Vegetable emulsifying wax is widely used in a variety of skin care, hair care and cosmetic products as an emulsifier (keeps oil and water from separating) because it is easy to work with and relatively inexpensive. Sounds harmless enough, right? You may be surprised to find out that it is actually a chemical cocktail and not the natural ingredient the name implies. Stephanie Greenwood of Bubble & Bee Organic did some research on this innocuous sounding ingredient and found that it is actually made up of Cetearyl Alcohol (a blend of cetyl and steareth alcohol), Polysorbate 60, PEG-150 Stearate and Steareth-20. Not sounding quite so natural now.
Let’s break it down:
- Cetearyl Alcohol carries a low risk for skin irritation and tumor formation when used at high doses. Not terribly hazardous, but still a synthetically produced ingredient.
- Polysorbate 60 is a possible reproductive toxin and could cause tumor formation at high doses. Again, not horrible but not natural either.
- PEG-150 Stearate (short for polyethylene glycol) is an ethoxylated compound, which means that it has been processed with ethylene oxide, a known human carcinogen. When processed with ethylene oxide, the product can contain traces of this compound, along with byproducts such as 1,4-dioxane, also a known carcinogen.
- Steareth-20 is also an ethoxylated compound and can contain trace amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. Stearyl alcohol (a naturally-ocurring fatty alcohol) is combined with ethylene oxide. The number at the end is how many units of ethylene oxide reacted with the stearyl alcohol. Steareth-20 has been reacted with 20 units of ethylene oxide. There are steareths ranging from 2 on up, Steareth-20 being the highest.
The Cosmetics Database ranks most of these synthetic compounds fairly low (a lower number signifying a less hazardous ingredient); Cetearyl Alcohol-“0”, Steareth-20-“1”, Polysorbate 60-“1”, and PEG-150 Stearate would probably rank “5-7” (PEG-100 Stearate ranks a “5”). At this point vegetable emulsifying wax carries a rank of “0”. Though the Cosmetics Database is a great place to start in researching ingredients, it is not fool proof and not all ingredients are researched fully.
To avoid ethoxylated compounds look for ingredients with “eth” in them, like Sodium Laureth Sulfate, sodium myreth sulfate, steareth, ceteareth, polyethylene.
Image credit: bering at Flickr.com, Creative Commons license.