Friday, June 11, 2010

Question: How can you tell if it's a good recipe?

I'm really excited to see all the tutorials popping up around the 'net for bath and body products - one day we'll all be making our own stuff and the giant corporations will fall (insert evil genius laugh here) and we'll all have lovely skin and shiny hair and overly white teeth that blind anyone passing by, but that's because we can't make our own toothpaste yet - but as with anything that's getting popular, you'll find some great tutorials and some not-so-great tutorials. So here's my short guide to figuring out if you've found a recipe you'll be adding to your regular collection or one you'll be cursing as a waste of supplies.

For a lotion, you must have an emulsifier and it should be done at the proper ratio. If you see a recipe that contains less than 25% of the oil phase in emulsifier, it may not work. So if you have 20% oils and you have less than 5% emulsifiers, it may not work. Similarly, if you see a recipe that has 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup oil, 1/4 cup emulsifier, you know there's way too much emulsifier and will feel pretty waxy.

Acceptable emulsifiers are emulsifying wax, Polawax, BTMS, and things like Natramulse, Sugarmulse, and combinations like glycol distearate and ceteareth-20 (check out the HLB system information for more). Unacceptable emulsifiers are beeswax (without borax), paraffin wax, or no emulsifiers at all. Beeswax with borax can act as a water in oil emulsifier; beeswax on its own will not act as an emulsifier.

If you have no emulsifier a lotion will emulsify for a short period of time. This is thanks to the concepts of heat and mechanical emulsification. Heat something up or mix something well enough and you'll see some emulsification. This will separate in a short period of time, leaving with you with a mess of honey and water and oil and other lovely things you've wasted on a poorly designed lotion recipe.


If you see a lip balm recipe with anything water soluble - glycerin, honey, water soluble oils, stevia in glycerin - this will separate out eventually. I know it's a lovely idea to sweeten our lip balms with honey, but they simply won't stay together and the water soluble stuff will bubble up and taste really awful. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news...

A good recipe will be done in weight measurements, not volume. (See this post for reasons why.) A quick summary: Weight measurements are more accurate. It's hard to figure out 1 tablespoon of a pastille type ingredient like BTMS or emulsifying wax. You will see mineral make-up recipes in volume measurements - that's understandable due to small amounts, and you can convert the recipe on your own - but all other recipes should be done in weighted measurements. And preferably in grams.

If you want to convert a recipe in percentages to weight, just convert the percentages to grams. So if you have 10% sweet almond oil, just call that 10 grams. This will give you a 100 gram batch. Then you can multiply by any number to get a larger batch. If you want to make a ton of conditioner, multiply each ingredient by 10 so you can make 1000 grams or 1 kilogram of conditioner. (So 7% BTMS becomes 70 grams of BTMS. And 2% hydrolyzed protein becomes 20 grams and so on.) Most scales have a gram setting on them and it's a lot easier to work with grams than ounces! The metric system rules! 

Anything with water must contain a preservative. GSE is not a preservative (click the link for more information). If you're making the product for yourself as a tester, use a preservative. What if you love it? What if you make a large batch and want to keep it? Don't you deserve a well preserved product? Preservatives aren't that expensive and are well worth the cost! If a recipe you think you'll love doesn't contain a preservative, add your own at the rate you know will work!

I don't get this logic - I'm only making it for myself, so I don't need a preservative. So you don't deserve a product free of bacterial, fungal, and yeast contamination? Is your skin or hair less worthy of protection? Please always use a preservative. 

Follow good manufacturing procedures for lotion recipes. There are reasons we do these things, and to not do them is to invite contamination and epic lotion fail.

If you find a tutorial that violates these rules, ignore it. You will find another lotion recipe somewhere on the 'net that fulfills your needs.

If you really want to try it because it has some lovely ingredient in it - say, sweet almond oil - remember that you can take a recipe you know and love (or one you know that works) and substitute sweet almond oil for any oil in the recipe. You've learned enough about modifying recipes to know that you can easily substitute one ingredient for a similar ingredient, right?

Remember what I was saying about names of products? Sure the Aloe & Oat Hydrating Conditioner sounds lovely but it can easily be altered to be a Lavender & Silk Hydrating Conditioner or a Rosemary & Wheat Hydrating Conditioner or even a Chamomile & Green Tea Moisturizing Conditioner when you know your ingredients. 

If you still want to try it, then you can modify it! Figure out the heated water, heated oil, and cool down phases. Adjust the emulsifier. Add some preservative. Follow good manufacturing processes. But honestly, if you can do this, you should be formulating your own recipes!

There are some recipes out there that can't be saved, and there are so many great ones out there. If you find one that doesn't work, figure out what appealed to you and find a recipe that you know will work!

20 comments:

TygerMae said...

Very good points. I come across people who don't want to use a preservative cause they want a truly "natural" product. It is such a small amount, I like to be safe rather than sorry.

Mich said...

As always, Susan, thank you for being a rational and trustworthy source of info in an often wacky world-wide web!

kontakt said...

Regarding "I only use it for myself so I don't need a preservative. Well, in some cases it means "I make small batches and I know I will use it in two weeks, and most of the time it will be stored in the fridge". The problem will then be if you actually for some reasons don't use it up for two months. I don't use preservatives if I make a very small batch just to test things and it will usually be finished before I've taken three showers.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Actually, I should have included this on the preservatives - some can curdle your lotion, some won't work with cationics, and some can change the consistency, so leaving it out means you don't have a true sense of what the final product might be like in the future.

Hi TygerMae. I hate to sound like a cliche, but better 0.5% unnatural preservative than even 5% all natural bacteria!

Hi Mich! I'm just getting tired of seeing link after link to this really awful recipe of 1/4 cup rosewater, 1/4 cup e-wax, and 1/4 cup oil without preservatives making the rounds when there are some really lovely recipes out there! I mean, if you've made the effort to get those three ingredients, there are so many beautiful recipes you could make!

Hi kontakt! I just found a lotion I made before Christmas that fell behind my bed. I loved it and thought I'd used it all. I used good preservatives, so I know I can enjoy it a while longer. If I hadn't preserved it...well, I'd have a bottle of ick!

I tend to use my lotions before bed and I tend to get pretty tired after taking my handful of painkillers and muscle relaxants (necessary for my horrible headaches). I don't have the energy to go put things in the fridge. And it would take one night like that in a warm room to make an unpreserved lotion go bad!

TygerMae said...

Hi Susan,

I am so with you there. I'm getting tired of telling friends that a little preservative isn't so bad compared to how horrible a bacteria or mold can do you. They seem to think that using GSE or ROE are adequate. Ugh. I'm still experimenting with different preservatives to see which I like and which likes me.

Madeaj said...

This is such a good topic. I just had a discussion with a friend who thinks natural and healthy means no preservatives. She is having all kinds of skin issues that I think are made worse by using so-called natural products.

I think its a bit funny that people spent hundreds (thousands?) of years trying to find a safe way to preserve stuff and now that we have it, people are wanting to use stuff without preservatives. :-)

Please keep up the articles, I am really enjoying the blog.

Celine Blacow said...

Susan, I want to thank you SO much for all the information on your blog, it is such a hugely important resource.

I was wondering if you've done any articles about lip balms or, if not, are planning any? I know they can be perceived as easy to make but it can be hard to find the "perfect" formulation.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Celine. I've written a few things on lip related products in these posts..
lip shimmers and lip balms. And here's Majestic Mountain Sage's recipe that works as a great starting point for lip balms!

It is hard to find the perfect formulation for your tastes. I found tweaking the oils to be a lot of work, let alone tweaking the butters, then figuring out the waxes. But it's worth the work!

Celine Blacow said...

Thanks so much Susan, appreciate it.

Tara said...

Hi Susan. It's the Question Woman again (I read your blog everyday, and I am learning so much!).
When you say you should have at least 25% emulsifier for your oils in a lotion recipe, does the oil portion include cetyl alcohol or is CA considered an emulsifier of sorts?
Also, I generally use BTMS (not the BTMS-50, because I can find it locally). I remember you saying for conditioning effects, you should use 50% more BTMS than BTMS-50. Does that hold true as well for general emulsification?

Thanks so much Susan. You're always so helpful!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Tara! Questions are great!

Here's a really lengthy explanation about using Polawax in your lotions and the 25% rule. The short answer: Cetyl alcohol and stearic acid is included in the oil phase for the emulsifier.

As for the BTMS-25 vs. BTMS-50, I've found BTMS-25 doesn't emulsify nearly as well as BTMS-50 and can't be substituted for BTMS-50 in a lotion recipe by doubling it. It's way more complicated than that, so I don't suggest using BTMS-25 as an emulsifier at all unless you are prepared to have the recipe fail or want to re-formulate the recipe from scratch.

So the short answer for BTMS-25 is it works in a conditioner by doubling it, it doesn't work as an emulsifier by doubling it.

Tara said...

Oh THANK YOU Susan. I have been wasting literally hundreds of ounces of failed creams because they weren't emulsifying with the BTMS-25, and I was ready to pack it in! I have ordered some BTMS-50 from one of your local suppliers, so thank goodness I have some on hand!
Would you say that the BTMS-25 is essentially useless, or what would you suggest I can do with the remainder of my stock? Would a co-emulsifier make it more useful?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Tara. No, BTMS-25 isn't useless, it just probably isn't the first choice for emulsifiers for lotions. You can make some great conditioners out of it. Just double up on the BTMS-25 when making a rinse off conditioner (I think you mentioned you had dry hair?). Or use the same amount for a lighter conditioner. And I know you mentioned using your conditioners as shaving lotions - use the BTMS-25 in that capacity or in shaving bars.

Nancy Liedel said...

I am crunchy and I did not think you needed preservatives a year ago. I was wrong. Way wrong. Preservatives make the difference between and lotion and an unsightly monster that might eat you for dinner. Yes, I jest. Still, one cut and one nasty lotion could lead to a world of badness. No overstating needed. Just please put some thought into it.

jenna said...

I have created this recipe and have made it before. There were moments that it worked and moments that it didn't. So after finding your blog a short time ago, I finally have the courage to ask about my recipe.

water 300g
ewax 25g
shea butter 40g
sweet almond 52.5g
jojoba 52.5g
preservative 2.5g
vit e 30 drops

I'm all for tweaking it, but just not sure where to start. Thanks and I love the blog!!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Jenna! I've written up a post on your lotion recipe and questions, which you can find here! I hope the new version works out for you. Let me know how it works!

Melanie said...

Why not make toothpaste?

Danuta Kildan said...

Some time ago I was made fun off when I said that Honey is not a preservative and will do nothing for bacteria growth. I must stop, telling people about it, it costs me too much emotion. Fantastic topic Susan.
Jenna you need at least 33 grams of Ewax ;)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Melanie. The short answer is that I don't have food safe preservatives. The long answer is that I already have too many things to make!!

Hi Danuta! Who would make fun of you? That's awful!

Clark said...

Hey Susan. LOVE your blog. So much useful information here. Especially for a newbie chemist like myself ( I failed chemistry in University....). You are crazy busy, but if you have a second I would appreciate a quick response or pointers. I'm creating a mens natural classic pomade (not water based) product and having a hard time getting the % w correct. My product comes out too oily or too hard.

INGREDIENTS: I have just about every carrier oil under the sun (Grapeseed, Almond, Sunflower, Safflower, Coconut Olive, Castor). My Waxes are beeswax and soy wax. I also have stearic acid / emulsifying wax / PEG-40 / borax.

This will be my 30th batch and I feel frustrated because I haven't made much progress. I want to use PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil as my main % weight to give the product smooth / scoop out of container feel. Off the top of your head what % w for each should I be using? Sorry for the novel. ANY advice would be greatly appreciated. Again, love your blog thanks for all the time you put in.

-Clark