What are Emulsifiers and Solubilizers?

Written by: | October 16, 2017 | one response

Many industries have certain terms they use to help make communication easier. This jargon is great if you already understand the meaning, but it can be confusing if you’re just getting started. Emulsifiers and solubilizers are important ingredients in making hair and skincare products, so it’s beneficial to know what those terms mean and how to identify those ingredients when reading the ingredient deck on your favorite products!


Simply put, an emulsion is the suspension of one liquid in another liquid. There are more technical definitions to be sure but to explain what an emulsifier does, let’s stick with this simple definition. Lotions, cremes, and conditioners are all examples of emulsions. In these examples, tiny, tiny droplets of oil are suspended in water.  If you were to take a bottle and fill it 1/2 full of water and then fill the rest with oil, you would quickly notice the two don’t mix. However, if you shake the bottle like crazy, suddenly you see a cloudy mixture form for just a couple of seconds before the oil and water quickly sort themselves and separate again. In order to keep the oil suspended in the water, you need an emulsifier. Common emulsifiers include Emulsifying Wax, Cetearyl Glucoside and Cetearyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate SE, and Cetyl Alcohol NF to name a few. There is quite a bit of science behind creating a stable emulsion, but sticking to the basics, in order to bind oil and water together to make any lotion, creme, or conditioner you need an emulsifier.


When something is soluble it means it is able to be dissolved in water. For example, sugar is soluble in water. When you add sugar to water and stir, it quickly dissolves and you end up with a sweet glass of water. Solubilizers as they relate to making cosmetics, help to make otherwise insoluble liquids soluble in water. For example, if you wanted to make a body spray with essential oils, you could simply add essential oils to your spray, but you would have to vigorously shake your spray before use. Just like the example above, oil and water still don’t mix, so you need a solubilizer to help keep the essential oils and water together. This is not the same process as an emulsion because we want the oil to be soluble in water. Enter solubilizers! In this example, you would mix your essential oils with a solubilizer before adding to your spray. This would prevent you having to shake before each use. Examples of solubilizers include Polysorbates, Safflower Oleosomes, and Propanediol. Not to be too confusing, but often an emulsifier can also be a solubilizer depending on how it’s used in each formula.

Now that you know what emulsifiers and solubilizers do and some common examples, you can better understand the ingredients in your hair and skincare products. Let us know if you have questions about emulsifiers and solubilizers, or if you’d like us to define other terms you’ve seen used.


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