Emulsifiers – What You Need To Know!

by | 26 February 2021

What are emulsifiers?

Emulsifiers are molecular structures that are hydrophilic (water-loving) as well as lipophilic (oil-loving) with the ability to bind oil in water (O/W) and/or water in oil (W/O). The molecular structure of the emulsifier, the polar part (water-loving head) has a direct affinity to water and the non-polar part (oil-loving fatty tails) are attracted to the fatty phase of the molecule; forcing one of these liquids into separate drops, suspended and dispersed directly within the other liquid. As these droplets are guarded by the emulsifiers surrounding them (think of emulsifiers like soldiers), the oil and water molecules are kept apart from each other ensuring the two substances do not separate but are kept in a stable mixture; enabling two usually non-mixable solutions to bind together.



Different types of emulsifiers: Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)

This conventional emulsifier is perhaps one of the most commonly used and harmful ingredients found in personal care products such as your skin care, bathroom and kitchen products and is used in testing laboratories as the standard skin irritant to compare the healing properties of other ingredients. Industrial use of SLS includes garage floor cleaners, engine degreasers as well as car wash soaps; and research has shown that SLS may cause potentially carcinogenic nitrates and dioxins to form in the bottles of shampoos and cleansers by reacting with commonly used ingredients found in many products. When used in skin care formulations, SLS dissolve skin lipids and accelerate the movement of water loss from the skin (this is known as the “wash-out” effect) which can promote xerosis (dry skin) and exacerbate and/or trigger barrier disordered skin conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, rosacea and acne.



Now, not all emulsifiers compromise your skin and/or health as it depends entirely on its derivative and if the emulsifiers cause a “wash-out” effect or not. First of all, let’s talk about the formation of the skin’s protective acid mantle that resides on the surface of the skin known as the stratum corneum, as there is in fact a naturally occurring emulsifying action taking place here that needs to be understood.

Skin is covered by a film called the acid mantle and functions as a protective oil and water barrier derived from the natural oil and water secretions of the skin and is home to an ecosystem of bacteria known as the skin’s flora or microbiome. The acid mantle is designed to protect and defend you against the outside environment as well as provide lubricating properties for the skin as it slows down the evaporation of water loss from the body. This, in turn, keeps your skin nice and hydrated as well as protected from environmental stressors/aggressors. The acid mantle contains many different types of oil molecules, but the main oil molecule that also acts as a physiological (naturally occurring) emulsifier that we are going to be focusing on today, are known as ceramides.

What are ceramides?

Ceramides are very important oil molecules found within the outermost layer of the skin known as the stratum corneum and are positioned between the spaces of the corneocytes (between the cells that make up the stratum corneum) in a delicate ratio to form a semi-permeable barrier against the outside environment. The stratum corneum under a microscope is arranged in a bricks and mortar type structure whereby the “bricks” being the corneocytes and the “mortar” comprising of multiple sheets of oil structured molecules such as ceramides, encase and support the corneocytes to provide barrier protection to the skin.

Ceramides are made by specialised cells called keratinocytes that reside within the epidermis located underneath the stratum corneum layer. These highly dynamic cells go through a lifecycle process to create important constituents that make up the oil molecules found within the stratum corneum. Ceramides make up around 40% of the stratum corneum’s oil molecules which play a major role in the skin’s barrier defence systems.

Ceramides contribute to the formation and integrity of the skin’s acid mantle and function as a physiological (skin recognisable) emulsifier to help bind our natural oil and water secretions together to make your acid mantle. Ceramides also support corneocyte desquamation (natural skin cell exfoliation) to prevent keratolytic skin conditions from developing such as congestion, acne, eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis.

Any deficiency of ceramides will result in a compromised skin barrier (stratum corneum) and accelerate water movement from the skin.

As we have just discussed, ceramides belong to the oil-loving phase of the skin and are naturally occurring emulsifiers that work to bind together the skin’s oil and water secretions. If this metabolic emulsifying action that is the end result of the skin’s own metabolism did not take place, the acid mantle would not form correctly, and the viability of the entire epidermis would be compromised; accelerating water loss from the skin and allowing for the invasion of pathogenic microorganisms, allergens and pathogens.

dermaviduals formulates their product line with physiological ingredients such as ceramides and phosphatidylcholine (PC) as they are recognised by the skin and work in-synergy with other ingredients such as Xanthan Gum and Propylene Glycol, as they contain oil and water binding properties to them. This, in turn, prevents our skin care products from separating and will NOT cause a damaging ‘wash-out’ effect of the skin’s own oil secretions! Derma Membrane Structure (DMS) creams are topical moisturisers created by dermaviduals that utilise physiological oils that are found naturally within the stratum corneum that support the skin’s barrier defences. The technology of DMS contains bio-identical (naturally occurring) emulsifying constitutes and WILL keep the skin barrier in its natural and intact condition at ALL times.

The composition of DMS is physiologically compatible with the skin’s oil secretions and below are the ingredients used to mimic skin structure and function:
• Phosphatidylcholine (from soybean lecithin)
• Ceramides (from yeast)
• Triglycerides (from coconut oil)
• Squalene (from olives)
• Sterols (from shea nut)
• Fatty acids (from hydrated PC)

The simple law of physics says that oil sits on top of water, and when this statement is applied to the skin it translates into: epidermic oils such as those shown above slow down the evaporation of water and this results in better hydration levels – this is thinking like a chemist. The physiological ingredients listed above are imperative to support and maintain the stratum corneum and its surrounding defence systems. High levels of water loss from the skin will begin to normalise creating a favourable environment for balanced hydration levels, and the skin will be more resilient to external environmental stressors and aggressors.

By supporting the skin with components that compliment skin barrier defence, inflammation that may be present will subside and barrier disordered skin conditions can be substantially managed with formulations that are designed to work with the skin and not against it. Consult with a Practicing Corneotherapist today to ensure that your bathroom is free of emulsifiers that do cause an undesirable “wash-out” effect of the skin’s oil secretions that result in a tight, dry, itchy, reddened, compromised and dehydrated skin. Find your local Corneotherapist here in our dermaviduals Clinic Finder 💙

Written by Kai Atkinson