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What are the Different Types of Emulsions?

T. Carrier
T. Carrier

An emulsion results when multiple un-blendable liquids are combined. One of the liquids typically serves as a base through which particles of the other liquids spread or disperse. Two primary types exist: water-in-oil and oil-in-water emulsions. Both types are used in a number of creation processes, particularly in the medical field.

Emulsions are often recognizable by their cloudy or white appearance since the substances do not mix together in a unified manner. After a period of time, the mixed substance will often separate in one of three manners. The substance may divide into two or more easily identifiable layers consisting of the individual liquids in a process known as creaming. One or more of the substances may also become visible by forming flakes, called flocculation, or large blobs, called coalescence, in the main substance. Water and oil constitute the two major substances in many mixtures.

VInaigrette is an emulsion of vinegar and oil.
VInaigrette is an emulsion of vinegar and oil.

In a water-in-oil emulsion, the water disperses throughout the oil and the oil remains stable or continuous. An oil-in-water emulsion features the water as the stable source and the oil as the disperser. Only constant shaking and stirring may keep the liquids somewhat unified, so many chemists use substances called emulsifiers to facilitate the binding together of the liquids. The type of emulsifier used will often determine which type of basic emulsion results from a mixture. If an emulsifying substance like proteins dissolves more effectively in water, for example, then an oil-in-water emulsion will more likely form.

Honey is an emulsion.
Honey is an emulsion.

Various everyday household items are created this way. Food processing frequently uses these processes to create condiment products such as vinaigrette — vinegar and oil — mayonnaise, mustard, and honey. Body lotions and creams found in pharmacies are also emulsions. Many cosmetics makers find the process beneficial as well.

Different degrees of oil and water can create therapeutic balms, creams, pastes, and ointments, which can then be applied for skin treatments. If a product has a highly liquid texture, it can also serve as a medicine administered by swallowing or by injection. In addition, an emulsion can lower the ingredient count of an oral medicine and mask unpleasant odors and thus enhance taste.

Mustard is an emulsion.
Mustard is an emulsion.

A clearer and more stable type called a microemulsion uses oil, water, and substances called surfactants that lower surface tension. Microsemulsions consisting of soybean oil can play an important role in the vaccination process by attacking invading microscopic organisms in the body. Health can also be bolstered if needed nutrients are emulsified and distributed to an immobile patient. As demonstrated, medicine is perhaps the field in which these mixtures have the greatest practical benefit.

Discussion Comments


@healthy4life – Salad dressing may be just fine after it separates, but some liquid emulsions are not. Milk is spoiled once it reaches this phase.

My husband once poured a gallon of spoiled milk down the sink, and solid globs fell out as he poured. It was very disgusting.

As one of my friends once said, “Milk will let you know when it has gone bad.” There is no mistaking it.


When I think of the word emulsion, acrylic paint comes to mind. I am an artist, and this is my favorite medium.

An acrylic emulsion is just plastic particles suspended in both pigment and water. Since acrylic paint is water-based, it can be removed easily with water before it dries.

After it dries, you are pretty much stuck with it, though. The particles become one with each other as the water in the emulsion dries. I have had to scrape dried acrylic paint off the floor before, and it was not easy.


You can see the separation of oil and water in salad dressing. My salad dressings are always separating out, but just a quick shake blends it all together again.

Some people think that when the components separate, it means the dressing has gone bad. I don't believe this. I think it's completely natural for an oil emulsion dressing to behave this way. I have no problem pouring it on my salad after I've shaken it well.


I had no idea that vaccinations were emulsions. From reading this article, I can tell that there are multiple emulsion types that I was never aware existed.

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    • VInaigrette is an emulsion of vinegar and oil.
      By: Picture Partners
      VInaigrette is an emulsion of vinegar and oil.
    • Honey is an emulsion.
      By: frog-travel
      Honey is an emulsion.
    • Mustard is an emulsion.
      By: Sea Wave
      Mustard is an emulsion.
    • Emulsion may mask unpleasant odors in oral medication.
      By: Monkey Business
      Emulsion may mask unpleasant odors in oral medication.
    • Mayonnaise is an emulsion.
      By: Alexandra
      Mayonnaise is an emulsion.
    • Lotion, an emulsified product.
      By: michelangelus
      Lotion, an emulsified product.