Emulsifiers vs Solubilisers; How are They Different?

February 5, 2021

Both emulsifiers and solubilizers are part of the surfactant family and they disperse oils in water. Due to certain similarities, these terms are often confusing for formulators that are just getting started. They function differently and cannot be used interchangeably hence; it is important to understand their differences to make informed choices when selecting which to use.

What are they?

Emulsifiers are amphiphilic molecules used in formulations to facilitate the mixing of oils and water. They reduce the surface tension between two phases, keeping the oil suspended in water and vice versa. Solubilisers are very much like emulsifiers. However, the key difference is that solubilisers are completely water soluble with a little oil solubility while emulsifiers are not water soluble. Solubilsers are typically used to achieve transparent or lightly translucent solutions compared to the opaque creams that emulsifiers provide.

How are They Different?




Not water soluble

Completely water soluble with a little oil solubility

End product appearance

Milky or turbid

Clear or translucent

Particle size

Micrometre range

Low micrometre to nanometre range

Used for

Big lipophilic molecules

Small molecules like essential oils

Working temperature

May need heating or melting

Usually works at room temperature

Mechanical force

High mechanical force needed

Low mechanical force needed

Oil phase concentration

0 to 50%

0.1 to 2%

What is the Relationship between HLB Value and the Use of Emulsifiers and Solubilisers?

How is this value related to formulations? The Hydrophilic-Lipophilic Balance, also known as the HLB value in short, is used as a measure of the ratio of hydrophilic (water-loving) and lipophilic (fat-loving) moieties of a surfactant molecule. The HLB system is particularly useful to identify surfactants for emulsions. HLB value ranges from 0-20.

Image 2. HLB Surfactants Emulsion

How to Calculate the HLB Value?

HLB desired = (% of surfactant A) × (HLB of Surfactant A) + (% of surfactant B) × (HLB of Surfactant B)


What is the HLB value of the mixture of 40% Span-60 (HLB = 4.7) and 60% Tween60 (HLB = 14.9)?

4.7 x 0.4 + 14.9 x 0.6 = 10.8

HLB range

Dispersion characteristics

No dispersability in water


Poor dispersion


Milky dispersion after vigorous agitation


Stable milky dispersion


Translucent to clear dispersion


Clear solution



W/O emulsion


Wetting agent


O/W emulsion






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