Cosmetic Emulsifiers That Work With Cannabis – DIY Skincare

Create stable DIY cannabis-infused skincare using Montanov 68, BTMS 25, Sucragel AOF, or Olivem 1000 #CannabisSkincare #DIYCosmetics

I’m a professional cosmetic formulator who’s obsessed with the benefits of combining cannabis and cosmetics. However, creating stable and effective cannabis-infused cosmetic products can be challenging, especially when it comes to emulsification. Emulsifiers combine oil and water-based ingredients in cosmetic formulations and keep those ingredients together. In this article, I will explore some of the types that work well with cannabis and how they can benefit both the cosmetic industry and consumers.

One of the most popular types of emulsifiers used in cannabis-infused edibles is lecithin. Lecithin is a natural emulsifier derived from soybeans, eggs, or sunflower seeds. It is known for its ability to combine fat and water, making it an ideal choice for weed edibles. However, it is not very strong or robust to have extra ingredients in, and using it with any types of herbs can be challenging.

Another type of emulsifier that works well with herbs is Glyceryl Stearate. This is derived from vegetable sources and is known for its ability to create oil-in-water emulsions. Glyceryl Stearate also has emollient properties, which can help to soften and smooth the skin. However, it often needs one or more co-emulsifiers to keep herbal cosmetics stable, so I have not included it here.

Fundamentals of Emulsification

Defining Emulsions and Emulsifiers

As someone interested in cannabinoid products, you may have heard the term “emulsion” before. It is simply a mixture of two or more immiscible substances, such as oil and water. In order to create a stable product, an emulsifier is used to bind oil and water together and keep them from separating.

An easy way to think about it is mayonnaise. The olive oil is the fat content, the vinegar is the water content and the egg yolk acts as the emulsifier. In fact, the egg yolk contains lecithin as mentioned above. You’ll be aware if you have made your own mayonnaise, that there is a ratio between these 3 ingredients that needs to be followed to stop the mayonnaise from separating or splitting.

The same applies to making cosmetics. There will be a fat phase which includes oils, butters, waxes, and usually, the emulsifier. Then there is a water phase which contains water-soluble ingredients like glycerin, hydrosols and water.

After these have been emulsified, there is a cool down phase where you can add extra ingredients. These are always damaged by heat, so are added after the emulsion has been formed. This includes terpenes, essential oils, preservatives and other actives. This stage can also cause the cream or lotion to become unstable, which is why I always want to start off when I create a new formulation with a robust emulsifier that can handle all of this.

The Role of Emulsifiers in Cannabis Products

They play a crucial role in creating stable products that contain both oil and water-based ingredients. Without an emulsifier, the oil and water would separate, leading to an inconsistent product and an unpleasant user experience.

When it comes to cannabis products, choosing the right emulsification product is particularly important for products that contain cannabinoids, such as CBD and THC. Cannabinoids are lipophilic, meaning they are more soluble in oil than in water. By using a robust O/W emulsifier, cannabinoids can be evenly distributed throughout a cream or lotion, resulting in a more effective and consistent product.

Types of Cosmetic Emulsifiers

As a skin care formulator, I have come across various types of emulsifiers that can work with cannabis. In this section, I will discuss the two main types of cosmetic emulsifiers and some common emulsifiers that can be used with cannabis and CBD products.

Emulsifiers can be classified into two main types: hydrophilic (water-loving) and lipophilic (oil-loving). Hydrophilic emulsifiers are used to create oil-in-water (O/W) emulsions, where oil droplets are dispersed within a water-based solution. Lipophilic emulsifiers are used to create water-in-oil W/O) emulsions, where water droplets are dispersed within an oil-based solution.

Oil-in-Water (O/W) Emulsions

In O/W emulsions, oil droplets are dispersed in water. This type of emulsifier is the most commonly used one in cosmetic formulations because it provides a light and non-greasy texture. They are ideal for products such as lotions, serums, and toners.

Water-in-Oil (W/O) Emulsions

In W/O emulsions, water droplets are dispersed in oil. This type of emulsifier is commonly used in products that require a more substantial and moisturising texture, such as cleansing creams or night creams, as they feel richer and heavier. W/O emulsifiers provide a protective layer on the skin, making them ideal for products that require a long-lasting moisturising effect.

Natural vs Synthetic Emulsifiers

This is a complete minefield to understand. Natural emulsifiers such as Lecithin are not so stable with many ingredients or high fat loads. All emulsification products and fatty alcohols are made in a laboratory, but many of them are plant based or vegan, so they fit into the natural cosmetic category.

When a manufacturer develops a new emulsification system, they obviously want to keep the exact formulation and technique to themselves. A third party assessor such as COSMOS will be let into the secrets and then approve the product or not. As such, if you see a product that is COSMOS Approved, you can rest assured that it’s a good one that you would ethically approve of as well.

A common mistake I see frequently is people thinking that because wax is a natural product, they try and make a cream out of oil and water using beeswax. Beeswax is naturally occurring, but it is not an emulsifier. If oils, water and wax are heated and whisked together, over a short period of time, the water droplets will seep out of the wax – it looks like the product is sweating. This disables the correct use of the preservative which could easily lead to skin irritation and even burns with essential oils not being thoroughly dispersed.

Emulsification Challenges with Cannabis

I was a cosmetic formulator for many years and I worked a lot with a wide range of herbs. They can all bring some problems along with their benefits, which is usually the need to alter the ratio of the broad spectrum preservative system. The herbs may be oil soluble, water-soluble or a combination of both. They might make the product smell unpleasant and look a nasty colour, but most commonly they can break an emulsion, making it unstable, or splitting. It is just the same when working with cannabis, and this is whether it is cannabis sativa, indica or ruderalis. It is the nature of cannabinoids and their interactions with other cosmetic ingredients.

Stability Concerns

One of the primary challenges with cannabis emulsions is maintaining stability. Cannabis extracts can be sensitive to changes in temperature, pH, and other environmental factors. This can lead to separation of the emulsion, which can affect the efficacy and appearance of the final product.

To maintain the stability of the cream or lotion I have found that using gelling agents such as Xanthan and Konjac Glucomannan can help to minimise the possibility of the emulsion splitting. The first starting point though is careful selection of the emulsification system you are going to use.

Cosmetic Emulsifiers That Work With Cannabis
Cosmetic Emulsifiers That Work With Cannabis

Emulsifier Selection for Cannabis-Infused Products

Selecting the right emulsifier is crucial when developing cannabis-infused products. It plays a significant role in ensuring that the cannabinoids are evenly distributed in the product, providing consistent effects to the user. 

Some emulsification systems are simply not available to the DIY cosmetic maker as their MOQ (minimum order quantity) can be 25kg. or higher. Some, like Polysorbate 80 require a lot of other ingredients to work effectively. Here are my favourite ones that I use time and again because, they are stable, they work, they feel great on the skin, they are very affordable and easily accessible. They are also the ones I use in my books.

Montanov 68™ emulsifier makes very stable, white creams
Montanov 68™ emulsifier makes very stable, white creams

Montanov 68™

This has been around for some years now, which means it is very well-tried and tested. It’s completely plant based, being made from cassava and coconut. Plant-based emulsification systems are often referred to generically as vegetal emulsifiers. This is important for people, like myself, who choose to work with plant cosmetics. It is also a vegan product.

The INCI is Cetearyl Alcohol (and) Cetearyl GlucosideINCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) is an internationally agreed list of the ingredients in a product. It was designed so that you could tell if there was a specific ingredient that you were allergic to in the product you were about to use. You would know this by reading the label on the product. 

Montanov™ 68 is really easy to use with a domestic immersion blender / stick blender. It needs that high shear to bring it all together. Stirring slowly as it cools down, a lamellar crystal structure is formed within the cream, which essentially means that micro droplets of oil are layered between water molecules over and over again. 

The resulting cream sinks into your skin very quickly with no greasiness and that lamellar crystal structure starts to penetrate into the dermis over a matter of hours. This has the benefit that any active ingredients that you have added (including cannabis) get a slow and continuous release into your body. Perfect for microdosing.

It makes very stable, white creams that can hold a lot of oil (including CBD oil), yet still feels light and elegant when applied to your skin. When used in a lower ratio, it is a great emulsifier for lotions as well. It gives excellent moisturization in skincare products and the slow release of the actives is perfect for use in anti-ageing products, keeping your skin well hydrated for many hours after you have applied the homemade skin creams.

Emulsifying Wax BTMS 25

This is often referred to generically as Emulsifying Wax which makes things very confusing as there are loads of emulsifiers all called the same thing – and they are not the same thing. It’s not simple to interchange them in formulations. The INCI for this one is Behentrimonium Methosulfate (and) Cetearyl Alcohol. You will find others with similar names like BTMS 50, but it is not the same, and it behaves differently in formulations.

BTMS 25 is very easy to use and great for beginners, but is still loved by experienced professionals. I like it because it is not animal based and the creams it makes are very stable and not prone to separation.

It has a good capacity to hold a lot of oils (like cannabis-infused oils) and still feel nice on the skin. That is why it is often used in lip balms and products for chapped lips. It is also cationic, which means it also makes an amazing hair conditioner as well. You might not have thought of using a cannabis hair conditioner, but if you have eczema or psoriasis on your scalp, the cannabinoids are very soothing. Also, cannabis is a great antioxidant, and a good antioxidant will protect colour-treated hair from fading so quickly.

Sucragel AOF

This is an incredible emulsifier that is also available in an organic form. Might not sound too impressive to most people, but for us cosmetology nerds, that is just WOW! On top of that, it is also vegan.

It was developed several years ago using sugar esters. Sugar esters are difficult for manufacturers to work with as they need to be heated to a very specific temperature to get them to a functional stage. If, during the manufacturing process, they go a couple of degrees too high, they suddenly have a huge vat of toffee! The INCI for this one is Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil & Glycerin & Aqua & Sucrose Laurate.

Because this already contains a lot of glycerin (plant-sourced, of course), it is already highly moisturising for your skin. It comes as a pale yellow, translucent liquid that starts to soak up oil added to it like a sponge. I use it to make the Sore Joints Jelly in my book, and it soaks up so much weed-infused oil that it ends up having a thick texture like Vaseline.

You can apply it to your skin in that form, but you can also add a little bit of water, and it will spontaneously transform into a lotion. Even damp hands are enough to do this. It’s amazing to see this happen and the only emulsifier I know that can do this. This makes it very effective with atopic dermatitis and acne.

Annoyingly, the manufacturers have started changing its name in different countries and even demanding that resellers use different names for it. There is a link below to find it, but don’t be surprised if the name has changed – the INCI will remain the same, though.

Olivem® 1000 is a naturally derived emulsifier made from Olive Oil
Olivem® 1000 is a naturally derived emulsifier made from Olive Oil

Olivem® 1000

This is a highly efficient, naturally derived emulsifier made from Olive Oil, and is a formulators dream. It is made of completely vegetable origin, is biodegradable and is certified by Ecocert. It is PEG-free and non-ethoxylated. The INCI is Cetearyl Olivate, Sorbitan Olivate which are fatty acids derived from natural olive chemistry. One again, the manufacturer has insisted that resellers use a different name for it, so it is also known by the name Emulsifying Wax Olive Derived. However it is labelled, the INCI is the same, and it is a vegan product.

It  is non-ionic and forms an Oil in Water (O/W) emulsion with a lamellar crystal structure. This means that every droplet of oil is surrounded by layers of water. It sinks into the skin readily but because of the liquid crystal structure, it keeps the layers of the dermis very well hydrated and soft, and counts as a good moisturiser in its own right. Also, any other ingredients like herbs, cannabis, or other actives, are delivered into the skin in a slow and steady stream over several hours. This is excellent for the skin and allows the best use of those ingredients.

The combination of fatty acids used are chemically very similar to those found in your own skin, so they are naturally very compatible with each other, which greatly reduces any chance of irritation on sensitive skin. It gives excellent moisturisation to the skin and good spreadability on the skin. It is hypoallergenic and is safe enough to use to make baby creams and lotions (without the cannabis!).

On a practical level, it makes very stable lotions and creams that leave a very elegant, cushioned skin feel.  It is designed to be used to make very fluid emulsions like lotions and serums, but can also be combined with other ingredients like cosmetic Xanthan Gum or Konjac Gljucomannan to make thicker creams.

As it is an auto emulsifying system, it can be combined with water or hydrolats with no other oils or butters to make an oil-free product. It remains stable with a wide pH range.

  • Melting Point is 65°C – 75°C
  • The pH is 5 – 7
  • Sap value 90 – 120
  • It is soluble in vegetable oil and ethanol and dispersible in

As this is my absolute favourite emulsifier, here are full instructions on how to use it.

How to use Olivem® 1000

  • Use at 2% to 3% to make milks and fluid lotions.
  • Use at 3% to 5% as the sole emulsifier to make creams.
  • Use at 0.5% to 2% as a co-emulsifier along with another emulsifier. For me, there is no advantage to this.
  • As an example, 4% to 5% will emulsify 5% to 25% fats but, of course, this does depend on the nature of the fats. At this level, it is advisable to add a small amount (0.2%) of gelling agent like Xanthan Gum to ensure stability.
  • Use at 6% to 8% it is self-emulsifying with no stabilisers or thickeners needed.
  • Use between 5% to 10% with no extra fats at all to create a range of oil-free products.
  • Using 5% to give you a gel-crème type consistency with a very light texture. Adding anti-ageing actives will give a very elegant serum texture.
  • Using 10% will give you a richer cream texture. Adding a surfactant to any of the percentages will give you a cleansing product.
  • Adding a cationic hair active will make a hair care conditioner or hair pack.

Method

  • The fat and water stages should both be at 70°C / 160°F or above in separate containers in a water bath / bain-marie. When they are at the required temperature, pour the fat stage into the water stage. Stir together with a silicon spatula first. Then use an immersion blender / stick blender to give high sheer mixing for a few seconds.
  • If you then mix slowly with a spatula, you get less viscosity in the final product, but it forms a lamellar structure.
  • If you mix much faster by continuing to use immersion blender /  stick blender, you will get a thicker texture with a smaller particle size which is better for sensitive and problem skins, but with a less organised structure and the product will not have the lamellar liquid crystal structure, because the second immersion blender mixing will have broken it up.
  • Do not accelerate the cooling stage – once it is thick enough, let it cool down naturally, giving it a stir with a spatula every few minutes. When it is below 40°C, you can add any heat-sensitive ingredients.
  • Do not accelerate the cooling stage – once it is thick enough, let it cool down naturally, giving it a stir with a spatula every few minutes. When it is below 40°C, you can add any heat-sensitive ingredients.
  • The final consistency will be achieved 24 hours later and will be approximately 20% thicker than when it was first made. This makes it much easier to pour it into jars or serum pumps before it thickens up.
  • If you feel the cream will need extra stability, you can add 0.3% Xanthan Gum to the water stage and this will not alter the finished texture or thickness.
  • Another way to increase stability and increase viscosity is to add 1% Hydroxyethylcellulose (HEC).
  • You can also use Cetearyl Alcohol to increase thickness and stability as well as give a wonderful silkiness to the product. Do remember though, that this must be added as part of your fat content for the percentages used.
  • You can use a cold water bath to help speed up the cooling down process if you don’t want to keep the lamellar structure. If you have used high shear mixing to start with and continue this during the cool down stage, the product will delaminate. It will still be a very nice product, but it will not have the benefit of the lamellar crystal structure.
  • If you continuously stir it with a silicone spatula, you will keep the liquid crystal structure.
  • It can become unstable when some water-soluble additives are included, so if the ingredient you want is available as an oil-soluble one, it is better. For example, use a macerated calendula oil rather than a water-soluble calendula extract. If this is not possible, add the active at cool down stage.
  • The stability can also be improved by adding 0.2% Xanthan Gumor 1% to 4%  Cetearyl Alcohol, but remember that this also counts towards your fat phase total.
  • It can also be used in cleansing oils where it will thicken them as well as balms. When these products come into contact with water (like when being rinsed off), they will rinse away easily.
DIY Cannabis Skincare for Sensitive Skin
DIY Cannabis Skincare for Sensitive Skin

What products to use it for?

  • It is an excellent choice for making skincare products to help sensitive and acne-prone skin, atopic dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis.
  • Mature skin will benefit hugely from using this as it can hold a good level of therapeutic actives. It would be best as a lamellar structure for this as it carries the active ingredients deeper into the skin’s dermis.
  • It helps restore skin that has lost its suppleness and tonality.
  • Ideal to use in makeup remover and cleanser formulations.
  • It can be used to make oil free formulations and will hold a large water content with water soluble actives. Excellent to use with hydrolats and hydrosols.
  • It can be used to make oil free formulations and will hold a large water content with water soluble actives. Excellent to use with hydrolats and hydrosols.
  • Can be used to make milks, lotions, day creams, rich night creams, serums, oil free formulations, cleansers, peels, eye care products, hair packs, hair conditioners and so much more.

Conclusion

The cosmetic industry has seen a significant increase in demand for hemp and cannabis-based products. As consumers become more interested in natural and plant-based ingredients, emulsifiers play a crucial role in the binding of oil and water together in recipes for lotions and creams. With the correct procedures, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions of the compounds in cannabis can be combined to create incredible and effective skin care products.

There are several types of emulsifiers that work well with cannabis, including non-ionic, anionic, and cationic emulsifiers. Each type has its own unique properties and benefits, making it important to choose the right emulsifier for the specific product and application.

I do hope that you appreciate that while there are many emulsifiers that will work, I have selected the ones for you that are easy to buy and use and, most importantly, feel sensational on your skin. You’ll want to use them time and again. Remember, that they also make great skin care products, even if you are not using cannabis.

glass laboratory flask with cannabis leaves

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