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Home > Cosmetics Constituents > The World of Polymers
The World of Polymers
Man-made PolymersPolymers occur naturally and are also man-made. Polymers are large molecules composed of many smaller repeating units (monomers) bonded together. The many different types of Polymers are divided into three categories: synthetic organic polymers, biopolymers, and inorganic polymers. Biopolymers are those that occur naturally. Some examples of biopolymers are found in wood, straw, animal hides, and hair. Specific examples of biopolymers include DNA, RNA, proteins, and polysaccharides. Glass and cement are examples of inorganic polymers. Synthetic organic polymers include polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene, and polyurethane. Polyvinyl chloride, discovered in 1838, was the first synthetic organic polymer to be made. Interestingly, many polymers have been discovered by accident. For instance in 1839, vulcanized rubber was discovered when Charles Goodyear accidentally dropped a mixture of natural rubber and sulfur onto a hot stove. The result yielded a product that was strong and elastic which is now used for boots, tires, and rainwear. Polystyrene was also accidentally discovered shortly after styrene was synthesized and purified because it polymerizes sponta- neously unless a stabilizer is added. Polymers have a variety of uses. They can be plastics such as PVC, polypropylene, and polystyrene or material for clothes such as Nylon, polyesters such as Dacron, and poly (methylmethacrylate). A polymer can also have more than one use. An example would be poly  (methylmethacrylate) which is used in Plexiglas, Lucite paints and acrylic fibres. Polymers are used in bulletproof vests (Keviar) and in Krazy Glue. The precursor for many plastics such as PVC, polyvinyl acetate (paints and adhesives), polyvinyl alcohols (adhesives), and polyvinyl pyrrolidone (cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and inks) is acetylene. Sometimes, if the polymer is too brittle, a plasticizer needs to be added. The addition of the plasticizer makes the polymer more flexible. Plasticizers are nonvolatile liquids that will dissolve in the polymer and lower the attraction between the polymer chains and allowing them to slide by each other. PVC is a plasticized polymer which has dibutyl phthalate added to it. Dibutyl phthalate is slightly volatile and gradually evaporates. This is why PVC products often become hard and brittle over time. Polymers are long chains of repeating units of carbon compounds.
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