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The Mysteries of R&D, Part I

By: Art Rich, PhD
Posted: June 22, 2010, from the July 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

You are a new marketing associate participating in your company’s weekly development status meeting when the R&D representative says, “We added Ingredient X to the emulsion and it cracked.” “Huh?” you say. “Emulsion? cracked?” You mumble to yourself: “I thought we were talking about a lotion. What do these words mean?”

A difference in marketing and R&D jargon often causes confusion and apprehension when these different departments communicate with each other. This article, part one of two, seeks to provide some general understanding of what the R&D group is referring to during these interactions. This is designed to serve as a primer for new marketing associates and help in reduce the “push-pull” syndrome found in many, many organizations.

Emulsions: Yes, We’re Talking About Lotion

Before exploring other components of skin care and the finer points of basic beauty product types, let’s discuss emulsions. Used to formulate many beauty products, emulsions are mainly used for the preparation of creams and lotions. Basically, they are mixtures of oil and water. And despite what you may think (oil and water don’t mix), there are amazing ingredients called emulsifying agents that hold the two together. When mixing the oil and water together, the oil forms little droplets in the water. When you stop shaking, the oil droplets come together (coalesce) and rise to the surface. With the addition of the emulsifying agent, the oil will remain as discrete droplets. The emulsifier positions itself between the surface of the oil droplets and the body of the water. This maintains the homogeneity. When the oil forms the droplets in the water, it is an oil-in-water emulsion (o/w ). The reverse is a water-in-oil emulsion (w/o) Because oil and water are clear and a lotion or cream is opaque, it warrants a brief (very brief, don’t worry) discussion of the principles of light transmission. When light strikes a clear material, oil or water, it passes through. The eye sees this as a clear liquid. When there are droplets of one liquid in another, the light bounces off the droplets (like a pinball) and does not pass through, creating an opaque effect.

Therefore, what your eye sees is no longer a clear liquid.

Why use an emulsion? It is a means of delivering performance ingredients that are not water-soluble. These can be emollients, moisturizing agents, vitamins, thickeners for the formula, etc. Emulsions also provide a more aesthetically pleasing product—no greasy residue on the skin, for example. The water phase can contain herbal extracts, film formers, water-soluble moisturizers, etc. Emulsions can be used to formulate creams, lotions, spray lotions and thin liquids, among other product types—and can be used as formulation platforms for: skin treatment products, fragrance line extensions, massage treatment, sun protection, etc. In color cosmetics, an emulsion is a suitable delivery system for liquid and creamy foundations.