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Mixture of two or more liquids in which one is dispersed in the other as microscopic or ultramicroscopic droplets (seecolloid). Emulsions are stabilized by agents (emulsifiers) that (e.g., in the case of soap or detergent molecules) form films at the droplets' surface or (e.g., in the case of colloidal carbon, bentonite clay, proteins, or carbohydrate polymers) impart mechanical stability. Less-stable emulsions eventually separate spontaneously into two liquid layers; more-stable ones can be destroyed by inactivating the emulsifier, by freezing, or by heating. Polymerization reactions are often carried out in emulsions. Many familiar and industrial products are oil-in-water (o/w) or water-in-oil (w/o) emulsions: milk (o/w), butter (w/o), latex paints (o/w), floor and glass waxes (o/w), and many cosmetic and personal-care preparations and medications (either type).
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on emulsion, visit Britannica.com.