Thickening water-based products is one of the most important formulation needs, since rheology agents can significantly impact skin feel, product stability, and even the efficacy of the product. In general, the best water-based thickener to use in a formulation is the most efficient one, since levels greater than .5% in leave-on formulations can result in poor skin feel.
Technically all thickeners function by binding water either by absorption, swelling, or electrostatic repulsion and are classified as either soluble or swellable. I generally recommend using combinations of thickeners that work by different mechanisms in order to achieve thickening efficiency.
Swellable polymers like Carbomers and acrylate copolymers are currently the most commonly used synthetic polymers because they are very efficient and have excellent shear thinning rheology that consumers prefer. They are, however, very sensitive to electrolytes which reduce their viscosity due to a loss of water binding through the loss of charge repulsion.
The most commonly used natural-based thickener is Xanthan gum. Xanthan has excellent salt, low/high pH tolerance, good suspending properties, and provides dependable product stability by maintaining its viscosity profile at elevated temperature.
Below you’ll find my recommendations for the best water-based thickeners.
Recommended synthetic-based polymer, .5% in water, containing no salt
- Ultrez 30 (Carbomer-Lubrizol) is a universal Carbomer for broad application. A .5% dispersion has a viscosity of 45-65K cps.
- Ultrez 21 (Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer-Lubrizol) A .5% dispersion has a viscosity of 45-65K cps.
- TEGO Carbomer 140 G (Evonik) is a granulated easy to disperse non-dusting grade. A .5% dispersion has a viscosity of 40-65K cps.
- Aqupec HV-505ED (Carbomer Crosspolymer-Sumitomo Seika/Presperse) A .5% dispersion has a viscosity of 40-60K cps.
Recommended synthetic-based polymers with salt
- Stabylen 30 (Acrylates/Vinyl Isodecanoate Crosspolymer-3V) Good salt tolerance (1% polymer no salt 50K, 1% Sodium Chloride, 22K cps)
- Aculyn 28 (Acrylates/Vinyl Isodecanoate Crosspolymer-Dow Chemical, 20% solids) is similar to Stabylen 30, but much easier to use.
- Ultrez 30 (Carbomer-Lubrizol) is a universal Carbomer for broad application. A 1% dispersion with 1% sodium chloride has a viscosity of 9500-12000 cps.
- SEPIMAX Zen (Polyacrylate Crosspolymer-6-Seppic) A 2% dispersion with 2% salt has a viscosity of 45K cps, a 1% dispersion ~8K cps with 2% salt
- Ultrez 21 (Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer-Lubrizol) A 2% dispersion has a viscosity of 80K cps with 1% salt.
- AQUPEC SER W-150C (Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer-Sumitomo Seika/PreSperse) has good electrolyte compatibility from 3-5 percent (1% dispersion, 10K cps at a pH of 7 with 5% salt).
- AQUPEC HU C2002 (Bis-Stearyl Peg/PPG-8/6 SMDI/Peg-400 Copolymer-Sumitomo Seika/Presperse) is a nonionic associative thickener that is salt/pH stable and forms clear gels. A 1% dispersion in water has a viscosity of 5-15K cps. It also has an excellent non-tacky skin feel.
Recommended natural-based polymers, 1% in water, no salt
- KELCOGEL CG-HA (High Acyl Gellan gum-CP Kelco) is a .5% gel with a viscosity of 54K cps. It is not salt-stable.
- Alcasealan (Alcaligenes Polysaccharides-Hakuto/Ikeda): the viscosity of dispersions is pH-stable from 3-12 and temperature-stable up to 80° A .5% gel has a viscosity of 50K cps and 10K cps with 3% salt. A 1% gel has a viscosity of ~ 40K with 3% salt. Emulsion stabilization is also claimed using .04% Alcasealan. High cost is a negative.
- Amaze XT (Dehydoxanthan-Akzo Nobel) is a specially-processed Xanthan gum that has significantly higher viscosity than normal grades. It however has reduced electrolyte tolerance: 1% gel has a viscosity of 38K cps with no salt and 10K cps with 3% salt. Amaze XT is a good Xanthan gum replacement.
- Propol A (Mannan-Shimizu Chemical) is a highly-purified galactomannan derived from Konjac flour. A 1% gel has a viscosity of around 50K cps with or without 3% sodium chloride, and is stable at a pH of 3-9, with an excellent skin feel.
- GELCARIN GP 379 (Carrageenan-FMC) is an iota form of carrageenan derived from seaweed that rapidly hydrates at room temperature. A 1% gel in water has a viscosity of 32K cps without salt, and a 2% gel has a viscosity of 27K with 3% salt.
- NOMCORT Z (Xanthan-Nisshin Oillio) is a specially-processed Xanthan gum that increases its apparent molecular weight and viscosity: a 1% gel has a viscosity of 10K cps; with 1% Sodium Chloride the viscosity is 15K. It demonstrates significant synergy with Methyl cellulose, Hydroxypropylmethyl Cellulose, and Hydroxyethyl Cellulose.
- KELTROL Advanced Performance (Xanthan-CP Kelco) is much easier to hydrate in difficult media than regular Xanthan grades, even in the presence of solvent or salt. It’s better for suspending solids in thin dispersions than regular grade Xanthan. A 1% solution has a viscosity of 13K cps. This is an excellent replacement for regular grades of Xanthan gum.
Recommended natural-based thickeners, 1% in water with salt
- Alcasealan (Alcaligenes Polysaccharides-Hakuto/) [see description above]
- Propol A (Mannan-Shimizu Chemical) [see description above]
- GENUVISCO TPC-1 (Carrageenan-CP Kelco) is an iota form of carrageenan designed for cold processing that is stable at a pH of 3.5. The processed viscosity is low until an electrolyte is added. A 1% gel has a viscosity of 18K with 3% salt added.
- NOMCORT Z (Xanthan-Nisshin Oillio) [see description above]
- KELTROL Advanced Performance (Xanthan-CP Kelco) [see description above]
- Exilva (Cellulose-based product-Borregaard)
- a 1% gel in water has a viscosity of 8600 cps
- a 2% gel in water has a viscosity of 21,600 cps
- with 10% Sodium Chloride, the viscosity is 10K cps
- with 50% Ethanol, the viscosity is 13,200 cps
- when combined with other thickeners, there is excellent synergy.
View all water-based thickeners in Prospector
- Natural-Based Thickeners
- Ask the Expert: Good all-natural thickeners
- Personal Care Rheological Agents
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24 Responses to “Contemporary Formulation: Best-in-Class Natural/Synthetic Water-Based Thickeners”
I am interested in the courses offered
I’m not sure what courses you’re referring to. Prospector has an archive of Personal Care webinars that you can view: https://knowledge.ulprospector.com/category/webinars/personal-care-cleaners-webinar/
Hope this helps!
Content Manager, Prospector Knowledge Center
Thanks for the excellent info. on water based thickeners. Any natural thickener for sulfate free shampoo/body wash formulas that you may know, please?
KELTROL Advanced Performance (Xanthan-CP Kelco) [see description above]
What do you recommend to thicken a low pH skin peel product. pH ~2. Only need to raise viscosity to about 1000cps
.2-.5% Keltrol Advanced Performance will do he job.
I am formulating a serum. It contains only water and active ingredients. I want the pH to be in the range 6.2 – 6.6. Please recommend a suitable thickener. Thanks in advance.
You have many options depending if you want natural options and clarity.. Amaize XT and Normcort ZZ are salt tolerant, natural based and can make clear formulations. Another option is Keltrol Advanced Performance but it may not give you a clear formulation.
I am preparing hand wash using sales, glycerin, perfume , colour and case. Do what should i use as water thicker. I have tried common salt but no reult
I AM USING CARBOXY METHYL STARCH + ACRYLATES+ ACRYLAMIDE TO FORM A PASTE. WHICH GIVES VERY GOOD DESIRED RESULTS, BUT MY CUSTOMER COMPLAINS THAT IN RUNNING THE VISCOSITY RAPIDLY INCREASES AND FORMS LUMPS, WHEN I ADDED GLAUBER SALT IT IMPROVED ONLY SLIGHTLY, CAN U RECOMMEND ANY OTHER CHEMICAL WHICH WILL HELP IN REDUCING VISCOSITY ??
Which Carbomer can be used for cold processing?
we are manfucaturing hand santizer shortage carbomer 340 what is alternative gel available in the market
which cross-polymer and co-polymer is compartible with chlorhexidine gluconate and give best viscosity
Only Polyquaternium 37 is compatible with chlorhexidine gluconate.
Thanks for reading,
I want to prepare 2.5% chlorhexidine gluconate & 70% ethyl alcohol ,glycerin/propylene glycol. It should be clear transparent viscous gel hand sanitizer. Pls suggest which polymer& crosspolymer gives the same
Hi, Himadri. I think you’ll find this article helpful: https://knowledge.ulprospector.com/10580/pcc-sanitizer-technology/
Thanks for reading,
I also tried to prepare the exact same formulation as you but with Carbopol 990 which is a crossed-link polymer and the solution turned milky. I want to achieve a clear gel with chlorhexidine gluconate, i’m also wondering which polymer will be able to achieve this.
Carbopol is anionic and not cationic compatible. Use Polyquaternium 37 as a thickener.
Thanks for reading,
I can see carbomer is not included in your explanation but am using this opportunity to ask you if carbomer 940 is safe to formulate lotions and creams.
Carbomers are very safe to use.
Thanks for reading!
Any natural gelling agent / thickner with good transparency?
There are clear grades of Xanthan available (Keltrol CG-T). Some grades of Iota Carrageenan also produce gels that are quite clear.
Thank you for reading!
making shampoo and using hydroxyethyl cellulose and it’s living some precipitates on my jell how can I solve that as I target to make a crystal clear water-based shampoo pH ranging 4.5-5.5
Use a surface treated HEC like Natrosol 250 HHR. Disperse the polymer in water and adjust the PH to 8.5 to trigger the viscosity build. You can lower the PH after the rest of the ingredients are added