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Vegetable Emulsifying Wax – Safe or Not?

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, Creative Commons license.

Written by Liz Thompson

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, and find me on , Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.


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