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Gels are very popular in the cosmetic sector and more and more products are coming to market in this cosmetic form. They are refreshing and light preparations, which for this reason allows to make products for any type of application (eye contour products, body products, skin care products etc). A base gel is a fluid or semi-liquid cosmetic preparation, of a certain consistency that is made from gelling agents. Currently we find on the market a wide variety of gelling agents that may be of natural and synthetic origin. Gelling agents offer the possibility to create a wide variety of gels, of different colors, thickness, transparency, translucency, fluid and consistency. Therefore, the choice of gelling depends on the formulator’s preference for these characteristics.
In the Formulation Lab, we developed a product Oil Control Hydrator Gel, a soothing and moisturizing gel treatment for acne-prone skin. When we designed this product, we were very clear about its characteristics. We wanted it to be a gel as transparent as possible, of good extensibility, medium consistency and no tack or residue after application. So, we set off with the tests in the lab. We selected different gelling agents to see what combination worked best. After some trials we saw the gels that best suited our preferences were those formed by Hydroxyethylcelullose (HEC) or Carbopol® Ultrez 20 polymer by Lubrizol, two distinct functional ingredients. Here we highlight the main features of each of them:
• Hydroxyethylcellulose (HEC) is a non-ionic cellulose ether. It is an odorless white powder that is used at a concentration of 1-3% and allows the obtaining of gels within a wide range of viscosity, complete transparency and no known incompatibility with other compounds, such as acidic ingredients. In addition, HEC does not depend on pH to gel and forms gels of a high dermatological tolerance. Therefore, HEC is a highly used gelling agent in cosmetic formulations. The only drawback is that it needs to be processed with high temperature reaching up to 70ºC.
• Carbopol® Ultrez 20 polymer is a hydrophilic synthetic polymer of acrylic acid. In cosmetics, they are used as a gelling agent to thicken cosmetic preparations or used as a stabilizer in emulsions. It is a white powder, very easy-to-use and offers quick dispersion into water. It is used at a concentration of 0.1-1.0% and forms stable gels at a wide pH range with high tolerance to electrolytes. However, the presence of acidic ingredients triggers the breakdown of the gel.
We made two gels with HEC at two different concentrations, 1% and 1.5%. In both cases, homogeneous gels of very good visual appearance were obtained, transparent and without any air bubbles. In terms of viscosity, with a concentration of 1% it had a medium viscosity. The only issue we found to this gelling is that at both concentrations we got a sticky feel upon application. Nevertheless, there was no residue after. On the other hand, when we formulated with Carbopol® Ultrez 20 polymer we obtained homogeneous gels, transparent, with very good extensibility and without residue or any “tacking” effect. In our case we were looking for a fresh, light formula that brings freshness to the face with its application. We decided to choose Carbopol® Ultrez 20 polymer as our gelling agent. It should be noted that the viscosity obtained with Carbopol Ultrez 20 at 0.8% is very similar to that obtained with HEC at 1%.
To sum up, the best way to make a clear gel is to formulate with water-loving gelling agents. They can also be referred to as rheology modifiers. We recommend to always start with creating your base of gel first and then incorporate the rest of your water-soluble ingredients. In the case of Oil Control Hydrator Gel we incorporated CBD Oil Balance, a water-dispersible active ingredient with encapsulated oil-soluble CBD. The choice of one gelling agent to another will depend on the ingredients being incorporated, its compatibility and off course, the intended end use.

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