Cosmetic emulsifier, the suitable is the best
There is no one single emulsifier that will be suitable for every situation.
The reaction depends on your system, your concept, other components of the product, and many other factors. There may be a "favorite or best emulsifier" for some purpose, but it does not mean that you can use a single emulsifier to meet all requirements. In some cases, you may even need to find the answer through "experimentation and terror" before deciding to choose a certain emulsifier in a certain system.
You need to conside some points before choosing an emulsifier:
1. Natural vs. Synthetic
Nature has 50 tones and since there is no uniquely and universally accepted definition of nature in cosmetics, this problem always causes us headaches and sometimes even emotional (not rational) discussions and debates. Keep in mind that even if lecithin is probably one of the most "natural" emulsifiers, it needs to be extracted, separated and processed from vegetable oils and fats until it becomes lecithin as you know it. It is unrealistic to think that the natural emulsifier based on olive oil, such as "cetearyl olivate", comes directly from olive fruit or olive oil without processing or chemical reaction. However, some emulsifiers, even according to my chemist's taste, are synthetic and have no place in natural and organic formulations. The most prominent synthetic emulsifiers are derivatives of polyethylene glycol (PEG) or PPG (polypropylene glycol). This includes the whole sorbate and Twain range and other emulsifiers, such as dilaureth-7 citrate.
2. Certified or not certified, that is the question
Your supplier should be able to tell you if your emulsifier is organically certified (and how it is certified) or not. Not all "natural" emulsifiers are qualified. This is mainly due to the high cost of authentication, which will ultimately affect the payment of consumers. It depends on your market, claims and concepts, whether you are limited to certified emulsifiers or not. If you want to complete your product certification, you need to consider this factor.
According to your target market, you sometimes need to consider the global situation of emulsifiers. For example, vegan, halal or kosher are other criteria that you need to consider for specific markets.
4. Is it Palm-oil free?
If you are worried that your product is free of palm oil, or you insist on using fair and sustainable palm oil, look carefully at the data sheet and ask your supplier about the source of raw materials. Please remember that emulsifiers do not necessarily need to carry "palms" whose name is derived from palm. Many plant-derived ingredients, such as hexadecanol and hexadecyl alcohol (and their derivatives), are derived from palm oil as starting materials for affordability (unless your supplier specifically uses other vegetable oils to derive these ingredients).
HLB stands for “Hydrophilic Lipophilic Balance”. This system was developed for PEG-based ingredients and it really was a great help. For modern, PEG-free emulsifiers and especially in natural & organic cosmetics where you most often emulsify plant oils (i.e. there are no paraffins or silicone oils that need to be emulsified), this old system is not really essential.
Most data sheets do not even mention the HLB for modern emulsifiers. If however the HLB is mentioned, you want to know very roughly if the HLB of a certain emulsifier is around 4 (W/O emulsifier) or around 11 (O/W emulsifier). If there is no mention of the HLB, the data sheet should at least mention the type of the emulsifier: W/O (water-in-oil) or O/W (oil-in-water).
Most emulsifiers work best in a certain range of oil phases, and the amount of oil used in products affects the performance of emulsifiers. Some emulsifiers in the low oil area (3-10%) have the best effect, while some in the middle oil phase (15-25%) have the best effect, while others can emulsify the high oil concentration (which is usually applied to W/O emulsion). According to the concentration of the oil phase (or water phase), you should try to find the most suitable emulsifier for the system. If an emulsifier works in an emulsion containing 5% oil, it may not be the best choice for another emulsion containing 40% oil.
Sometimes, you want to make a thick, rich night cream, sometimes low viscosity spray light emulsion. Although the viscosity of the emulsion can be adjusted by glue and other viscosity regulators, you should check whether the specifications of the emulsifiers are suitable for your desired viscosity range. This will be particularly important in the case of low viscosity emulsions. Not all emulsifiers can play a role in these systems.
An oil phase is not always an oil phase. Making natural cosmetics, you’ll probably work most often with plant oils, waxes and butters but in some cases you may want to use fractionated oils, fatty alcohols or monoesters instead off fats and oils (triglycerides). Make sure that the emulsifier you choose is suitable for emulsifying your desired ingredients.