Triethanolamine is a synthetic compound that reacts with stearic acid to create an effective emulsifier.
Most often, cosmetics products need to be extremely stable to have a long shelf life in order to be stored, handled, shipped etc. This is why emulsifiers, stabilisers and preservatives are often added in large quantities, which tends to create thick creams loaded with synthetic ingredients. At Lush, we like them to glide on seamlessly and feel lightweight on the skin. This makes the stability more fragile which is why they are best used as fresh as possible; but in exchange, the product can be filled with fresh flowers, fruits and other beneficial plants.
Triethanolamine (TEA) is a common emulsifier used in a vast array of cosmetics, detergents and pharmaceuticals. Cosmetic creams and lotions are often composed of water and oil-based ingredients, which are held together by substances called emulsifiers. Without emulsifiers, the formula would separate, causing oil droplets to float on top of the water.
When triethanolamine is mixed with stearic acid (an acid that is naturally present in butters, oils and waxes - but can also be added separately), it reacts and transforms into a paste called triethanolamine stearate. The paste is emulsifying and helps to create a loose emulsion that is easily absorbed by the skin. If the correct amount of stearic acid is used, triethanolamine will be fully dissolved during the chemical process. This means that it is no longer present in the finished product.