If you’ve ever seen the ingredient carbomer pop up on your product’s ingredient list but brushed it off because you weren’t really sure what it is, here’s your info.
A polymer is a chain of repeating or similarly bonded units that form a new molecule. A carbomer is a polymer that consists of repeating units of the organic compound acrylic acid. Acrylic acid is an organic molecule that is miscible in waters and alcohols, which is ideal for cosmetic and personal care products (Miscible means mixable with).
A carbomer is a sythetic polymer that is commonly used in gels because of it’s ability to thicken up a formula – a.k.a. a thickening agent. This occurs because the polymer is able to suspend insoluble compounds to fit into a soluble liquid by grabbing onto them tight. This action causes carbomer (which is a white powdery compound) to swell up and form a gel. For this reason many products contain carbomers to create a gel texture. Additionally, this characteristic of carbomers allows this ingredient to act as an emulsifier (keeping water + oil from seperating).
The term carbomer is a general term for a polymer compound that consists of bonded acrylic acid units. There can be variations with the amount of carbons present in the carbomer which is occasionally shown on ingredient lists as Carbomer + ###, a combination of technical letters and numbers.
Carbomers can be found in products like sunscreens, serums, lotions, shampoos, cleansers, hair gel, face masks, nearly anything! Any questions? Leave them in the comments below!