Creating a Signature Touch with Natural, Sustainable Emollients

Interview with Jyle Cäcilie Garleff, Product Manager Personal Care & Cleaning, Biesterfeld Spezialchemie GmbH and Insa Waller, Application Engineer, IOI Oleo GmbH
Biesterfeld Spezialchemie GmbH , IOI Oleo GmbH

Emollient – from the Latin emollire – means softening. In cosmetic and personal care products, the main purpose of an emollient is to improve the sensorial experience, making it a key ingredient for successful formulations. A broad range of natural-based, vegan and easy-to-use emollients is available.

Jyle Garleff, emollients are an important part of your personal care portfolio. Where do your emollients come from? Who is your principal?

For emollients, we have been working since 2016 with IOI Oleo GmbH, a partner with a comprehensive product portfolio. They are produced in Germany and differ, for example, in terms of polarity and spreadability and can give a formulation the desired sensory properties depending on the requirements. In addition, the majority of IOI's emollients are natural and vegan and also respond to other current trends such as sustainability. For example, IOI always prefers - if possible - the closest available and most sustainable source when selecting its raw materials in order to keep transport distances as short as possible. 12 of IOI's 15 emollients are already of 100% sustainable origin and 80% of the IOI portfolio is 100% natural according to ISO 16128 (Natural Origin Index (NOI) is 1).

Insa Waller, your company invents, develops and produces sustainable emollients, among other ingredients. What does this involve?

As customer preferences change, there is an increasing interest in knowing what is inside a product, apart from packaging, sensory, price or scent. Sustainability, origin and naturality of the ingredients, traceability and the environmental awareness of all companies involved play just as much a role for the consumer as quality and efficacy.

With our motto "Touching Technologies", we have made it our mission to offer emollients that convince - through their skin feel, performance and ease of use, but also through their story.

Our goal is to make the world a little greener. In our opinion, this can only be done with respect for nature and, above all, with transparency and commitment. As a subsidiary of the IOI Group (co-founder of RSPO), we offer RSPO Mass Balance certified goods as standard, and we are also involved in FONAP for sustainable cultivation and a responsible supply chain. 

We have already come a long way on our path to greater sustainability. Protecting our environment is an essential part of our corporate values and occupies a central position in our policies and global business activities. In addition, all IOI emollients are based on plant-based, natural, sustainable resources and are therefore ideal for the realisation of current trends such as vegan or clean beauty.

Ms Garleff, why is the right choice of emollients important in formulation development? 

A formulation, such as a cream, depends to a large extent on the sensory properties and skin feel that the user experiences during and after application. If the product is perceived as unpleasant or perhaps even sticky, it will not satisfy the consumer. The sensory properties can be precisely controlled via the right choice of emollients to meet the user's needs. For example, the emollients can be used to develop a cream that is perceived as rich or a lotion that leaves the skin feeling light and silky. Tricaprylin is an exciting example because it is a sensory transformer. It feels very rich and oily during application, but leaves the skin feeling non-oily, light, soft and silky after application. In addition, it is good at dispersing UV filters or pigments. So it is a very versatile raw material.

Ms Waller, what are the most important characteristics for selecting the right emollient? Why do you recommend formulations with emollients with different spreading behaviour?

Basically, there are various parameters according to which formulators can select emollients. Spreading behaviour is one of the most important characteristics and describes how quickly an emollient spreads on a surface. A fast-spreading emollient such as Coco-Caprylate/Caprate spreads quickly on the skin and provides immediate smoothness, while a slow-spreading emollient such as Caprylic/Capric/Succinic Triglyceride spreads slowly but provides long-lasting smoothness. The type of emollient can often be identified when the raw material is first tested on the skin, or according to of physicochemical parameters such as molecular size, weight or viscosity.

The challenge is to strike a balance between immediate and long-lasting smoothness. Therefore, the so-called spreading cascade provides a useful guide. It is a synergistic system with which the ideal sensory curve can be achieved.

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      Fig. 1 Photo credit: IOI 

The idea of using fast-, medium- and slow-spreading emollients to achieve the desired sensory properties is not new, but still very effective. Medium spreaders play a special role here, as they combine the properties of fast- and slow-spreading oils and thus ensure an ideal sensory transition on the skin. An example here would be Triheptanoin.

Furthermore, they can be selected according to sensory profile (e.g. light, soft, silky or rich, oily, long-lasting) or polarity.

What are the advantages of combining emollients of different polarities?

Polarity has a major influence on the formulation. Highly polar oils such as Butylene Glycol Dicaprylate/Dicaprate, for example, make for better colour care and sun care formulations, as they facilitate the wetting of pigments and the dispersibility of lipophilic, crystalline UV filters. Low polar oils like Coco-Caprylate/Caprate help to stabilise emulsions (O/W and W/O) as they can reduce Ostwald ripening, a precursor to phase separation. 

We recommend combining emollients of different polarities to achieve the desired performance and optimum stability. For this purpose, we offer three natural-based groups: the low-polarity wax esters, the low- to high-polarity triglycerides and the high-polarity glycol esters. They are miscible with other oils and complement each other perfectly in their properties.

The combination of emollients with different sensory profiles, spreading properties and polarities creates the "signature touch" typical of a brand. It describes an individual, special and recognisable sensory experience and texture, combined with emotional requirements such as sustainability and environmental awareness, leads to repeat purchases.  

Ms Garleff, how can you support your customers in the selection process? What service do you offer?

As a technical distributor, we specifically go beyond application-related product advice and aim to offer our customers a holistic service and solutions throughout Europe. We evaluate each customer inquiry individually and address the customer’s specific product requirements. With our holistic, but also specialised portfolio, we can make targeted product or development recommendations. We can also offer our customers customised product solutions, jointly developed with the manufacturer. We ensure this through a close dialogue with both our customers and the manufacturers in order to meet their requirements. In addition, we are always working in our laboratories on different frame formulations and concepts in line with the current trends in personal care, which we make available to our customers. With our laboratories we can also actively support customer projects. Through our Europe-wide sales team with technical knowledge and application know-how, we are always close to the market. We also offer training courses and seminars on current market topics or product challenges - in some cases together with our partners - in order to provide complete customer support.

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