Impact of microemulsion inspired approaches on the formation and destabilisation mechanisms of triglyceride nanoemulsions
Even after 30+ years of research, there are still few examples of physically stable transparent nanoemulsions despite their high potential to revolutionise pharmaceutical, personal care, and food products. In this study, we examine how low-energy “microemulsion inspired” (co-solvent/co-surfactant) approaches impact the formation and destabilisation mechanisms of homogenised triglyceride nanoemulsions. The addition of n-alcohol co-solvents and Span 80 co-surfactants had two effects on nanoemulsion droplet diameter; a beneficial one that reduced droplet diameter from 120 to 50 nm and a deleterious one that caused destabilisation. The decrease in nanoemulsion droplet diameter facilitated by n-alcohols is thought to arise from changes in: (i) solvent quality near the interface and (ii) interface spontaneous curvature which dramatically reduce interfacial tension. The strength of this effect was magnified by n-alcohol partitioning behaviour and their tendency to associate with the headgroup of POE surfactants. Addition of an excess of n-alcohol led to nanoemulsion destabilisation, unusually for nanoemulsions, destabilisation was not via Ostwald ripening, instead coalescence was found to be the primary destabilisation mechanism. A rapid increase in nanoemulsion droplet growth rate with increasing n-alcohol content was observed for each n-alcohol. Such rapid changes in nanoemulsion instability with composition are reminiscent of PIC/PIT emulsions in the Winsor III region, whose instability has been described to be a function of the activation energy barrier to coalescence. The microemulsion inspired approaches developed in this work highlight a new general approach to the creation of transparent nanoemulsions, and are particularly advantageous for triglyceride oils which are inherently stable against Ostwald ripening.