Emulsifiers: Micro Technology with Macro Effect

3 min read


Water and oil, when mixed together and vigorously shaken, form a dispersion of oil droplets in water. Once the shaking stops, the phases start to separate. However, when an emulsifier is added to the system, the droplets remain dispersed, and a stable emulsion is obtained.

An emulsifier consists of a water-loving hydrophilic head and an oil-loving hydrophobic tail. The hydrophilic head is directed to the aqueous phase and the hydrophobic tail to the oil phase. The emulsifier positions itself at the oil/water or air/water interface, and has a stabilizing effect on the emulsion by reducing the surface tension.

Major Applications

  • Food Industry: An emulsifier is well known in the food industry for its emulsifying effects, where it serves various functions. Following are some examples of the use of emulsifiers in the food industry:
  1. Modifies oil crystal and prevents water spattering in cooking
  2. Destroys emulsion to stabilize foam and to make smooth texture in ice cream, and keeps its shape
  3. Reacts with proteins to make a smooth easy-rising dough in bread
  4. Acts on starch to make bread soft
  • Personal Care Industry: Emulsifiers are an important category of surfactants for personal care applications. They are essential in the production of creams and lotions. Emulsifiers enable oil and water/aqueous components to mix and remain stable over a long period of time. Choosing an optimum emulsifier system helps create evenly dispersed, small droplets, thus providing kinetic stability and an elegant texture, skin feel and appearance to creams and lotions. Typically, emulsions have a milky white, opaque appearance due to the type and level of emulsifiers used; however, there are microemulsions that appear clear or transparent to the human eye. These are used in specialized applications, such as enhancing skin permeation of active substances. Emulsifiers often impart a specific texture or sensory aspect to the end product, so their selection is important for marketing appeal as well as technical aspects.

Current Market Scenario

The global emulsifiers market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.28% between 2016 and 2021. Factors contributing to the market growth include increasing the popularity of natural emulsifiers and growing usage of emulsifiers in personal care products and the food & beverage industry. Technological advancements within the food processing industry are expected to further boost the market growth. Factors such as increasing demand for packaged food, escalating income levels and availability of packaged functional foods are boosting the demand for emulsifiers. However, consolidation within the food additive industry is expected to restrain the market growth.

Among all the products, lecithin represents the largest share in the emulsifiers market. Lecithin is used widely in feed, food, nutritional supplements and cosmetics. The United States represents the largest market worldwide, whereas Asia-Pacific is projected to grow at the highest CAGR due to sustained demand for natural emulsifiers.

Some of the key players in the emulsifiers market include Cargill Inc., Lonza Group, BASF, AAK Bakery Services Ltd., DSM Nutritional Products, DuPont, Lubrizol Advanced Material, Danisco A/S, Archer Daniels Midland Company, Dow Corning Corporation, Palsgaard A/S, Stepan Company, and Kerry Group.

Recent Developments

Emulsions are a fundamental product form for many cosmetic categories, which involves careful selection of optimum emulsifier systems. Cosmetic science has progressed a long way and at present, there is a trend towards liquid crystal structures and emulsifiers that are acceptable and usable to manufacture certified natural cosmetics.

  • Alfa Chemicals worked on emulsifier technology and developed an emulsifier with a trade name of Sucragel AOF BIO, which is a natural liquid emulsifier based on sucrose laurate. It can be used in the oil phase as a co-emulsifier for creams and lotions. It can also be used to gel oils, which can then, in turn, be diluted with water to form a fine sprayable emulsion.
  • Azeis Personal Care developed emulsifier-based products, such as BlanovaMuls GMSC, BlanovaMuls Eco 77, and BlanovaMuls Eco 2277 Eco, among others. For example, BlanovaMuls GMSC is glyceryl stearate citrate based emulsifier, which is used to emulsify high amounts of oil. It is particularly suitable for the production of sprayable emulsions.
  • Croda’s new product formulations based on emulsifier technology include Arlacel 1690, Arlacel 2121, NatraGem E145 and NaturGem E140. These products are developed in order to cater to the growing demand from the cosmetic industry. For example, NatraGem E145 is a natural emulsifier, which is compatible with both low and high polarity oils with excellent electrolyte, pH and temperature tolerances.
  • Dow Corning developed DC ES-5612 Formulation Aid, which is a silicone emulsifier designed to prepare low viscosity water-in-silicone and water-in-oil emulsions.


Emulsifiers are generally cost extensive to manufacture and process, owing to the high raw material costs associated with them. Emulsifiers significantly increase the cost of product in which they are added. Occasionally the cost of their formulation is almost doubled by their addition. However, owing to advancement in technology, natural raw materials based emulsifiers are being developed, which are not only of higher quality, but are also relatively cheaper. For example, a new starch emulsifier developed by Ingredion can deliver four times the emulsifying power of traditional beverage emulsifiers, enabling manufacturers to slash production and distribution costs.

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