There aren’t a huge number of raw materials developed specifically to fulfill a need in personal care. Most things that go into your cosmetics and toiletries were originally intended for another purpose altogether and got pressed into service by formulators. But carbomer was always intended for skin products. It has subsequently been used by other industries but it was ours to begin with.
Carbomer was first launched in the nineteen fifties, rapidly became a huge hit and by the middle of the sixties no cosmetic lab would have been without a jar of the fluffy white powder. It has retained this position ever since, despite the best efforts of the company that first created it and all their competitors to try and improve on it. So what is it? It doesn’t really do it justice to just call it a thickener. There are plenty of ways to thicken something up. But carbomer not only gives you the viscosity you want, it also stabilises your formulation and gives it texture. By varying the level and the exact way you use it you can use carbomer as a base to create anything from a stiff hair gel that will stay exactly where you put it, a lotion with body but which still flows easily or a rich cream that holds it shape.
If you look at an ingredient list, if you see carbomer listed you will almost always see either sodium hydroxide or triethanolamine listed as well. These are neutralising agents used to neutralise the carbomer. Somebody in a lab somewhere will have thought through which neutralising agent at which level would suit the needs of the product best. If he or she has done their job well you should have a product whose look and feel make the product a joy to use.
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More about the author: From the UK, Colin Sanders has been a formulator of cosmetic and topical pharmaceuticals for 27 years. Read more from this author