Why are polymers and plastic used in personal care formulations?
If you have ever baked, you know that eggs or egg whites are used to thicken up a recipe, but eggs also serve another very important purpose, they emulsify and bind dry ingredients, bringing and keeping them together. Like baking, when making a personal skin care product that contains water and oil, you always need a binder and emulsifier or the product will separate, because the water and oil mixture will fall apart. One general rule of thumb being, the more water present in a formulation the larger the amount of synthetic emulsifier needed.
There are various types of natural emulsifiers that we use at CT Organics, such as sunflower lecithin, xanthan gum, plant waxes, compounds derived from coconut and palm oil. We avoid and will not use popular synthetic emulsifiers, like acrylates, carbomer, polyethylene glycols (PEGs) and Dimethicones. These emulsifiers are lab made polymers often made from petroleum-based compounds and because of this the starting materials and production cost less to manufacture and thus they are widely used in large amounts to stabilize lotions, creams, rinse off, sprays and all sorts of makeup.
Formulating with these emulsifiers is much more cost effective and you can use a much higher percentage of water to oil ratio to make an emulsion. Some of these emulsifiers are also made in a way to give the user a ‘fake’ silky feeling when the product is applied to the skin. I call it a fake feeling, because the feeling is transient and gives the user a false sense of product effectiveness. For example, have you noticed when you use a lotion containing synthetic emulsifiers, your skin feels soft right away, but not too long after the dry feeling comes back and sometimes even worsens? This is because the very temporary silky feeling on your hand is the synthetic polymer. Thus, while the synthetic emulsifier gives you a transient silky feeling to your skin, it does not really moisturize your skin.
It took me a couple of years to find the right emulsifiers to use when formulating CT Organics creams, lotions and washes. Even though I knew it would be much easier, I hated the idea of making products concentrated in acrylates and petroleum-based synthetic polymers to make stable cream and wash emulsions. CT Organics products are concentrated in active ingredients and contain a minimum amount of water. This allows us to avoid having to depend on synthetic emulsifiers to stabilize the products. It is true that some of our washes, deodorizing spray and camu camu night serum, require a quick shaking before use, but we strongly believe that shaking is a worthwhile tradeoff since they contain zero plastic or synthetic emulsifiers.
To effectively moisturize your skin, you should use products that are made with unrefined oils, butters and natural emulsifiers. Also review the ingredient list and make sure the emulsifiers are not listed very early in the list. When that happens, it usually means the product is mainly made of water and the synthetic materials, not the natural botanicals and ingredients that truly improve skin health.
Always remember that all of the personal care products you apply to your skin either gets absorbed or perhaps mistakenly ingested or inhaled and if it is not absorbed the materials that compose the product will go down the drain when it is washed off. Compounds like acrylates and polyethylene are not biodegradable, and are associated with adverse effects. Thus they either end up in our environment or the foreign, abnormal compounds have to be processed by our bodies.