Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Oil free moisturizer

Leanne wrote to me asking for some tips on creating an oil free moisturizer. By definition a moisturizer contains oil, water, and emulsifier...so is it possible to make an oil free moisturizer? Yes!

When you see lotions in the stores with "oil free" emblazoned on the container, they still contain an oil phase. Generally the main moisturizer is a fatty acid or fatty alcohol (like stearic acid or cetyl alcohol or variations on those ingredients), so we can use that to build an oil free moisturizer.

What are we looking for in an oil free moisturizer? We want something moisturizing, conditioning, and occlusive, but not too occlusive. We want ingredients that will condition, moisturize, hydrate, and film form without oils, butters, or other comedogenic ingredients.

Where to start?

Water, aloe, hydrosols - We need to maximize every inch of a facial moisturizer because of the high levels of water based ingredients, so we can start with the water amount. You could use all aloe, all hydrosol, all water, a combination - choose what you like here. I'd think aloe vera would be a great main ingredient because it has such lovely components for your skin. I always like to include a little lavender hydrosol in my summer creations because it soothes inflamed skin. You could use another hydrosol - orange is good for oily skin, rose for all types - as the entire water amount if you want. (I know there are tons of hydrosols I've never used, so research what it is supposed to do first, then use if it at the suggested amounts.)

I should clarify here that I don't suggest using more than 10% aloe vera or 10% hydrosol. Water is a good ingredient - it's not a filler, but an actual ingredient - and consider the first time you make this recipe using mostly water. 

Humectants - Glycerin might make you break out, so sodium lactate is probably the better choice. It works well for acne and it's a good, non-sticky humectant. I'd suggest using it at 2% because 3% can make you sun sensitive. I'm including 2% panthenol because it is a great humectant that offers some soothing of inflamed or irritated skin.

Conditioning agents - I'm going to build this moisturizer with a cationic emulsifier, Incroquat BTMS. It's substantive, so it will attach to negatively charged skin and offers conditioning and moisturizing benefits. So it's three great things in one. As well, I'm going to add a cationic polymer - Condition-eze 7 or honeyquat or cationic guar gum - as a conditioning and moisturizing agent. And they're humectants, so again we see two great things in one!

If you use honeyquat, please put it in the cool down phase. It can smell bad when it is heated too much. 

As a note, I'm generally not a BTMS as emulsifier kind of girl. I find it feels really dry and powdery. I have oily skin, so a dry facial moisturizer feels nice to me. You can use emulsifying wax at 3 to 5% or an emulsifying system of your choice.

Cetyl alcohol - this will thicken the lotion, plus it works in conjunction with the BTMS to increase the conditioning and substantivity of BTMS. So let's use that at 2%.

Film formers - We like the film forming abilities of the hydrolyzed proteins, so 2% should work well. If you want some serious film forming and moisturizing from your proteins, you could add up to 4%. (I'd suggest using 2 different ones - like say, low molecular weight silk, which will penetrate the skin, and 2% oat protein, which will film form - or something like Phytokeratin, which is a mixture of soy, corn, and wheat in various molecular weights.)

Occlusive - Cocoa butter and dimethicone aren't appropriate occlusives for an oil free moisturizer, so we're using 1% allantoin to offer occlusive properties, as well as skin softening and moisture binding properties. It's an astringent, which is always a bonus for oily skin.

Extracts - If you want to add some powdered or liquid extracts, please do. I like honeysuckle and chamomile powdered extracts, but cucumber, papaya, and strawberry are all good choices for oily skin (although I can never get strawberry to preserve well in a lotion...and I am a good preserver!) If you have something like Multifruit BSC or Phytofruit or other water based extracts, use those at the appropriate levels. Consider using astringent extracts if you have really oily skin.

What about IPM? If it's a dry astringent and an ester, wouldn't this be a good inclusion? Yes and no. It would be because we could get some dry emolliency in there without using oils, but it is comedegenic. So if you have oily, acne prone skin, it's probably a very poor choice. If you aren't acne prone, and are the type of person who can slather straight shea butter on your skin, then give it a shot. But then again, why would you want to make an oil free moisturizer?

So let's get creating!

84.5% water (aloe vera, hydrosol of choice.)
3% honeyquat or condition-eze 7 or other cationic polymer of choice (like cationic guar gum)
2% hydrolyzed protein
0.5% allantoin
2% sodium lactate

2% cetyl alcohol

2% panthenol
0.5% - 1% powdered extract (optional)
0.5% -1% preservative

Weigh all the ingredients in your water phase in a heat proof container and put into a double boiler.

Weigh all the ingredients in your water phase in a heat proof container and put into a double boiler.

Heat both phases for 20 minutes at 70˚C. (You might want to use a small container for the oil phase as it is very small). When you have heated and held for 20 minutes, remove from the double boiler and pour the water phase into the oil phase and mix well with a hand mixer or stick blender.

When cooled to 45˚C, add your cool down phase and mix well. When the lotion has completely cooled, bottle and enjoy!

If you wish to add the powdered extract, remove up to 2% of your water phase after it been heated and held but before you add it to the oil phase, and mix with the powdered extract to dissolve.

As a note, you could add some PEG-7 olivate or olive oil esters to this recipe and still be oil free. (Click here for my post on this really cool ester!) It would give you the benefits of olive oil - it's a humectant, emollient, and mimics human sebum - without giving you the oiliness. Oh, what the heck, let's do a post on it Thursday!


Rebecca said...

Hi Susan!

Thank you so much for this great post. I've always wondered about oil free moisturizers, and your explanation was so easy to understand.

Quick question, though - I've heard that aloe can be a pain in the backside to preserve because it's easily susceptible to beasties. Would you agree? I've purchased pure aloe juice and gel from suppliers (not the kind you get at Target for sunburns), but I'm hesitant about using it since I didn't want to expose my formula to potential growth.

I do love aloe for my skin, so I'd love to be able to add it in my recipes. :) Thanks!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Preserving aloe can be a massive pain in the bum, as it can be with other botanicals. If you are comfortable with your preserving techniques and have chosen a preservative you know works well for you and your formulations, then you'd preserve it as you would your other products.

If I'm using aloe in large amounts, I always go with the maximum recommended preservative - for Liquid Germall Plus, 0.5%. It is likely your aloe or hydrosols are already preserved by the supplier or manufacturer. Ask your supplier about what is preserved and what is not - you'll probably be quite surprised (or check out the INCI or the manufacturer's site for more information - although that's not easy for aloe vera as there are many manufacturers).

I say make up a batch of something with aloe and see how it fares. I realize we can't always see various beasties and germs in our creations, but it's worth trying so you can get a sense of how our creations change over time.

llamashouse said...

These comments were left quite a while ago but I'm responding in case someone happens upon them now (like I just did!) I did kind of an accidental experiment with interesting results. I was out of my usual aloe from Mountain Rose Herbs (with potassium sorbate & citric acid), and since I'm an impatient type who didn't want to wait for shipping, I bought some topical aloe from Whole Foods (don't remember the brand, but it was unpreserved and I had to keep it in the fridge - should have been my first clue!). I always preserve this recipe with .5% Liquid Germall Plus, and I've never had any visible contamination. But after 3 weeks, this batch turned into a terrifying fuzzy black moldy monster - truly disgusting.

My takeaway: something seemingly insignificant (different brands) made a HUGE difference! if you have not had success with preserving aloe or other botanicals, perhaps do some research on if/how the supplier preserves them. maybe it's just a matter of switching suppliers, or including something like an organic acid.

Karen Sanders said...

Hi! Stumbled upon your site a few months ago and have become obsessed with crafting bath and body products!!! Thanks for the inspiration!
This weekend I attempted the Oil-Free Moisturizer recipe. I tried it 3 times. All 3 times I could not get the ingredients to emulsify - it remained a runny separated mess. The second time I stuck to the formula without any changes (using honeyquat, Hydrolyzed Oats, and no extract) the third time I duplicate3d the second try but increased the BTMS to 5% and cetyl alcohol to 3%. I haven't had any problems with emulsification until this - I haven't made a lot of products but have made a few lotions and creams with no problems.
Do you have any idea what might have happened? Thanks for any insight you can provide!
- Karen

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Are you using BTMS-25 or BTMS-50?

Karen Sanders said...

I'm using the BTMS from Lotioncrafter - it doesn't say on the site. Perhaps it is BTMS-25 and I should be using BTMS-50? I'll check with them...

Karen Sanders said...

OK - I am catching a clue here. I've read up on various posts on the site and I can see now from the ingredient list at Lotioncrafter that I have BTMS-25. It also seems like I will have better luck with BTMS-50. So, I'll get some BTMS-50 and try again!

Elysia Cryer said...

Cetyl Alcohol is moderately comedogenic and the key ingredient in Germall - Propylene Glycol - is extremely comedogenic. Do you have suggestions for a acne-safe alternatives to these ingredients?
I have very sensitive, acne-prone skin so I have to be really careful with what I put on my skin.
Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan.
If i wish to make a containing vitamin a (retinoid palmiate fat soluble), in what face should i add this ingredient?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi mruakg! If you take a look at this post on when to add ingredients in the frequently asked questions page, you'll see that we determine when to add something based on the solublity and ability to handle heat. If your ingredient is oil soluble and can tolerate heat, we put it into the heated oil phase. If your ingredient is oil soluble but not tolerant to heat, put it in the cool down phase. Or ask your supplier.

Hi Elysia. I'm writing up a longer answer to your post in today's Tuesday Wonderings.

Anonymous said...

Are there any other more naturally derived alternatives for the sodium lactate?


SkinnyB*tch said...

i have attempted this about 5 times and each time i really like the anti shine effect on the skin but im not getting a cream or lotion consistency AT ALL.. im getting a mousse like texture that is like a very thin cool whip and after being stored in the fridge it gets kinda flat and again not at all like a rich creamy feel.... im using pola wax instead of the btms 5o is that likely my problem?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Yes. Change the emulsifier, change the skin feel the consistency, and a lot of other things. Why are you putting it in the fridge? And how much are you whipping it when you mix it?

SkinnyB*tch said...

thanks i will order the btms 50... i think im whipping for like 6-8 min total... i guess i put in the fridge thinking it would become thicker or more solid.... is Cetrimonium Bromide the same as btms-50?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi SkinnyB*itch! You don't need to whip it that long or at all. Mix with a mixer or stick blender, not your whipping attachment. And you don't need to put it in the fridge. It should reach full viscosity in 24 hours or so.

Take a look at this post on cetrimonium bromide to see if it's the same as BTMS-50. You can find posts like this on the right hand side of the blog under bath and body guide.

Ann said...

Thank you for this recipe. This was my first lotion that wasn't just a standard oil/water/emulsifier/preservative. I really like it. I love the texture. I did replace the 3% honeyquat as I didn't have any and the 1% powdered extract as I was unsure if it would make my lotion grainy. I plan to do the recipe again and add the 1% mushroom powder that I wasn't brave enough to use this time. I used 1% alantoin and 3% olivem 300 in their place. Thanks again for all the wonderful recipes you post.


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Ann! Mushroom powder? What is that supposed to do? And blech - I hate mushrooms, but it sounds interesting! :-)

Send me an e-mail at sjbarclay@telus.net and let me know which e-book you'd like to have! If you already have them all, you can choose the soon-to-be done facial products e-book!

Melanie Klar said...

Would it be too much to ask that you use the INCI names when you are talking about things? When you use "incroquat" or "condition-eze" it is hard for me to know what you are talking about. When I search for them on the internet they don't always come up but if I search the INCI name I can find them. I can't use your suppliers because I am in America and lotion crafter and making cosmetics-some places i have gotten supplies-all have totally different names for things. I haven't been able to find some things on your right hand column either-like polowax. I don't know where I can get that without paying a huge shipping fee. Hey! maybe you could have people post where they buy stuff in the USA? And other countries as well for people there.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Melanie! This is an older recipe. I use INCI or proper names for ingredients more often now. As for where to buy things, you can check out the "where to buy supplies" series of posts in the FAQ. There is a huge one for America!

Honey Badger said...

Hi, just a couple of quick questions ;) I read earlier on your blog that honeyquat is added in the cool down phase but here it is added to the water phase, which is better please? I live in the UK and have something called honeyquat 50, not sure it is the same.

Many thanks for your fantastic blog :) I would like to make an oil free moisturiser, I have acne prone skin with rosacea...lucky me ;) so I welcome any suggestions and all the information you provide.

I tried the btms50/cetyl alcohol, it does feel dry, but made a good lotion. Is it the best emulsifier for 'oil free' moisturisers, or are there others? Mainly I am concerned with pore clogging, I tried using honeyquat as above but sadly it didn't emulsify, I'd like to make the moisturiser more hydrating if possible.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Honey Badger! I'll address your question in Thursday, December 4th's Weekday Wonderings in more detail. The short answer is that honeyquat should always go into the cool down phase as it smells horrible.

My skin type is acne prone with rosacea, so a lot of the recipes reflect this. Check out the skin chemistry section of the blog to see what is suggested for those issues!

Honey Badger said...

Many thanks Swift :) I made a moisturising toner and heated the honeyquat, I noticed a smell and worried I had made a mistake, so I'll remember that next time I use honeyquat. I will read more about your suggestions for rosacea, I have cosmetic acne if I use the wrong product, the dr only recently diagnosed rosacea, so no wonder I found it so difficult to buy the right products. I decided to try your moisturising toner and it has been great. I would like to use more honey products, as I find manuka honey with umf 15+ wonderful. If possible, wonder if manuka can be included in a recipe one day? Thanks for your advice and blog, it's very helpful.

angie said...

could this be used as a oil free leave in conditioner for those with oily hair?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Angie! Sure, why not? It's got all the qualities we want in a leave in conditioner, although I think the BTMS amount is a little higher than I would like in my hair!

Anonymous said...

Hello Susan, I would like to make one of your formulas for oily and acneic skin's lotion. My question is if I want to use sulphur as the powdery extract how Am I supose to add it? The sulphur that I have I bought from a trustful supplier and is for cosmetic use. Thank you so much for your blog and e-books that I purchased already. Greeting!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Nannita. Please speak to your supplier to learn how they suggest you use the ingredient. There are just too many variables for me to be able to help.

Anonymous said...


I'm trying an oil-free formula and it's just not coming together correctly (won't emulsify). Here's the formula:

76% water
0.5% potassium sorbate
0.75% allantoin
7% glycerin
3% stearic acid
3% cetyl alcohol
5% btms-50
0.2% lanolin

I don't get to cool down phase since it doesn't emulsify.

I heat the ingredients to melting point and mix with a stick blender. Any advice to make this recipe work would be appreciated! Thank you for your excellent blog!


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Royce. You need to heat and hold your ingredients for 20 minutes at 70˚C. This isn't an optional step and is probably the reason you experienced separation. I also don't understand how you experienced separation before the cool down phase. Didn't you mix it for more than a minute or two? I'm a little confused here...

My suggestion is to heat and hold the two phases separately as per the instructions in the post. I can assure you this recipe works well.

Kim said...

Would plant sterols ie. pomegranate and acai sterols be considered "oil free" and non-comodegenic or will they cause breakouts for oily/acne prone/blackhead prone skin? Can I create a "butter" with stearic acid or palmitic/stearic triglyceride and where I can buy the latter?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Kim. Yes, they would be considered oil free, but whether or not they will trigger break-outs is unpredictable because it all depends upon how your skin will react. The only way to know is to try it and keep really good notes.

Yes, you can thicken an oil with stearic acid or cetyl alcohol. I've done some experiments on this - do a search to find those posts. I don't know where to find the latter. Sorry.

Justin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Justin said...


I really like this idea! Can I add some other things to the recipe on my own? I was thinking of adding hyaluronic acid and some extracts. Thanks for the great recipe!!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Justin! Check out the newbie section of the blog to see where you can start making lotions, then modifying them to include ingredients you like. Please start with the starter recipe so you get a sense of how the ingredient work together before you go modifying it. I'm not saying you can't, but if you make a lotion with hyaluronic acid - a very expensive ingredient - and it fails, how do you know where the problem might be? How do you know how the lotion feels on your skin? You need that basic information to start modifying things!

And if you have a look around the blog, I modify the heck out of everything with loads of extracts and stuff. But start at the beginning!

minerug said...

Hi Susan,

I'm thinking of formulating a completely water-based soothing moisturising gel using natural/nature-derived ingredients.

So far I'm thinking of Honeyquat for the humectant as well as a marshmallow glycerine extract a bit of extra humectant and as the emollient. The rest of it would be something like a camomile or other soothing hydrosol with additional water added.

I'm just wondering what gelling agent/thickener you would suggest to get a similar consistency to the common Aloe vera gels? I'd like to stay clear of Ultrez-21 and other synthetic thickeners.



Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Tim! I'm offering some suggestions in Friday's Weekday Wonderings, so I hope you'll check back then.

My two cents: I wouldn't consider honeyquat as being natural in any sense of the word. It starts off as honey, but by the time it's turned into honeyquat, it's not even remotely close to the original ingredient. If your definition of what's natural is based on the origin of the ingredient, then all the other quats would qualify, as well as all surfactants, preservatives, and so on. In reality, every ingredient we use is from nature because that word encompasses everything on earth, so I'm wondering if maybe the idea of less processed or minimally processed ingredients might not be a better definition?

The idea of "derived from" is such a weasely thing producers of so-called natural products do. I could do that with every product I make, but it doesn't mean anything. I think it's a noble pursuit to want to make something with less processed ingredients and I commend you for it, but remember that the word "natural" doesn't have a definition in the world of bath & body products.

Here's a post I wrote on this topic: What does "coconut derived" mean?"

Can't wait to hear how your project is going!

judie osammor said...

Hi Susan, thanks a lot for this recipe. Pls I'd like to ask if i can do without silk/wheat or oat protein in this recipe as these are difficult to come by where I live. What will be the best alternatives to these proteins.
Thank you

firegirl said...

I made this today and used BTMS 25 at 4 1/2% and Olivem 1000 at 1 1/2%, leaving out the detail alcohol, as I bought those two emulsifiers before I started learning more about formulating. It emulsified well, has a little drag but feels great on my skin that loves breaking out in warmer temperatures. I love being able to adjust my skincare to the seasons, one of the main reasons I make my own cosmetics.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Judie! There really aren't substitutes for the proteins, so just leave them out and use water in their place.

Hi firegirl! I love adapting mine, too. The reason for the drag is the cetearyl alcohol found in the BTMS-25. It can be a bit waxy, but I think it's awesome for times when I need to protect my skin from the wind and rain!