Assessment of the applicability of HLB values for natural phospholipid emulsifiers for preparation of stable emulsions

Pharmazie. 2020 Aug 1;75(8):365-370. doi: 10.1691/ph.2020.9174.


Natural phospholipid (PL) excipients are native, biocompatible and relatively inexpensive alternatives to synthetic emulsifiers. A well-known PL excipient is lecithin, which primarily contains phosphatidylcholine (PC) and (depending on the purity grade) also contains a well-defined mixture of other PLs with a fatty acid composition, which reflects their natural source. Since all of these lipid species are emulsifiers, natural PLs can be considered as a mixture of (co-) emulsifiers. Many different HLB values for lecithins are given in the literature, which is why this needs to be clarified. To assess this, HLB values of thirteen different plant derived PLs differing in PC content were determined using a centrifugation stress method to determine the relative stability of an emulsion with the respective emulsifier and different oil phases. It could be shown that the studied PLs can be characterized by a broad HLB range, which may be linked to the composition of the PLs and the oil used. In order to emphasize the results of the HLB determination, it could be demonstrated that stable emulsions could be prepared with a wide range of oils using the plant-based PLs and that the preparation method of the emulsions is important in order to obtain stable emulsions. Therefore, assigning a specific exact HLB value to natural PLs instead of a wider range is inappropriate. The broad HLB ranges indicate the suitability of the studied PL emulsifiers for the preparation of oil-in-water emulsions for a wide range of oils: It is recommended to experimentally evaluate the suitability of these natural emulsifiers for the preparation of stable emulsions and to benefit from the wide range of HLB values of these emulsifiers instead of relying on inaccurate and confusing HLB values in the literature.

MeSH terms

  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical / methods
  • Emulsifying Agents / chemistry*
  • Emulsions
  • Excipients / chemistry*
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Lecithins / chemistry*
  • Oils / chemistry
  • Phosphatidylcholines / chemistry
  • Phospholipids / chemistry*


  • Emulsifying Agents
  • Emulsions
  • Excipients
  • Lecithins
  • Oils
  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • Phospholipids