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Emulsions can do everything: The indispensable galenic components in cosmetics



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Emulsions are stable mixtures of two liquids that normally don’t mix, and are found in nearly all of our cosmetic products. This includes creams, massage gels, care lotions, conditioners, and much more. They not only moisturize and protect your skin, but also allow the targeted application of many different active ingredients. As indispensable galenic components of cosmetics, emulsions can simply do everything!


A mixture of water and oil

An emulsion in cosmetics is characterized by the presence of two different phases:

  • A hydrophilic aqueous phase: essentially consisting of water or hydrolate for hydrating the skin
  • A lipophilic oil phase: comprising oils, waxes, butters, etc. for comfort, richness and protection 

Like oil and vinegar in a homemade salad dressing, these two phases will not become a homogenized mixture on their own. You need to add a third component: the emulsifier. The emulsifier makes it easier for one phase to become suspended as droplets, which makes it harder for the phases to separate.

Being amphiphilic molecules, emulsifiers have an affinity for both the aqueous and the oil phase. This double affinity allows the two phases, water and oil, to bind together and create a stable mixture, which we call an emulsion. 


A journey of the senses

In cosmetics, a distinction is made between two types of emulsion, depending on how the emulsion is formed: 

  • O/W emulsions: oil-in-water emulsions are ones in which droplets of oil exist in the continuous aqueous phase. O/W emulsions are accordingly light and moisturizing.
  • W/O emulsions: water-in-oil emulsions are ones in which droplets of water exist in the continuous oil phase. The textures of W/O emulsions are rich and protective.

By choosing different fats, emulsifiers, and ratios of water and oil, it is possible to produce a very wide range of different textures with varied levels of viscosity and richness. Below is an overview of some emulsions with unexpected textures.


Water drop effect: a light and surprising texture!

Emulsions with the water drop effect are W/O emulsions that have a high water content. 
Water droplets of 100–150 µm in size are dispersed in the oil phase. Despite these relatively large water droplets, a very stable emulsion system is formed that develops a very special texture. The emulsion has a rich consistency at first, which quickly gives way to a pleasantly light texture that optimally hydrates the skin. Immediately after it is applied to the skin, fine droplets of water break out of the texture, suddenly revealing the water drop effect to the user and ensuring a pleasantly fresh, cooling and therefore unforgettable feel to the skin. This makes the technology ideal for “Moisturizing Effect” claims.

Emulsions with the water drop effect are suitable for many applications: 

  • Visual effects with water droplets coloured by dyes or pigments, such as white droplets for a milky effect or green droplets for freshness 
  • Melting textures with integrated waxes  
  • Airy textures that are like whipped cream 


Ultra-fluid nanoemulsions: high oil content in a fresh, low-viscosity product!

As quite the opposite to emulsions with the water drop effect, ultra-fluid nanoemulsions contain oil droplets that are smaller than those in conventional emulsions. Their nanoscale makes it possible to produce especially stable, ultra-fluid O/W emulsions, for example, and allows the oil droplets to penetrate better into the epidermal layers.

The technology of ultra-fluid nanoemulsions opens the path to “oil water-like” textures: hybrid galenic components that make an oil seem like water. The result: a texture that unites the richness of oil with the freshness of water! 
The potential applications for ultra-fluid nanoemulsions are highly diverse: a face mist that cares for and moisturizes the face, for example, or shower oils and hair care products with moisturizing “oily” emulsions that lend the hair a light structure and make it combable without weighing it down.

Transforming textures: playful and surprising!

Applications with transforming textures no longer have a classical emulsion structure (water in oil or oil in water), and are increasingly finding their way onto shelves: 

  • Oils that transform into milk
  • Creams that become a gel-like mask
  • Gels that transform into foaming mousse


Hydra Melting Cleanser Omorovicza 

Triple-phase make-up remover: gel to oil to milk!

This cleansing gel transforms upon contact with the skin into an oil that melts the make-up while comforting and moisturizing the skin. Upon contact with water, it emulsifies and transforms into a milk that rinses away with ease.



The sustainability trend is here to stay

The trend has been going towards naturalness for several years now, and is underscored by the ISO 16128 standard and the COSMOS reference system. This commitment to sustainability applies equally to the choice of emulsifiers: demand is strong for green emulsifiers without PEG or silicones.

The challenge faced by brands nowadays is in finding the perfect balance between functionality, feel, and sustainability.


Marie Pancher

Product & Sales Manager

Since early childhood, I was rummaging in my mother’s bathroom for the perfect cosmetic product, I was watching her during the daily routine and I was trying to understand why she was using one product over another. Growing up, I have decided to combine my love for cosmetics, symbol of wellbeing and elegance, with my daily work.

A biological engineer by training, a marketer by trade, I like surfing between these two skills to explore consumer needs, understanding new usages and tracking and recognizing trends. After learning the ropes at several cosmetics brands, I am working today as a product manager at IMPAG France. My working life allows me to be a driver for innovation.

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