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Vegetable Emulsifying Wax NF

Today's Chemical:
Vegetable Emulsifying Wax NF

EWG Risk Score:
But read on to find out why it's really a "7" in my opinion!

Why it's a risk:
The problem with Emulsifying Wax is that it's not just one chemical, but a cocktail of many. And these chemicals aren't required to be disclosed to the crafter or the end consumer. But I was able to track down the actual ingredients its made up of. It is typically a blend of:

  • Cetearyl Alcohol
  • Polysorbate 60
  • PEG-150 Stearate
  • Steareth-20

Let's look at these chemicals one by one.

Cetearyl Alcohol scores a 0 risk on EWG however...if you look closely at the ingredient you'll notice that cetearyl alcohol is basically a blend of cetyl and steareth alcohol, both of which score 1 risk scores in the database for skin irritation and tumor formation at high doeses. That said, I'm not terribly concerned with cetearyl alcohol, however it's not a truly natural or organic ingredient. Years ago when I was doing my first stages of reaserch, I worked with it a little bit. It stinks to high heaven when heated (and you have to heat it to use it in a lotion.) It gave me an asthma attack and I had to stop working with it.

At high doses, polysorbate 60 can cause reproductive disorders and tumor formation. It scores a 1 risk score on EWG, and it's not a huge conern at small doses. However, it's not a truly natural or organic ingredient either.

Now is when it gets messy.

In my last post I talked about steareth-20 and how it can be laced with 1,4-dioxane. Read all about it here.

PEG-150 Stearate also poses the same carcinogenic contamination concerns (as it's a polyethylene glycol) and finally EWG recognizes it. PEG-150 Stearate scores a 4-7 risk score in EWG, citing cancer risk, contamination concerns (ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane), endocrine disruption, developmental/reproductive toxicity, and skin irritation.


Steph's Opinion:

A lot of the above products score "0" risk scores in EWG, so it's probably a shock to find out that they could be laced with trace amounts of carcinogens from the PEG components of the emulsifying wax. Many home crafters and small companies like these use emulsifying wax because of its ease of use, affordability, and wide availability. It's a pretty failsafe way to create a lotion that combines water and oil. But, because chemical manufacturers don't disclose the actual ingredients, the companies are usually in the dark about the ingredient. Small crafters probably go to the cosmetics database, look it up, see the 0 risk and trust the database. However, you have to dig deeper to really get a true picture of the natural-sounding vegetable emulsifying wax. If the companies using emulsifying wax were to disclose the actual ingredients of the wax on their labels, their risk scores would no longer be "0" but much higher. Disappointing, I know.



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Reader Comments (53)

So what would be an acceptable substitute for emulsifying wax in a product if we want to actually buy a lotion rather than a lotion stick? Are there companies that use anything deemed safe to make oil/water combine? I love lotion sticks, but they don't seem so practical when I'm trying to apply them to my entire body at once!

Thu, June 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermaxwill129

There are some safer alternatives---Dr. Bronner's lotion uses vegetable gums to emulsify the lotion. The only problem with a water-based lotion is that they have to use a preservative in it. Bronner's uses a certified organic ethanol (alcohol), however, I've heard from a number of customers that it can be drying to the skin. (In order to use ethanol as an effective preservative you have to use it at at least a 15% concentration). So, I recommend looking for a water-free lotion or cream like these products:

Trillium Organics Organic Body Butter
Bubble & Bee Organic Body Butta
Nature's Paradise Hand Cream
Terressentials Hand Cream
Oracle Organics

Thu, June 18, 2009 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Thank you! I will definately check out Bubble and Bee's Organic Body Butta!

Sun, August 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermaxwill129

I think you are confusing emulsifying wax nf with emulsifying wax. "Emulsifying wax NF" is just Cetearyl Alcohol blended with Polysorbate 60. The emulsifying wax that fnwl sells is not nf, it is "nf quality." There are many different combinations of ingredients that can be referred to as emulsifying wax, but there is only one ewax nf. The formula is a standard, and does not vary. So please don't confuse consumers any more than they already are. Emuslfiying wax NF is just a blend of two ingredients - cetearyl alcohol and polysorbate 60. Emusifying wax without the NF can be any waxy blend that emulsifies.

Fri, September 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBetty

I'm just beginning to look into making natural skin creams for my daughter with chronic eczema, asthma and allergies. Can you suggest a safe natural emulsifying agent? thanks

Tue, October 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commenternicola

Beeswax and borax is a good combination. Lecithin and xanthan gum are also a good choice. But remember, if you're making an emulsion, you're going to need a preservative of some type if you don't plan on refrigerating the product.

Thu, October 22, 2009 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

While I agree that we should be suspicious or annoyed of any product, like emulsifying wax NF, that does not disclose all ingredients and we have to go digging, I would like to point out that many people who use emulsifying wax NF in their homemade lotions usually are using 95% natural ingredients along with it. Such a small amount of polysorbate 60 and all sorts of good stuff. That white wax really works good and is very easy. My daughter's eczema is cured by making my own lotion for her. My skin has never felt better. Compared to what you get in the store... it's like day and night. Even bees wax does not work this good, but I do use it sometimes. It's not as smooth of a blend as with emulsifying wax NF. Beeswax doesn't always match the smell I am looking for either. Lecithin and Xantham... very difficult for the average lotion maker. Xanthams are now all at least contaminated with GMOs. Borax? Come on... Borax is HIGHLY toxic. Most commercial borax is synthetically made. Even organic borax is highly toxic, should not be handled often, should not be inhaled, should not ever be put on skin... it is especially toxic to little babies and young children.

I have learned that just because something is natural, does not mean it is good for you, though it usually is. Just because something may be man made, doesn't make it always bad, though it could be. Moderation. Using mostly organic, the rest natural and one or two minor chemicals at minuscule amounts is still extremely good for you... you have to admit. Go 100% natural if you want, but don't dog on people for going 98% natural. It's still an A+! :) PS. Love your website. Source:

Sat, December 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTara

Does Polawax fall under the category of Vegetable Emulsifying Wax NF?

Mon, April 5, 2010 | Registered CommenterElham Ahmad

Yes, it appears so.

Mon, April 5, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

It is important to differentiate between emulsifying vegetable wax and just vegetable wax. Both are very different and some of the product makers you mentionned on top use vegetable wax as oppose to the emulsifying type which was does chemicals added to it in order to emulsify.

Mon, April 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterarcangelguy

Arcangelguy--which products from the list use vegetable wax instead of emulsifying wax? And what kind of vegetable is the wax from?

Mon, April 12, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Could you tell me what has chemicals and be careful of in these ingredients? This is a lotion I use.

Ingredients: distilled water, aloe vera, sunflower oil, jojoba oil, meadowfoam oil, stearic acid, cetyl alcohol, emulsifying wax, vegetable glycerin, vitamin c, citric acid, rosemary oil.

Fri, June 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCRSarm

Well, first of all it doesn't seem to be adequately preserved. Rosemary, vitamin C and citric acid well help a little, but the first ingredient is water---I would be wary of this lotion for that reason alone. Additionally, emulsifying wax is not as safe as it sounds. Read more about it here.

Fri, June 11, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Hi Stephanie!

Thank you so much for all of your wonderful research and the information you make available!

Question though: Is "vegetable wax" the same as emulsifying wax (or vegetable emulsifying wax)? I've seen that listed as an ingredient on some products. I don't know what the vegetable source of the wax is... would the best bet be to contact the company to ask? It was the second to last ingredient in one face lotion I saw, so I don't think it's a vast quantity, but I'd still like to know.

Thank you for all you do! :)

Thu, June 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

P.S. Did you see that the risk scores for both "Emulsifying Wax" and "Vegetable Emulsifying Wax" are now both 4s in the EWG database? Were you part of making that happen? :)

Thu, June 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

If we want to make our own lotions and creams, what is a good substitute for emulsifying wax? I tried bees wax and it didn't come out the same. Thanks.

Tue, June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGW

Yes, it's not going to come out the same--you're not going to get the same texture you do with the emulsifying wax. One thing you can try is lecithin and xanthan gum, or mix lecithin in with the beeswax emulsifier. Another good option--don't use water. Then you don't have to use a preservative or an emulsifier. Making a nice whipped shea butter can be wonderful.

Tue, June 22, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Thank you for the quick response. I whipped some shea butter today after my post. I do like it a lot, a little greasy. Thank you for the lecithin and xanthan gum pointer. I will try it. I also make a healing salve with herbs, again oils with beeswax. I do like distilled water in cream in to make it feel less greasy. It is hard to find quality recipes. I value your information. Thank you so much.

Tue, June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGW

Thank, GW! Happy formulating!

Thu, June 24, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

I agree that Borax is completely and highly TOXIC. Should not be used in or outside of the body. I had Borax poisoning from a doctor a few years ago. SO gross. So emusifying wax NF is a no go?

Wed, July 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Bradford

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