A microemulsion may be described as thermodynamically stable mixtures and water, oil and a surfactant. A surfactant is a compound that helps to lower the surface tension of a particular liquid. A surfactant might be a detergent, foaming agent, emulsifier or wetting agent, to name a few.
A microemulsion doesn’t require the same kind of mixing or high shearing conditions as an ordinary emulsion, which is one of its defining characteristics. A microemulsion has many different applications.
One place that microemulsions are used regularly is the cosmetics industry. These include products like mascara, lip stick, sunscreen, fragrances and various creams and skin treatments. The texture and appearance of cosmetics is of the utmost importance for quality control and customer satisfaction, so the added control that microemulsions provide goes a long way. Stability is another aspect of cosmetics that is important, as it extends shelf life and helps with cost effectiveness.
During situations where oil is trapped underground and much of it cannot be recovered, a micro emulsion can help make it possible. It has to do with trapping the oil with high interfacial tension in the reservoir between the reservoir brine and crude oil. The practice is known as enhanced oil recovery, and along with all the equipment and personnel, it is the microemulsion that makes it happen.
Not a particularly exciting product, but as any homeowner or janitorial worker knows, it certainly has its purpose. Floor polish needs to be the right consistency and the right texture to work properly, and aside from making the floor shine and look great, it can also reduce slippery conditions that may result in a fall.
Since pesticides have a very specific function, having the right mix of ingredients in the right consistency is quite important. The fact that it must keep insects away without damaging human skin and tissue makes the proper formula very important.
The pharmaceutical industry is one that uses the microemulsion concept on a regular basis. Many different drugs are manufactured using a microemulsion as part of the process. And as everyone knows, pharmaceuticals that aren’t made exactly to specifications can result in a terrible situation once they get into the hands and bodies of patients. Drugs that aren’t mixed and processed correctly can lead to serious health issues and even death.
About the author: Ken Torres, an avid blogger to the general masses specializing in up and coming happenings in the science industry.
Image source. License: Creative Commons.