell cosmetic ingredients which is a really good thing.

Another similar emulsifier is Vegetal or Montanov 68. Vegetal is sold as white wax pellets or flakes. It is a safe, COSMOS and ECOCERT approved emulsifier. Vegetal contains cetearyl alcohol and cetearyl glucoside. Vegetal gives the creams a wonderful skin feeling and texture. Vegetal applications and principle are similar to Olivem 1000. Vegetal is not a very common emulsifier in Finland. If you want to try Vegetal, you have to order it from abroad.

What is your favourite emulsifier?

15 answers

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  3. I was surprised to see Mountain Rose Herbs sells an emulsifying wax that is sourced from naturally occurring fats and esters, prepared from polysorbate 60 obtained from corn sorbitol and cetostearyl alcohol from palm oil certified under Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) standards. I do agree most emulsifying wax’s are sketchy but this article is probably misleading for so many considering it comes up first on google when looking up if emulsifying wax is bad or not. I didn’t use it for the longest time because I read this article and EWG has it rated pretty high(a 4 I think) since I’m sure they also don’t consider there are natural versions. Thank you for taking the time to write this article but maybe add something about natural versions. Thanks!

    1. Thanks a lot for the comment!
      This article was written many years ago. Maybe I should rewrite it. So many things have changed. New, natural products enter the market all the time.
      Thanks for reading my blog!
      Best regards, Outi

  4. As soon as humans start extracting and converting, the ingredient is no longer natural. All your essential and carrier oils do not exist in nature as the extracted oil and serves a completely different function in natural world.
    Ecocert and cosmos are not governing agencies either.

  5. Hi there, I’ve been searching for a natural alternative to emulsifying wax. The Millard’s wax and the olivem both contain polysorbates, which is something I also try to avoid. It seems it is very hard to find all natural cosmetic ingredients

    1. Hi Justine!
      This is true. Natural emulsifying wax is hard to find.
      I personally use emulsifiers such as Vegetal/ Montanov 68, Montanov 202 or Polyaquol 2W in my O/W emulsions. They are easy to use and stable emulsifiers.
      Regards Outi

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  8. Thank you so much for this educating article, not only did you clarify, you also provided natural alternatives.

  9. You are incorrect in saying that emulsifying wax is synthetic and not natural, Millard makes a very good emulsifying wax that is made from palm oil, 0% additives.

  10. Hello Kim
    Thank you for the comment!
    It’s great that there is also a completely natural emulsifying wax.
    I definitely need to check out the product.
    Products sold with emulsifying wax are usually synthetic.
    Best regards, Outi

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