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    June 03, 2021 5 min read

    W/O Emulsions With OliveM 900

    Water in oil (W/O) emulsions are perfect to use in the winter time as they are richer, and have a high oil phase which means greater moisturising and nourishing for dry skins. I am having excellent results from switching to a W/O moisturiser now that the air is so dry and cold. They also make fantastic nourishing foot or hand creams.

    W/O emulsions are different from most of the cream and lotion recipes we often share, which are O/W (oil in water, note the difference). Firstly W/O emulsions need a W/O emulsifier - you won’t be able to achieve a W/O emulsion with Eco E wax for instance - you need the corresponding emulsifier to match the type of emulsion you are making. We’re going to use  OliveM 900 which is a fantastic natural W/O emulsifier made from olive esters.

    Secondly, W/O emulsifiers can be a little finicky to work with, but there are a couple of tricks to working with them. Let’s break these down:

    W/O emulsions typically have a high oil phase, usually 50% or more. The supplier instructions say that OliveM 900 can be used as a sole emulsifier at 5-7.5%, but for a really stable emulsion I find it is best to use the OliveM 900 at 7% or more when your oils are over 50%.


    OliveM 900 actually prefers non-polar oils, of which there aren't many. All plant/carrier oils are polar, but we can still use them. However your emulsion may benefit from a small amount of a polar oil such as  squalane or hemisqualane added in.


    Always add a salt such as Epsom salts or plain table salt to stabilise a W/O emulsion. W/O emulsions are stabilised differently to O/W emulsions (which would usually employ xanthan gum to stabilise them if necessary). Don’t use a gum to stabilise W/O emulsions, it won’t work; rather add 0.5-1% salt.


    You need high shear to form stable W/O emulsions - so no hand mixing or using an electric whisk. Use a soup blender/stick blender at a minimum. OliveM 900 likes a thorough blending, so blend for a minute or two between each addition of the water phase.

    Lastly, as you may have guessed, because W/O emulsions have a high oil phase they do have a slightly different skin feel than what you may be accustomed to. If you are looking for light moisturisers, face milks and non-greasy, quick absorbing lotions then you will want an O/W emulsion. A W/O emulsion on the other hand is rich and has a much slower absorption rate. Once they do absorb however, you will be left with the most gorgeous, soft and moisturised skin feel! They are ideal for dry skins, mature skins, and those who need extra moisturising.

    The OliveM 900 Method

    OliveM 900 melts at 65-75 degrees Celsius, so heat your oil phase and water phase to around 70 degrees C, or until it has melted. You will require a thermometer to check the temperature. Because of the high melting temperature, you will need to research your oils and butters for heat sensitivity. Some plant oils may be degraded by high heat so be aware of which ones you choose to use.

    Check the pH of your water phase and adjust to around 5.5 if necessary. We do this now because we won't be able to adjust the pH once the emulsion has formed.

    While using a stick blender, slowly incorporate the heated water phase into the heated oil phase bit by bit, then blend for 1-2 minutes between each addition. Stir while cooling down.

    Here are some simple W/O recipes to try out:

    A high oil variation

    This emulsion has a total of 70% oils, making it exceptionally rich and slow absorbing. You need only a very little amount if using it as a facial moisturiser, and I recommend it for drier skin types. It makes a great foot moisturiser - apply and then sleep with socks on.

    Heated oil phase

    65%  oil

    5%  butter

    8%  OliveM 900

    Heated aqueous phase

    20% water 

    1%  Epsom salts

    Cool down phase

    1%  preservative

    Variations: you can try increasing the butter to 10% and reducing the oil to 60% to produce a thicker cream with a slightly different skin feel. If you want to add in other water-based actives, take away from the water component to add them in.

    Heat the oil phase to 70 degrees or until everything is fully melted through. Heat the water phase to 70 degrees. Check the pH of water phase, adjust to around 5.5 if necessary, then add the salt. Slowly add the water phase to the oil phase while blending well in between each addition. Add the preservative and cool while stirring.

    A low oil variation

    OliveM  900 doesn’t like to have too little oil, as it is a W/O emulsion meaning the oil phase is usually bigger than the water phase. I have tried multiple tests to go lower than 50% carrier oil, but the emulsions always break eventually. You can include 5% hemisqualane to stabilise the emulsion if you would like to use 45% oil, or you could try using a co-emulsifier to help stabilise (try OliveM 1000).

    Here is a simple lower oil version using a carrier oil and some butter:

    Heated oil phase

    50%  oil 

    5%  butter

    6%  OliveM 900 

    Heated aqueous phase

    37% water

    1%  Epsom salts

    Cool down phase

    1%  preservative

    Heat the oil phase to 70 degrees. Heat the water phase to 70 degrees. Check the pH of the water phase, adjust to around 5.5 if necessary, and add the salt. Slowly add the water to the oil while blending well in between each addition. Add the preservative and cool while stirring.

    You can play around using different oils and butters to achieve different skin feels and have different properties. You can also try replacing the water content with a botanical extract.

    Non-polar oil alternative using hemisqualane

    As previously mentioned, plant oils are all polar and W/O emulsifiers such as OliveM 900 actually perform better when a non-polar oil is used. I won’t get into the chemistry of polarity too much here because it gets pretty in-depth and is beyond the scope of this blog. But squalane and hemisqualane are unique in that they are non-polar oils and similar in structure to silicones.

    We don’t always use the squalanes because plant oils have so many unique benefits, but there are times when they come in useful. You can make a great hair conditioning cream by using hemisqualane in a W/O emulsion - give it a try. I have also used this as a facial moisturiser; it is fairly slow absorbing but has a silky, dry-oil feel afterwards.

    Heated oil phase

    50%  hemisqualane

    7%  mango butter

    7%  OliveM 900

    Heated water phase

    28% water or water replacement - or try a botanical infusion with marshmallow and horsetail

    1% Epsom salts

    Cool down phase

    1%  preservative

    2%  hydrolyzed wheat protein

    2%  collagen

    2%  keratin


    Heat the oil phase to 70 degrees. Heat the water phase to 70 degrees. Check the pH of the water phase, adjust to around 5.5 if necessary, and add the salt. Slowly add the water to the oil while blending well in between each addition. Add the preservative and the other cool down phase ingredients and cool while stirring.

    If you would like to make a thicker cream, you can add in 2% cetyl alcohol.

    Comb a small amount into dry hair (not wet, as W/O emulsions resist water and won’t penetrate damp or wet hair). Leave in for an hour or even overnight as a nourishing masque, then wash out thoroughly.

    I hope this has given you some helpful pointers on working with OliveM 900. It is a little tricky at first but I highly recommend that you have fun and experiment, as it can really make some great emulsions!

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