a preview of the Dot & Lil ingredient glossary: a glamorous look at emulsifying wax!

Although it keeps getting drowned by more immediate-need projects like orders or shows, I have been working on a Dot & Lil ingredient glossary for a few months now, and I'd love to share some of it with you! The plan is for this to be a resource, that I make available online for free, that explains in a fun but detailed and researched way what ingredients we use at Dot & Lil. Below is a first draft of an entry I have been working on for emulsifying wax. The post title calls it glamorous, but it may be just a little short of that! But I do try and make it light. It's a great example because it tackles the issue of PEG ingredients and the safety of polysorbates. Not an easy issue to discuss without boring you to tears! Let me know how I do.


name in INCI (as listed on our ingredient list): emulsifying wax NF

commonly known as: emulsifying wax , e-wax or Polawax

found in Dot & Lil’s: shower scrub bars, shower lotion bars

why it’s there: To emulsify oil with water. In the case of the Dot & Lil shower bars, this means that the lovely oils wash away cleanly after moisturizing, not leaving your skin or your shower too oily. Dot & Lil doesn’t make an emulsion-based liquid lotion, but if we did this is the ingredient that would stop the oil and water from separating! For those of you who like food analogies, it does what an egg does when you make homemade mayo!

The ingredient name is often followed by the initials “NF”, indicating that it conforms to the specifications of the National Formulary. Emulsifying wax is created when a vegetable wax is treated with polysorbates to cause it to make oil and water bind together into a smooth emulsion. The ingredients for Emulsifying Wax NF are: Cetearyl Alcohol, Polysorbate 60, PEG-150 Stearate, and Steareth-20.

a few words about Polysorbates and ethoxylated/ PEG ingredients:

Polysorbates are the detergent that the vegetable waxes are coated with in order to get them to bind oil and water into an emulsion. Polysorbates are made by binding a sugar (in this case sorbitol) with oleic acid from olive oil, and then ethoxylated (treated with polyethylene oxide) to make it water dispersible. Ethoxylation is also called "PEGylation" because poly(ethylene oxide) is also known as poly(ethylene glycol), abbreviated as PEG.

Some people do not feel that PEGs (polyethylene glycolated substances) or ethoxylated ingredients (treated with polyethylene oxide) are safe. The reason for this is that they believe that during the treatment with polyethylene glycol, the ingredient can become contaminated with 1,4-dioxane. And 1,4 dioxane is, in fact, very dangerous. It should be noted that no one adds 1,4 dioxane to products—it is a trace contaminant. Because 1,4 dioxane is a carcinogen and we don’t want it near us in high concentrations, the question becomes—are there really traces of it that can be harmful in PEGylated ingredients? The answer is that responsible ingredient suppliers are going to be able to provide proof that their PEGs have undergone vacuum-stripping to remove it during manufacturing. Which is absolutely the standard manufacturing process. They will be able to provide their own testing results per lot to show that there isn’t anything to be worried about. For each batch of polysorbate 20, for example, you would be able to check what the 1,4 dioxane levels were.

Dot & Lil is very conscious of concerns regarding emulsifying wax and polysorbates and 1,4 dioxane contamination, and is planning on becoming fully transparent on this issue. We will soon make test results available to our clients. HOWEVER, it should be stated that there is no evidence showing that ANY products on the market have unsafe levels of 1,4 dioxane due to ethoxylated ingredients.There is also no evidence that any 1,4 dioxane that might end up in a product could penetrate the skin or be harmful, as 1,4 dioxane evaporates easily.

trusted sources for additional reading and research:

1. “Much-maligned ingredients: Ethoxylated ingredients & 1,4 dioxane” on the Point of Interest blog.

2. “More Carcinogens in Cosmetics?” on The Beauty Brains: Real Scientists Answer Your Beauty Questions blog.

3. “PEGylated Proteins: Evaluation of Their Safety in the Absence of Definitive Metabolism Studies” from ASPET’s Drug Metabolism & Disposition via Stanford University’s High Wire Journal.

4. “Two Final Reports on the Safety Assessment of Fossil and Synthetic Waxes” via the International Journal of Toxicology

5. “Addendum to the final report on the safety assessment of PEGs Lanolin to include PEG-5, -10, -24, -25, -35, -55, -100, and -150 Lanolin; PEG-5, -10, - 20, -24, -30, and -70 hydrogenated Lanolin; PEG-75 Lanolin Oil; and PEG - 75 Lanolin Wax” in the International Journal of Toxicology via The National Library of Medicine’s TOXNET.


A little heavy to read, I know. But the long and short of it is there's no reason to be scared of ethoxylated ingredients. I'll have a bone to pick (a scientific bone) with anyone who says otherwise. I think what it comes down to is that people Google "PEG ingredients", see 1,4 dioxane, and get scared. I can understand that. But in this case? There's smoke but no fire. And google can't always provide the truth in it's first 3 search results! Especially when it comes to skin care.

So, how did I do? Do you understand a little more about emulsifying wax and polysorbates now?

1 comment

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Ramnuncolla November 17, 2020

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