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How to Select The Best Thickeners for Shampoo Manufacturing

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Pumping thick shampoo out of bottle


In our ongoing blog post series on shampoo manufacturing, we have already explored the two most fundamental functions of shampoos: cleansing and conditioning, along with the key ingredients responsible for these functions – surfactants and conditioners.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out our articles on How to Choose the Best Surfactants for Shampoo Manufacturing and How to Select The Best Conditioning Agents for Shampoo Manufacturing.

In this article, we’ll shift our focus to another vital component of shampoo formulation – Thickeners. Thickeners serve as aesthetic modifiers, playing a key role in creating a product that captivates consumers. While the primary functions of cleansing and conditioning remain essential, the texture and feel of a shampoo can be almost as important to the end user and set your product apart from the competition.

In this in-depth guide, we will explore the various types of thickeners, factors to consider when selecting them, and practical tips for incorporating them into your shampoo formula.

What are Thickeners?

Thickeners are substances added to shampoos and other personal care products to increase their viscosity, giving them a thicker and more luxurious body texture. In addition to enhancing the feel of a product, thickeners also contribute to its consistency, stability, and performance.

Purpose of Thickeners in Shampoo

Thickeners have several essential functions in a shampoo formula, such as:

  • Improving product feel and texture: A well-chosen thickener can give the shampoo a thick, creamy, and luxurious texture that consumers find appealing and easy to use.
  • Enhancing product stability: Thickeners help maintain the consistency and stability of a shampoo over time, preventing separation or settling of ingredients.
  • Facilitating the suspension of particles and active ingredients: Thickeners help evenly distribute ingredients like exfoliating particles, oils, and botanical extracts throughout the shampoo.
  • Aiding in the even distribution of the product during application: Thicker shampoos are easier to spread evenly on the hair and scalp, ensuring that the product’s benefits reach all areas.

Factors to Consider When Selecting a Thickener

When choosing a thickener for your shampoo formula, consider the following factors:

Compatibility with Ingredients

Selecting a thickener that works well with the other ingredients in your shampoo formula is crucial. Some thickeners may have adverse reactions with specific surfactants or other components, leading to reduced viscosity, sedimentation, or separation. Be sure to test thickeners in combination with the other ingredients to ensure compatibility.

Viscosity Control

Different thickeners offer varying levels of viscosity control, so you’ll need to choose one that provides the desired thickness for your shampoo. This ensures that the product remains stable and performs well while still providing a pleasing sensory experience for the user.

Clarity and Appearance

The appearance of your shampoo can significantly impact its marketability. Some thickeners may result in a cloudy or hazy appearance, while others can produce a clear, transparent product. Consider the desired aesthetic for your shampoo and choose a thickener that helps achieve that look.

Environmental Impact

As consumers become more environmentally conscious, selecting eco-friendly ingredients is increasingly important. Some thickeners are derived from renewable resources or have a lower environmental impact than others. Be mindful of the sustainability of your chosen thickener and consider how it aligns with your brand values.


The cost of a thickener can impact your shampoo’s overall production costs. Choose a thickener that provides the desired results without breaking the bank. Balancing cost and performance is essential for a successful product.

Common Thickeners for Shampoo Manufacturing

Thickeners for shampoos can be categorized into two main groups: natural and synthetic. Let’s explore some popular options in each category:

Natural Thickeners

Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is a natural thickener derived from the fermentation of sugars by a specific type of bacteria. It’s widely used in personal care products and the food industry due to its excellent thickening and stabilizing properties. Xanthan gum is compatible with a wide range of ingredients and provides a smooth, silky texture to shampoos.

Guar Gum

Guar gum is another natural thickener derived from the seeds of the guar plant. It has been used for centuries in various applications, including food and cosmetics. Guar gum is known for its excellent thickening, stabilizing, and emulsifying properties. It also adds a soft, conditioning feel to shampoos, making it a popular choice among manufacturers.


Cellulose is a natural polymer derived from plant fibers. In the world of shampoo manufacturing, modified cellulose derivatives such as hydroxyethyl cellulose (HEC) and hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC) are commonly used as thickeners. These cellulose derivatives offer excellent thickening and stabilizing properties while being biodegradable and environmentally friendly.

Synthetic Thickeners


Carbomers are synthetic polymers widely used in cosmetic and personal care products as thickeners and stabilizers. They can produce highly viscous, clear gels and provide excellent suspension and stabilization properties. Carbomers are versatile and compatible with a wide range of ingredients, making them a popular choice for shampoo manufacturing.

Acrylates Copolymer

Acrylates copolymer is another synthetic thickener frequently used in personal care products, including shampoos. It offers excellent thickening, stabilizing, and suspending properties, as well as providing a smooth, luxurious feel to the product. Acrylates copolymer is compatible with various surfactants and ingredients, making it a versatile option for shampoo formulations.

Cetearyl Alcohol

Cetearyl Alcohol is a fatty alcohol that is derived from a blend of cetyl and stearyl alcohols. It is a waxy, white solid at room temperature and is commonly used in cosmetic formulations, including shampoos, conditioners, and lotions. Besides functioning as a thickener, Cetearyl Alcohol also has two additional functions:

  • Emulsifier: Cetearyl Alcohol helps blend oil and water-based ingredients in the shampoo, creating a stable and homogenous mixture.
  • Emollient: It has moisturizing properties, which can help improve the hair’s manageability and softness.

PEG-150 Distearate

PEG-150 Distearate is a polyethylene glycol (PEG) ester of stearic acid, which is a naturally occurring fatty acid. In shampoo formulations, PEG-150 Distearate is often used as a thickening agent and emulsifier. PEG-150 Distearate can also help dissolve certain ingredients in the formulation, improving the overall performance of the shampoo.

How to Incorporate Thickeners in Your Shampoo Formula

Incorporating thickeners into your shampoo formula involves a few essential steps:

Determine the Desired Viscosity

Before selecting a thickener, decide on the desired viscosity for your shampoo. Consider factors such as the target market, the shampoo’s intended purpose (e.g., daily use, clarifying, or volumizing), and the overall aesthetic you want to achieve.

Test Thickeners in Small Batches

Once you’ve narrowed down your thickener options, create small batches of your shampoo formula using each thickener. This allows you to assess the performance, texture, and appearance of the product with each thickener, helping you make an informed decision.

Optimize the Formula

After selecting the most suitable thickener, fine-tune your shampoo formula by adjusting the thickener’s concentration to achieve the desired viscosity and performance. You may need to conduct additional testing to ensure the stability and compatibility of the final product.


Selecting the best thickener for your shampoo manufacturing process requires careful consideration of several factors, including compatibility with other ingredients, viscosity control, appearance, environmental impact, and cost-effectiveness. By understanding the properties and benefits of various thickeners and testing them in your formula, you can create a shampoo that not only looks and feels great but also performs well for your target market.


Q1: Can I use more than one thickener in my shampoo formula?

A1: Yes, you can combine different thickeners to achieve the desired properties and performance for your shampoo. However, it’s essential to test the compatibility of the thickeners to ensure that they work well together and don’t negatively impact the overall formula.

Q2: Are natural thickeners always better than synthetic ones?

A2: Not necessarily. The choice between natural and synthetic thickeners depends on various factors, including your shampoo’s desired properties, target market, and brand values. Both natural and synthetic thickeners have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s essential to evaluate them based on your specific needs and goals.

Q3: How can I determine the right concentration of thickener for my shampoo?

A3: The optimal concentration of a thickener depends on factors such as the desired viscosity, the shampoo’s purpose, and the compatibility with other ingredients in your formula. It’s crucial to test different concentrations of the thickener in small batches to find the ideal balance between viscosity, performance, and stability.

Q4: Can I change the thickener in an existing shampoo formula?

A4: Yes, you can change the thickener in an existing formula. However, it’s essential to test the new thickener thoroughly to ensure that it’s compatible with the other ingredients and doesn’t negatively affect the shampoo’s appearance, performance, or stability.

Q5: Are there any alternatives to traditional thickeners in shampoo manufacturing?

A5: Yes, there are alternative methods for increasing the viscosity of a shampoo without using traditional thickeners. One such method is the use of high-molecular-weight surfactants or combining surfactants with specific ratios, which can create a thicker, creamier lather. However, these alternatives may have their limitations and may not be suitable for all shampoo formulations. It’s essential to test any alternative approaches to ensure they meet your desired properties and performance criteria.

Written by:
Jun Xie
Jun Xie
Jun is the head of R&D at Yeser Chemicals. He holds a master's degree in Chemical Engineering and Technology. After joining Yeser Chemicals in 2013, he has been dedicated to researching and developing new coconut-based green surfactants and their safe uses in Home & Personal care products. In addition to serving as the Head of R&D at Yeser Chemicals, Jun is the director of the Guangdong Green Surfactant Engineering Technology Research Center and a member of the Standard Committee of Guangdong Daily Chemical Chamber of Commerce.

Yeser Chemicals is a leading producer of CAPB, CDEA, CMEA, EGDS, and other various Coconut-derived surfactants.

By self-manufacturing and 3rd-party toll-manufacturing, we provide a long list of safe ingredients, including surfactants, conditioners, thickeners, etc.,  used in Home & Fabric Care, Personal Care, and Cosmetics.

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