A few days ago I wrote a post about natural emulsifiers and how they can help you when you’re creating DIY lotions and beauty products. (See that post here.)
When you’re looking up new recipes for homemade soaps and lotions, you may hear talk of emulsifying wax as well though, so I wanted to go into detail about that today and tell you whether or not it’s safe and non-toxic (it’s not).
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may be compensated if you decide to make a purchase. You can read my full disclosure here.
What is Emulsifying Wax?
First, let’s talk about the basics of emulsifying wax. What it is, what it isn’t, and what you can use it for.
DIY beauty products usually have oil and water in their ingredients. But as we all know, oil and water don’t mix.
Emulsifying wax is a type of emulsifier that will help oil and water blend together in your products. It’s pretty popular for DIYers because it’s less expensive and often easier to use than natural emulsifiers.
Sounds pretty good, but unfortunately it’s not the safest option for your skincare. More on why below.
What Is It Made of?
Emulsifying waxes vary greatly, but they’re typically made of a plant or petroleum-based wax that’s treated with a detergent (usually polysorbates).
The detergent is what causes issues and makes emulsifying wax unnatural and potentially toxic. We’ll talk more about that below.
In fact, if a company uses emulsifying wax in their formulations, they cannot use an organic label.
What Does Emulsifying Wax Do?
As I mentioned above, emulsifying wax gets water and oil to blend together in order to create rich and hydrating lightweight beauty products that aren’t greasy. Sounds impossible, right?
Let’s talk about how it works.
How Does It Work?
When a wax is treated with polysorbates or another detergent, it becomes an emulsifier.
Emulsifiers work because one end of the particle is hydrophilic (which means it attracts water), and the other end of the particle is hydrophobic (which means it repels water and attracts oil).
This allows the water and oil to mix together, creating either a water in oil emulsion (w/o) where the water droplets are packed into the oil droplets or an oil in water emulsion (o/w) where the oil droplets are packed into the water droplets.
A water in oil emulsion is typically oily and creates a heavier, creamier texture for the end product (which is great for night creams and sun lotions). An oil in water emulsion, on the other hand is more moisturizing and lightweight.
The first half of the video below does a good job of explaining emulsifiers and how they work.
Is Emulsifying Wax Safe and Non-Toxic?
As I’ve mentioned above, even though emulsifying wax is easy to use and sounds fairly safe with only a few ingredients, it is not non-toxic.
This is because of the detergents within the wax.
Polysorbates are ethoxylated (they’re treated with ethylene oxide) before use. Ethylene oxide, unfortunately, is a known carcinogen, can irritate the respiratory system, can cause skin and eye irritation, and can affect the reproductive system too. It scores a 10 on the EWG’s skin deep database. (The EWG ranks ingredients on toxicity and safety from 1-10, 10 being the highest health concern.)
During ethoxylation, the polysorbates can also become contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, which is a known carcinogen on California’s Proposition 65, is toxic to our respiratory system, and is classified as a skin and eye irritant.
What Can I Use Instead of Emulsifying Wax?
You may come across a number of DIY beauty recipes and tips that mention using beeswax in place of emulsifiers.
Unfortunately, this just doesn’t work. Beeswax is NOT an emulsifier. Beeswax is more oily and actually needs an emulsifier itself in order to blend smoothly with water.
So what can you use instead of emulsifying wax?
Use a more natural emulsifier! Try Vegetal, Xyliance, Ritamulse, or Olivem 900 or Olivem 1000, You can get more information on them in this post.
The Best Emulsifying Wax
If you’re determined to use an emulsifying wax in your products anyway, most people choose Polawax. It’s made from vegetables, so it’s slightly more natural than other types of emulsifying wax.
Milliard’s Emulsifying Wax Pastilles are highly-rated as well, with over 1,000 verified customer reviews on Amazon. However, this wax is made of palm, which isn’t sustainable.
How to Make Emulsifying Wax
Unfortunately, making your own emulsifying wax isn’t really possible.
You can, however, make a natural emulsifier from beeswax.
I DO NOT recommend making an emulsifier from beeswax though.
That’s because it involves the use of borax.
While borax is a naturally-occurring substance, it actually has a number of short- and long-term health effects. In the short-term, it can cause skin and eye irritation (which, of course, isn’t so great for lotions, makeup, and other beauty products that go on your face and body). Long-term, borax can harm the reproductive system and potentially lead to infertility.
Learn more about the dangers of borax.
I hope this article was helpful to you if you’re looking to create some homemade beauty products (or if you’re questioning the ingredients in some of the products that you already have at home).