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Emulsions Part Two: A Deeper Dive Into Nanoemulsions and Nanotechnology

by Deborah Duffey, Chief Product Development Officer and President    April 29, 2022

Have you ever wondered what actually makes up your skincare products? Or how all those ingredients on the label come together to form the cream, serum, or cleanser you use on your skin? The simple answer is emulsions, and they not only affect how a product looks or feels, but emulsions matter because they can determine how well your product actually works.

In part one of our emulsion series, we introduced what emulsions are and how they make up nearly every single product we use. But in this second part, we’ll take a deeper dive into the tiniest of emulsions—micro and nanoemulsions. Even more importantly, you’ll learn how these emulsions compare to nanoencapsulation and why you should be on the lookout for brands that claim to use nanotechnology when they actually don’t.

Before reading, it might also be helpful to take a closer look at how nanotechnology is used in skincare so you can fully understand the differences between the different types of emulsions and how they’re used.

What are emulsions?

We’ll be taking a more advanced approach to emulsions, so it’s important you understand the basics first. We recommend you read the first part of the emulsions series, here. But for those looking for a quick refresher, this is what you need to know about emulsions:

An emulsion is a blend of two (or more) liquids, typically water and oil. Think of a salad dressing made of vinegar and oil—you can actually see the separation of the two liquids. But when fully emulsified, like by stirring them with a whisk, the two liquids appear to become one. This is why our skincare products look like one cohesive formula, even though the oils, water, and other ingredients are all separate particles. If they weren’t emulsified, the product would be difficult to use and would apply unevenly, and it would be less stable and less effective.

In part one, we covered the basics of what different types of emulsions are, but let’s take a closer look at the smallest of emulsions and how they compare—and differ—from nanoencapsulation.

What is nanotech skincare?

Put simply, nanotech in skincare means using specialized particles that are smaller than typically used. But they aren’t just smaller; these particles are also created in specialized ways to allow skincare products to work more efficiently by allowing them to penetrate deeper and to have a more controlled delivery process. Nanotech can even be used to create formulas that don’t penetrate the skin, if that happens to be the best, most effective delivery mechanism for a certain ingredient.

While this might sound like the ideal formulation for effective skincare (we at Kara Vita certainly think so!), nanotechnology has become somewhat of a buzzword in skincare, which means some brands use the term to market their products inaccurately. Just because a brand claims to use nanotechnology doesn’t necessarily mean they do. For example, we’ve seen products marketed as utilizing nanotechnology that are actually using nanoemulsion, which is far different than actual nanotech itself. That’s not to say that there aren’t benefits to nanoemulsion—there certainly are!—however, to call it nanotechnology is just not accurate.

Microemulsions vs Nanoemulsions

Microemulsions and nanoemulsions, while not actually nanotech, are important to understand in order to grasp the full view of how skincare products can work. Microemulsions and nanoemulsions are both emulsions in general except for some key differences. While they are created differently and differ in a few characteristics, as the consumer, the one most important factor for you is how they differ in size. Both have extremely small particles, which enhance the formula in a few ways.

Micro and nanoemulsions matter in skincare formulas because typically the smaller the particle size, the better penetration it can have into skin. And while microemulsions are smaller than emulsions, nanoemulsions are even smaller, which gives them enhanced skin penetrability and makes the ingredients more bioavailable than emulsions with larger particle sizes. It also has more stability, which means the formula is less susceptible to the efficacy-damaging effects of light, heat, or other means.

There’s also a bonus when it comes to usability. Smaller particles mean that the formula is easier to rub in, sinks into skin quicker, and can feel overall smoother. You can see this in action yourself if you compare a typical zinc oxide sunscreen alongside a nano zinc oxide sunscreen. While differences between formulas may affect your results, in general, you’ll find the nano zinc formula leaves less of a white cast behind.

Why nanoencapsulation is best

Nanoencapsulation, while similar to micro and nanoemulsions in that it’s a very small particle—each sphere is 100,000 smaller than the width of a human hair—is otherwise a very unique technology. In nanoencapsulation, a passenger, like a particle of a certain ingredient, is tucked into a bubble, which then delivers the ingredient. This makes the emulsion highly bioavailable, and they can be made to be delivered via a specific delivery route. In other words, nanoencapsulation creates tiny spheres that act like a vehicle, driving ingredients deeply, penetrating the skin, and getting to work in the exact layers of skin where they can make the biggest difference. Remember, skin’s role is to protect us from the environment and prevent penetration. NLP, or nano-lipidic particles, is what Kara Vita uses in our products to create highly effective formulas. NLP has been called one of the best nanoencapsulation technologies available, not only because of how well it performs, but because the development of these particles doesn’t require specialized equipment, which makes the products more cost-effective for the consumer.

NLP also allows ingredients to be time-released into the skin. Instead of a quick hit of a product right when you apply, the benefits continue for hours after application. Kara Vita uses both oil- and water-based ingredients, and the NLP nanospheres control the rate of delivering all the ingredients into the skin.

Why nanoencapsulation is best

What does all of this look like in practice? Let’s take Kara Vita’s products. Our formulas use around 80% nanosphere-encapsulated ingredients (the other ingredients provide benefits at the skin’s surface). Everything from sunscreens to night creams are packed with the tiny, ingredient-loaded nanoscopic spheres that might stop discoloration from forming, increase collagen production, or help to reverse sun damage, among other benefits.

While all Kara Vita products are created with nanoencapsulation, there’s one product that is especially unique. Secret Code DNArescue™ is an anti-aging and hydrating lotion mist that uses two impressive techniques: phase inversion temperature (PIT), a type of nanoemulsion, and nanoencapsulation. This combination is rare in skincare products, but it allows the products to be fast-acting and to penetrate deeply. PIT emulsions allow for the tiniest particles of all, which by now we know lead to serious benefits (and also what help this formula to be light as a mist yet hydrating as a lotion).

Remember that while nanoencapsulation uses particles that are very small, this isn’t the only thing that sets it apart from other emulsions, and nano or microemulsion does not equal nanoencapsulation. As more and more brands begin incorporating these technologies into their products, be sure to take a closer look at whether their so-called nanotech is actually nanotech, or just a misused buzzword for nanoemulsions.

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