I was in the middle of a lotion-making frenzy when hunger struck. How to fight noontime starvation? With my favorite guilty pleasure — a good ol’ unsophisticated mayo sandwich! Hey, I never claimed to be high class! As I stood in the kitchen and whipped me up some mayo, I was struck dumb by the similarities between one of America’s most popular condiments and the cream we use to moisturize our skin.
What do mayo and moisturizing lotion have in common? More than you’d think! Now I know it’s hard to imagine the cream used to moisturize your legs having something in common with the stuff we spread on sandwiches, but it’s totally true! Take a look at the handy dandy graphic I made and see for yourself!
For starters, both mayo and lotion are a type of mixture called an emulsion – a combination of two liquids that ordinarily won’t mix. If you mix oil and water, they’ll wage all-out war in an effort to not touch! Since oil and water are about 90% of a lotion/mayo recipe, warring molecules spell disaster for putting together a creamy blend. So how do we get them to play nice?
The magic is in the emulsifier . In mayo the emulsifier is the lecithin (pronounced “less-uh-thin”) found in egg yolks. In commercial lotions it’s generally a combination of cetearyl alcohol, polysorbates and stearates. If you make your own lotion it’s know as emulsifying wax. When mixed, the emulsifier grabs a molecule of oil and a molecule of water and holds them together so they blend.
Once you have an emulsion, you could technically stop here. Your mayo will look like mayo and lotion like lotion, but without two more things, your emulsion wouldn’t last long or be very interesting.
Preservatives are added to prevent microbial critters and furry funguses from turning your new emulsion into a home. While the preservatives in mayo need to be safe enough to eat, lotion’s non-edible status means it can use a stronger preservative. This is why lotions can lounge comfortably on countertops for months, while a mayo jar needs to chill out in the fridge after opening.
Lastly there are the additives and although they roughly make up to 10% of the emulsion, this is where mayo and lotion really part ways. Since mayo is made for eating, it contains flavor additives like vinegar, salt, sugar and mustard. A mayo without these flavor enhancers tastes pretty…well… bland. Lotion is meant for skin, so it focuses on sensory additives to improve the scent, look and feel of the product. Examples of this are colors, fragrances and ingredients that adjust the feel of the emulsion.
So if lotion is just glorified mayo, why are we making weird comparisons between the two? While mayo costs about $0.42 cents an ounce, lotions can range from $1.00 to $120.00 or more. Most of lotion’s cost comes from the choice oils, packaging and the additives found in the remaining 10% of the emulsion. Is the cheaper lotion as effective as the most expensive? Once you understand the major components of an emulsion and know how to tell what an ingredient is doing in your lotion, you will be able to decide for yourself! Now that’s worth a peek at the label, don’t you think?