What is Borax? For the uninitiated, this might be a pretty obvious question to ask. But for those in the beauty business, especially when it comes to skincare, Borax (or sodium borate, sodium tetra borate, or disodium tetra borate as its chemical names go) has had experts and enthusiasts divided over its pros and cons. Some tend to believe that all the hue and cry being raised over its potentially harmful effects is nothing but an exaggeration, while others continue to maintain that their concerns are genuine. No matter which side you’re on or are looking to choose, it wouldn’t be wise to go either ways unless you’re well-informed on the matter. So we decided to do some basic research on the mineral compound in order to help you answer the pertinent question ‘What is Borax?’ and here’s what we came across.
What is Borax?
As for its chemical composition, Borax is compound of the element ‘Boron’ and a mineral salt of Boric acid (mind you though, both Boric acid and Borax have different chemical compositions) that is most commonly found naturally deposited in lake beds and in runoffs alongside mountains. Hav* been in use since ancient times, even its discovery has certain controversy associated with it (some claim that the mineral was discovered in 8th century AD in the dry lake beds in Tibet while there are some that place its discovery much further back, about 4000 years ago, probably in the Sumerian region which now belongs to modern-day Iran).
The multi-functionality of Borax
Borax finds utilization in a number of household activities such as doing laundry, cleaning (including as a pesticide), keeping those flowers in the vase fresh, maintaining the pH value of your swimming pool and cooking (as a food additive). Outside the house, there are even more uses for Borax, with the mineral compound finding application in activities such as glass making, pottery, forge welding, clearing blockages in car engines and radiators and also as a fire retardant.
Now you must be wondering why we’re trying to explain what borax is to a bunch of beauty enthusiasts. Well, one area where the compound finds perhaps its most extensive application is in the case of cosmetics and other beauty products. Right from creams and body lotions to shampoos, bath gels and even the in-vogue bath bombs, just about every product associated with skincare has Borax as one of its components. Given its mild and antiseptic nature, quite a few natural cosmetic products tend to include Borax as an essential ingredient as well.
- How does it work?
The commercial variety of Borax that you see in the market is partially hydrated. When the compound comes in contact with water (the solubility of Borax is known to increase with an increase in temperature), the reaction caused leads to the release of miniscule amounts of hydrogen peroxide. Now hydrogen peroxide, as most of us probably know, is widely used as an antiseptic to prevent the occurrence of any infections on the skin. So this property of Borax helps a number of products act to inhibit microbial growth on and in the skin as well. Also, the Borax present in cosmetics, especially in lotions and creams, softens the water phase of the product, thereby enabling its contrasting oil and water components to bind well together. There are also other chemical emulsifying agents (often misrepresented as a ‘vegetable emulsifying wax’) that do the same binding work, but given our aversion to chemically created products, Borax manages to reign supreme on our list in this aspect.
The emulsifying action of Borax also helps reduce the surface tension of the water-based components of our cosmetic products, allowing them to mix together well with ingredients like beeswax and oils and thus, helping preserve the product for much longer. Basically, the Borax in your cosmetic product can act as a preservative, an emulsifier, a water softener, cleanser, particle suspender or even a buffering agent. With respect to the last part, it is the high pH value of the compound (9.5 as compared to the 8 of baking soda, which is also a compound that most people tend to confuse Borax with) that enables it to act as a buffering agent.
- The great safety debate
There has been considerable research done on the potential health risks of using Borax. Given its extensive use in detergents and in other cleaning products (and even as a pesticide!), there was bound to be controversy regarding its effects on your skin. So is Borax really harmful for your skin? Well, the answer is a bit more complicated than a simple ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ to be stated objectively. The first thing, however, we’d like to bring to your attention is that the amount of Borax used in most cosmetic products is really small, like about 0.003% or even lesser. Now, will use a beauty product with that much amount of Borax in it proves to be hazardous? Probably, it won’t.
However, there have also been reports of people experiencing skin irritation after hav* used beauty products containing Borax on their skin. However, since different persons can be sensitive to different ingredients and in varying degrees, a few reports cannot really be considered as enough evidence to warrant a ban on its use (for those with rather sensitive skin though, we’d recommend that you refrain from using products containing Borax as much as possible). So should you or should you not use products containing Borax? Well, as long as you’re not applying the product too frequently or excessively, Borax shouldn’t cause any problems for your skin. At least for now, the pros do certainly seem to outweigh the cons.