Waxes are a diverse class of organic compounds that are broadly used in personal care products to modify skin feel, thicken, waterproof, boost SPF, and improve the wash/rub/wear resistance of formulations.
Wax melting points
Waxes are hydrophobic, solid materials at room temperature and typically have melting points above 40 °C and are insoluble in water but soluble hot in many cosmetic nonpolar to polar emollients. Upon cooling, the waxes form small crystals that can bind oil and provide structure.
High melting point waxes are used as thickening agents and to improve the wear properties of formulations. Low melting point waxes are used mostly as feel modifiers and don’t contribute much to structure. These include:
- Shea butter
- Cocoa butter
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Chemical classes of waxes
The main chemical classes of waxes include hydrocarbons, esters, triglycerides, alcohols, and fatty acids. Many of these classes can additionally be polymeric and function as film formers.
Synthetic and naturally-produced waxes are broadly used with natural-based materials growing rapidly in popularity. Waxes can be further broken down to petroleum and plant-derived materials. Some of the most widely used waxes arepetroleum-derived, such as:
Most natural waxes are saturated triglycerides or esters with alkyl chain lengths of C12-C30. The triglyceride waxes are normally derived by fractionating vegetable oils or by hydrogenating vegetable oil, which converts the unsaturated to saturated alkyl chains. The most popular natural based waxes include:
- Cetyl, Stearyl/Behenyl alcohols
- Stearic acid
- Hydrogenated vegetable oils
Waxes as structuring/thickening agents
By far the most important function of waxes is to thicken anhydrous and oil in water-based lamellar crystalline gel network-based formulations. Waxes also are key ingredients that provide stability and good in use properties to stick/hot poured colored cosmetics like lipsticks, blushers, eyeshadows, and foundations.
The largest commercial application of anhydrous wax based formulations are antiperspirant sticks which normally consist of Cyclomethicone and antiperspirant actives gelled using Stearyl alcohol.
The best anhydrous thickening system is normally the one that is the most efficient and uses blends of crystalline and amorphous waxes to provide the optimum crystal structure and stability. Crystalline waxes provide good strength while amorphous waxes provide good oil binding properties.
Using too much crystalline wax can sometimes result in brittle sticks that crack. Adding small amounts of highly branched waxes can be useful to reduce the particle size of crystals during cooling, which promotes good oil binding while improving flexibility.
The melting point of the formulation should be above 55°C to provide good shelf stability.The waxes need to have good compatibility with the liquid emollients used, or the emollient can bleed out of the structure. This is referred to as “sweating” by formulators.
Formulating sticks with waxes
The challenge in formulating sticks is to have good in use properties and mold release properties while maintaining stability. Making the stick too hard with high melting point waxes can provide good heat stability but often results in poor application or payoff on skin.
Using low levels of high meting point Synthetic wax or Polyethylene can increase the melting point of other waxes without significantly impacting the payoff on skin.
Another important consideration in formulating moldable sticks is to utilize waxes that provide the correct amount of shrinkage on cooling, otherwise mold release is negatively impacted. The most commonly used waxes in molded stick products include:
Combinations I like include Behenyl/Carnauba/Candelilla (all-natural option) and Microcrystalline/Polyethylene.
Waxes used to thicken oil in water emulsions are restricted to low hydrophilic-lipophilic balance (HLB) ingredients that can associate with high HLB emulsifiers to form lamellar crystalline gel networks that can bind water and thicken the emulsion. Most oil in water emulsions currently sold use these structures to thicken and stabilize the formulation combined with hydrophilic polymers like Carbomers, Acrylate copolymers or Xanthan gum. Common waxes used to form lamellar crystalline gel networks include:
- Cetyl/Stearyl/Behenyl alcohols
- Steareth 2
- Stearic acid
- Glyceryl Stearate
- Sorbitan Stearate
Waxes as waterproofing/wear-enhancing agents
Polymeric waxes can be useful as both structuring agents and to provide good waterproof and long wear properties to formulations. Waxes used to improve transfer resistance and wear properties include VP/Eicosene Copolymer, Polyethylene, and Polyamide 3.
Waxes as SPF boosters
SPF-boosting waxes can increase the SPF and wash resistance of emulsion-based formulations. Best in class waxes include:
- Tricontanyl/VP copolymer-260 percent boost using 3%
- Siliconyl Candelilla-200 percent boost using 1%
- C20-40 Alcohols-196 percent boost using 2.5%
Results can significantly vary depending on the amount used, the type of formulation, and the type of sunscreens used. Another thing to watch out for is that high levels of waxes can have a negative impact on skin feel.
- Contemporary Formulation: Oil in Water Emulsifiers
- Solubilizing Oils into Water
- Sunny Days Ahead for Waterproof Enhancing Technologies
- A Touch of Color: Historical and Contemporary Lipstick Formulation
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14 Responses to “Wax On, Wax Off: Understanding Cosmetic Wax Technology”
The information you presented for SPF Boosting was interesting. Siliconyl Candleillate will provide a 200% boost with 1% usage is great.
Can you share your data for these findings?
The data is extrapolated from published in vitro data and is only an approximation. Results will also vary in different sunscreen formulations.
what is ingredients of cosmetic paraffin wax?
The ingredients would depend on the specific material. You can search for technical data on paraffin waxes in Prospector.
Hope this helps!
Content Manager, Prospector Knowledge Center
Can any natural wax that would biodegrade naturally be used for coating paper plates with a high temperature for water resistant?
For food application ingredients need to be GRAS or food approved. It also depends on what your definition of “natural ” is. Many GRAS wax ingredients used in packaging aren’t 100% natural.
According to your article: “Crystalline waxes provide good strength while amorphous waxes provide good oil binding properties.”
I wonder how you classify crystalline and amorphous waxes? Is it similar to hard and soft wax?
And how do you classify hard and soft wax?
No, crystalline and amorphous waxes are different. Crystalline waxes however tend to have higher melting points and form more brittle, harder gels with oils.
Thanks for reading,
Could you advice on what I should mix beeswax with to make it sprayable? I have seen some spray waxes in markets but they contain a lot of ingredients so I’m not sure which ones take part in this and which ones have some other purpose.
You need to melt the beeswax and emulsify it into water with rapid cooling to form an oil in water emulsion. These are fairly complex and I don’t suggest you try unless you have the experience.
Thanks for reading,
THIS IS MID AMERICA CHEMCIAL INC
WHO IS LOOKING FOR WAX : Synthetic Wax 73.5%
Candelilla Wax 3.0%
Carnauba Wax 23.5%
If you have wax as above formula, We would like purchase
Dear John. Please take a look on https://www.ulprospector.com for the products in which you have an interest. There’s a wealth of information available.
Can you please provide examples of crystalline wax and amorphous wax? Are there natural based amorphous wax and how would you consider Sunflower Seed Wax?
Thank you much.
Microcrystalline wax is very amorphous compared with fatty alcohols like Stearyl or Behenyl alcohol. Sunflower wax is a mixture of crystalline and amorphous waxes.
Thanks for reading,