Everyone has heard the saying "oil and water don't mix," but water and oil are foundations and active ingredients in nearly every lotion or cream. There are two basic types of emulsions in all skin care products: oil in a water base or water in an oil base. The two remain separate unless combined with an ingredient that keeps them bonded – an emulsifier. While emulsifiers come in synthetic forms, most people making their own homemade lotions prefer to use natural products. Several effective emulsifiers are made from natural ingredients.
This wax, made by honeybees and the foundation for honeycombs, has been used in skin care products for centuries. It has softening and healing properties of its own, but works well as a thickener and emulsifier. Beeswax works best when used in thinner, lighter oil in water emulsions, though it can make a base for creams when used alongside other emulsifiers. Beeswax is perfect for formulas designed to absorb quickly.
For those who wish to use a wax emulsifier, but want a plant-based or allergy-free alternative, candelilla wax is a solid choice. It comes from the candelilla plant from Mexico, which forms the wax on the outside of its leaves to protect it from water loss and only grows in the wild. While most waxes are best suited for lighter formulations, candelilla wax works well in thicker, heavier, water-in-oil formulations. Lotions made with candelilla wax sit on the skin longer without breaking down, which lends them to formulas for drier or sensitive skin that need more protection.
This fatty phospholipid mixture is a perennial favorite for those making natural skin care due to its versatility and ease of use. Lecithin is found in a wide variety of plants and animals, including soybeans, rapeseed, corn and egg whites. Lecithin typically combines best with the oil in an emulsion, but is highly effective in both water- and oil-based emulsions. Lecithin has natural humectant properties, drawing moisture from the air and depositing it on the skin, as well as the ability to help ingredients penetrate better. This makes it an ideal emulsifier for anti-aging products for drier, more mature skin.
This natural emulsifier and thickener, derived from African acacia tree sap, can be found in many forms, including thick gel, liquid and powder forms. It has its own soothing and anti-inflammatory properties. Acacia is added to the water in oil-in-water emulsions, making it ideal for the lightest lotion formulations and can be added to tonics and fresheners to provide body. Thicker lotion formulations require an additional emulsifier along with acacia.