Vegetable Emulsifying Wax – Safe or Not?

Published on August 24th, 2010 | by

A while back I wrote an article on vegetable emulsifying wax, an ingredient often used in cosmetics as an emulsifier to keep oil and water from separating.  The post received several comments, and I got a few from some of my friends in the green beauty biz as well.

Let me start this post off by saying that, where natural cosmetics are concerned, there are certain ingredients that do not fall easily to one side of the fence or other.  Meaning; some natural cosmetics experts may feel an ingredient is safe, while another would advise steering clear of the same ingredient.  Such seems to be the case with vegetable emulsifying wax.

After talking with several people on the subject, and doing a little more research on my own, it appears that vegetable emulsifying wax ranks low on the list of ingredients to be wary of.  Basically, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest level of concern, most green beauty experts would probably rate it around a 2.

Now, I am aware that I am opening a whole huge can of worms here.  Those who disagree with the emulsifier being a safe cosmetic ingredient will most likely agree with my first post, the rest will probably side with me on this article.  I am here to provide you with the information I have gathered.  Please don’t shoot the messenger.

So, is vegetable emulsifying wax an all natural ingredient?  No.  Is it a super toxic ingredient that should be avoided at all costs, like phthlates or petro-chems?  Probably not.

Terri Bly of Nature of Beauty had this to say when I asked her about vegetable emulsifying wax.  “My opinion is that on the list of evils in the world, this one rates quite low. While I know many emulsifying waxes are not natural, I have seen nothing to imply that they are at all dangerous. Usually, I look to see who is using them, what their values are, etc.”

Terri makes an excellent point, and one that I point out to anyone who asks about the easiest route to finding safe cosmetic products.  Go with a brand you can trust.  Look at their information on ingredient policy and make sure they provide clear and complete ingredient listings.  This is not fool-proof, but definitely a good starting point.

And lastly, is cetearyl alcohol safe or not?  Cetearyl alcohol is actually fatty acids made from vegetable sources, like palm and coconut oils.  Cetearyl alcohol can also be synthetically made.  Obviously, the cetearyl alcohol produced from vegetables would be the safe one.  I apologize to the gals who commented on my first post for the confusion.

When I asked Julie Gabriel, author of The Green Beauty Guide, for her thoughts on alcohol in cosmetics and her stance on vegetable emulsifying wax she filled me in with the emulsifiers she uses in her recipes and products.  You can view a transcript from Julie’s new book, GREEN BEAUTY RECIPES, with a more in-depth look at how emulsifiers are made, how they work, and which ones are safe over at Organic Beauty Source.  And stay tuned, as I will be doing a review of her new book very soon!

The moral of this story:  There are certain cosmetic ingredients that pretty much all green beauty gurus will agree are toxic and should be avoided.  Then there are grey areas where ingredient safety is concerned.  For those of you making your own cosmetics, I advise you do your own research and make choices on what ingredients you are comfortable using.  As far as vegetable emulsifying wax goes, it looks like a relatively safe bet for now.  But that is just my opinion.  And you can bet there are others who feel differently.

Image:  Margaret Anne Clarke at Flickr.com, Creative Commons license.


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About the Author

I am an organic beauty expert, writer, and mom of two young environmentalists who can already spot a toxic product when they see one. Read more about me at Organic Beauty Source.com, and find me on , Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.
  • So: “everybody else does it, mom”, is your basic response? let’s try and do better.

    Emulsifying Wax NF is questioned because it contains at least one, if not more, ethoxylates. Ethoxylated materials are a problem because they all contain 1, 4 dioxane, which are carcinogens. It may only be 3 parts per million (or more – I bet it is not on the information sheet about the product) but it is in there and it is all going down the drain when we use it in wash off products. What we do not know is how much or at what level it is accumulating in our water system. There are many of emulsifiers that are available that are not ethoxylated, although ethoxylates certainly are a favorite of chemists, they work really well and make life easy for the formulator. This means that Emulsifying Wax NF is in the same category at sodium laureth sulfate or many other ethoxylated materials.

    This is not to say that E Wax NF is not okay, it is just to put some facts out so that people can make up their own minds. If we are going to scream and yell about sodium laureth sulfate, that we should be consistent and scream and yell about E Wax NF. Just be consistent.

    What would help everyone is to understand that chemicals are made by very specific and not that mysterious processes. Some of these processes create more environmental risk than others. Ethoxylation is one of the “bad” processes for the environment and therefore, for those of us who live in the environment. Other than that, I have no problem with Emulsyfying Wax.

    best – Gay Timmons

  • So: “everybody else does it, mom”, is your basic response? let’s try and do better.

    Emulsifying Wax NF is questioned because it contains at least one, if not more, ethoxylates. Ethoxylated materials are a problem because they all contain 1, 4 dioxane, which are carcinogens. It may only be 3 parts per million (or more – I bet it is not on the information sheet about the product) but it is in there and it is all going down the drain when we use it in wash off products. What we do not know is how much or at what level it is accumulating in our water system. There are many of emulsifiers that are available that are not ethoxylated, although ethoxylates certainly are a favorite of chemists, they work really well and make life easy for the formulator. This means that Emulsifying Wax NF is in the same category at sodium laureth sulfate or many other ethoxylated materials.

    This is not to say that E Wax NF is not okay, it is just to put some facts out so that people can make up their own minds. If we are going to scream and yell about sodium laureth sulfate, that we should be consistent and scream and yell about E Wax NF. Just be consistent.

    What would help everyone is to understand that chemicals are made by very specific and not that mysterious processes. Some of these processes create more environmental risk than others. Ethoxylation is one of the “bad” processes for the environment and therefore, for those of us who live in the environment. Other than that, I have no problem with Emulsyfying Wax.

    best – Gay Timmons

  • Thanks for adding your comments, Gary. I know well of the cotroversy surrounding ingredients like veg emuls wax, which is why I did a follow up to my first post on the subject. I do agree with on informing consumers and letting them make there own decisions on which ingredients they choose to use, which is what I had hoped to do here. Sorry if I came up short. We could probably go on with the subject for a month’s worth of posts. So, no. “everybody else does it mom” is not by basic response. You have to do what feels right for you and I am putting out the info and opinions I have gathered to this point. Please click on “Organic Beauty Source” link above for more information on Emulsifying Wax NF.

  • Thanks for adding your comments, Gary. I know well of the cotroversy surrounding ingredients like veg emuls wax, which is why I did a follow up to my first post on the subject. I do agree with on informing consumers and letting them make there own decisions on which ingredients they choose to use, which is what I had hoped to do here. Sorry if I came up short. We could probably go on with the subject for a month’s worth of posts. So, no. “everybody else does it mom” is not by basic response. You have to do what feels right for you and I am putting out the info and opinions I have gathered to this point. Please click on “Organic Beauty Source” link above for more information on Emulsifying Wax NF.

  • It’s not so much of an “everyone else is doing it so it must be OK” philosophy, as I see it. When talking to brands like Keys, that use VEW, it’s clear to me that a) they hold safety as a #1 priority, b) know a lot more about ingredients than I do, and c) pay close attention to the sourcing of their ingredients. So when faced with conflicting information, I tend to weight this kind of information quite heavily. There will always be people on each side of most ingredient debates, so I guess we all have to draw our line in the sand. I’ve just seen so many brands damaged by overly dramatic demonization of ingredients that have so little connection to serious human hazard.

    More importantly, I think those of us promoting safer beauty and personal care have to realize and keep in mind that both women and men are going to get frustrated and reject the whole movement altogether if too many ingredients get black-listed. How many times have I already heard, “Well, clearly everything is going to kill me, so why bother trying?” If this is going to be a successful movement, I think we need to create a manageable list (even 50 I think is reasonable) of those ingredients that pose the greatest threat to human and environmental health, and that have enough research to back up those claims of danger (or conduct the research in the first place). We focus on getting rid of those chemicals, and then we can start getting picky about ingredients like vegetable emulsifying wax.

  • It’s not so much of an “everyone else is doing it so it must be OK” philosophy, as I see it. When talking to brands like Keys, that use VEW, it’s clear to me that a) they hold safety as a #1 priority, b) know a lot more about ingredients than I do, and c) pay close attention to the sourcing of their ingredients. So when faced with conflicting information, I tend to weight this kind of information quite heavily. There will always be people on each side of most ingredient debates, so I guess we all have to draw our line in the sand. I’ve just seen so many brands damaged by overly dramatic demonization of ingredients that have so little connection to serious human hazard.

    More importantly, I think those of us promoting safer beauty and personal care have to realize and keep in mind that both women and men are going to get frustrated and reject the whole movement altogether if too many ingredients get black-listed. How many times have I already heard, “Well, clearly everything is going to kill me, so why bother trying?” If this is going to be a successful movement, I think we need to create a manageable list (even 50 I think is reasonable) of those ingredients that pose the greatest threat to human and environmental health, and that have enough research to back up those claims of danger (or conduct the research in the first place). We focus on getting rid of those chemicals, and then we can start getting picky about ingredients like vegetable emulsifying wax.