Soy Lecithin Market Could Leap from Margarine to Makeup

by Howell Medders
Science Editor - Print Media

Consider for a moment the similarity between a tub of softspread margarine and a jar of makeup.

Each is an emulsion, a stable mixture of oil and water. The ingredient that keeps the oil and water from separating - the emulsifying agent - is called a surfactant. In makeup, the surfactant is usually a petroleum-based material. In margarine, the surfactant is often soy lecithin, a by-product of soybean oil refining.

Dr. Andy Proctor, associate professor of food science in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas, has found that soy lecithin can probably be used as a surfactant in cosmetics and personal care products.

Proctor's Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station research project is funded in part by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board.

Soy lecithin is already used extensively in the food industry for its surfactant properties, but its use in the cosmetics industry is largely unexplored," said Proctor.

The cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries, which use a lot of emulsifying agents, are interested in natural agents such as sou lecithin as alternatives to petrochermcal derivatives, Proctor said.

The reason is consumer concern over the use of synthetic chemicals in personal products. This concern might provide a marketing advantage for products using soy lecithin surfactants.

Proctor and his research assistants and graduate students have identified lecithin products from Riceland Foods in Stuttgart that, when processed with cosmetic oils and water by methods they developed, produced stable emulsions vath a smooth, rich, cream-like texture. Invention disclosure papers have been filed for possible patent protection of the process.

They are continuing the research with studies of other soy lecithin products and variations in the emulsion formulation, and thev're documenting the important properties of prototype emulsions, such as viscosity, shear (ease of spreading) and stability.

Another project in Proctor's oil chemistry laboratory supported in part by a Soybean Promotion Board grant has the goal of producing carbon adsorbents by charring soybean hulls.

He said preliminary results showed that properties of soyhull carbon are different from properties of traditional commercial activated carbons. The differences could make soyhull carbon a superior product for some uses, such as vegetable oil refining.

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