Common Gelling Agents
There are many gelling agents. Some of the common ones are acacia, alginic
acid, bentonite, Carbopols® (now known as carbomers), carboxymethylcellulose.
ethylcellulose, gelatin, hydroxyethylcellulose, hydroxypropyl cellulose, magnesium
aluminum silicate (Veegum®), methylcellulose, poloxamers (Pluronics®), polyvinyl
alcohol, sodium alginate, tragacanth, and xanthan gum. Though each gelling agent
has some unique properties, there are some generalizations that can be made.
- If the gelling agent is added to the dispersing medium in a haphazard manner,
there is a tendency for the agent to "clump." The outer molecules of the gelling
agent contact the medium first and hydrate forming a surface layer that is more
difficult for the medium to penetrate. The clumps will ultimately hydrate, but
it will take more time. A much more efficient manner is to sieve the agents
onto the surface of the medium a little at a time as the medium is stirring.
Using glycerin as a wetting agent will sometimes minimize clump formation.
- Some gelling agents are more soluble in cold water than in hot water. Methylcellulose
and poloxamers have better solubility in cold water while bentonite, gelatin,
and sodium carboxymethylcellulose are more soluble in hot water. Carbomers,
tragacanth, and alginic acid gels are made with tepid water.
- Some gelling agents (carbomers) require a "neutralizer" or a pH adjusting
chemical to create the gel after the gelling agent has been wetted in the dispersing
- Most gelling agents require 24-48 hours to completely hydrate and reach
maximum viscosity and clarity.
- Gelling agents are used in concentrations of 0.5% up to 10% depending on
- It is easier to add the active drug before the gel is formed if the drug
doesn't interfere with the gel formation.
- Only Carbopol® 934P, methylcellulose, hydroxypropylmethylcellulose, and
sodium carboxymethylcellulose are recommended for oral administration.
Carbomer is a generic name for a family of polymers
known as Carbopol®. Carbopols® were first used in the mid 1950s. As a group,
they are dry powders with high bulk densities, and form acidic aqueous solutions
(pH around 3.0). They thicken at higher pHs (around 5 or 6). They will also
swell in aqueous solution of that pH as much as 1000 times their original volume.
Their solutions range in viscosity from 0 to 80,000 centipoise (cps). Some examples
of this group of gelling agents are
||3,000 - 7,000
||Effective in low concentrations and will provide a low viscosity
||30,500 - 39,400
||Effective in thick formulations such as emulsions, suspensions,
sustained-release formulations, transdermals, and topicals.
Forms clear gels with water.
||29,400 - 39,400
||Same properties as 934, but intended for pharmaceutical formulations.
"P" = highly purified product
||40,000 - 60,000
||Effective in thick formulations, very good clarity in water
or hydroalcoholic topical gels.
Forms clear gels with hydroalcoholic systems.
||4,000 - 11,000
||Produces low viscosity gels, very good clarity.
* 0.5% solution, pH 7.5
Carbomer polymers are best introduced into water by slowly sprinkling a sieved
powder into the vortex created by rapid stirring. This should prevent clumping.
Once all of the powder has been added, the stirring speed should be reduced
to decrease the possibility of entrapping air bubbles in the formulation.
As mentioned, when the carbomer is dispersed, the solution will have a low
pH. A "neutralizer" is added to increase the pH and cause the dispersion to
thicken and gel. Some neutralizing agents are sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide,
and triethanolamine. If the inorganic bases are used to neutralize the solution,
a stable water soluble gel is formed. If triethanolamine is used, the gel can
tolerate high alcohol concentrations. The viscosity of the gel can be further
manipulated by propylene glycol and glycerin (to increase viscosity) or by adding
electrolytes (to decrease viscosity).
The cellulose derivatives (methylcellulose, hydroxyethylcellulose, hydroxypropylcellulose,
hydroxypropylmethylcellulose, and carboxymethylcellulose) are commonly used.
There are some commonalties in these compounds, and each one has their unique