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5 Reasons to Use Silica Gels Versus Plastic Microbeads in Cosmetics and Skincare Formulations

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Plastic beads like Nylon 12 and PMMA, microplastics and nanomaterials are frequently used as fillers and exfoliants in cosmetics and personal care products. However, they are being phased out for safety and environmental reasons, leaving formulators to find effective alternatives.

Silica microsphere gels are ideal replacements because they are safe for the environment and the human body. But they can also enhance the performance of formulations. Here are 5 reasons to consider using them:

1. Protect the environment

Though the plastic particles are tiny – from about a hundredth of a millimeter to one millimeter – they can damage marine life, the environment and human health. That’s because plastic microbeads don’t degrade or dissolve in water and are not captured by most wastewater treatment systems. When they are washed down the drain, they can end up in lakes, rivers and oceans and remain there for thousands of years.

Also, once in the water, plastic particles can adsorb toxins that can transfer up the marine food chain. According to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment in Australia, “These tiny plastics persist in the environment as they are almost impossible to remove. The best way to reduce their impact is to prevent them from entering the environment.” To date, 57 brands have joined the “Look for the Zero” campaign, which pledges that no plastics are added to products. In addition, 448 brands from 119 different manufacturers have promised to remove plastic microbeads from their products.

Silica gels are made from silicon dioxide, which is a natural and sustainable material. AGC’s line of silica gels is branded SOLESPHERE™.

2. Impart a smoother feel

Particle shape, size and pore volume all affect a skincare formulation’s feel. Spherical particles provide a rolling effect called “slip,” which gives the formulation a silky, smooth texture that is easier to spread. The more spherical the shape, the better the slip and feel. SOLESPHERE gels have a near-perfect spherical shape, so they roll easily with minimal friction. The low friction increases elongation, which further improves the feel of the end product.

The factors affecting spreadability are hardness, shape and specific gravity. The harder the particles, the more spherical their shape and the lower their specific gravity, the easier they spread. These factors affect slip properties far more than surface smoothness.

Plastic beads are soft, so they can deform when touched. This increases the contact and frictional force between the beads. Silica is a very hard material, so silica gel beads are stronger and don’t deform easily when pressed between fingers. This means they have less slip resistance, less friction and lower specific gravity than plastic bead fillers. Cosmetics and skincare products made with silica gels glide more smoothly and are more consistent. And they remain smooth and easy to apply throughout their life.

3. Absorb oil, perspiration and sebum

Oil, perspiration and sebum secretion are the enemies of cosmetics because they cause shiny spots on the skin and cause cosmetics to deteriorate. This is because the sebum reduces light reflection. Silica gels can help preserve foundation and other makeups because the particles capture sebum and oil in their pores. The larger the pores, the more sebum, oil and odor are absorbed. SOLESPHERE gels have a high pore volume, so they can absorb a lot, preventing shine and helping makeup last longer.  When compared with plastic beads, these microsphere gels better prevented shiny spots from forming.

The above graph shows how SOLESPHERE grades H-121 and H-53 compare with other beads.

4. Hide wrinkles and skin imperfections

Adding silica gels to cosmetic formulations is a cost-effective way to achieve a soft-focus effect that hides wrinkles and skin imperfections. This is because the gel particles are covered with pores, which scatter the light that hits them. The smaller the particle size, the higher the porosity, and the more spherical the shape, the greater the matte and blur effect. In addition, high light transmittance and high gaze cause the most effective wrinkle-concealing effect.

5. Add a scrub/exfoliant effect or encapsulate fragrances

In addition to absorbing sebum and oil, silica gel microsphere particles like SOLESPHERE can provide the abrasion needed to remove dirt when added to formulations like body washes and cream cleansers. Silica scrubs work as effectively as plastic beads, but are safe for the environment and won’t harm the human body. Silica gel particles can also absorb fragrances and release them later with use. In the same way they capture sebum in their pores, they can capture fragrances and other formulation enhancers.

Applications for silica microsphere gels

  • Skincare
  • Makeup foundation
  • Lipstick
  • Mascara
  • Sunscreen
  • Body wash
  • Deodorant
  • Cream cleanser
  • Body scrub

Silica microspheres are an ideal addition to many formulations. They improve slip, reduce the oily feel of products, and help improve the appearance of the skin by diffusing light for a real-life airbrushing effect. When used in cream cosmetics and oil serums, they impart a luxurious dry-touch finish.

In addition, they can help formulators achieve both SPF and good frictional properties in sunscreens, BB creams and cosmetics. This is very challenging because the high load of UV absorbers such as ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate causes high stickiness. SOLESPHERE microspherical gels can moderate stickiness because they impart high slipperiness and smoothness properties into both oil- and water-based formulations. Silica gels are available in many different particle sizes, surface areas and pore volumes impart the desired mix of performance qualities into a formulation.

Contact AGC’s experts to learn more about SOLESPHERE silica gels and how they can improve skincare and cosmetic formulations. Visit us at

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