Sunday, February 6, 2011

Question: What is the cheapest lotion you could make?

In this post, Patrick asks: I've made a hand lotion that our household really likes with Jojoba, FCO, RBO, Soy, Avocado, Shea Butter & Mango Butter. I toss in some fancy additives including panthenol and everything totaled comes to about $5USD for 500g. Not horrible, but a bit much. Anyway, here's my question: What's the absolute cheapest hand lotion you can make that's relatively good?

Will follows up with this question: Regarding Patrick's post below mine about the cheapest lotion, that made me wonder, what would be the cheapest one? Olive oil and glycerin with E-Wax maybe? I see big bottles of lotion at the dollar stores and never bothered to look at one of them - maybe I should for cheap inspiration.

Great questions!

It depends on what you are seeking in a lotion. You've hit it on the head, Will - I would think the cheapest one I could make would be a combination of soy bean oil, rice bran oil, or olive oil and glycerin (I pay about $8.00 for 1 litre of each of these oils.) The one down side is the greasiness of each of these oils. To get a less greasy combination, you'd have to move to something like avocado, jojoba, hazelnut, or camellia seed oil and those aren't cheap (about $20 to $30 a litre). I'd look at adding 2% IPM to the product to reduce the greasiness (which is about $8.50 a litre or so), which would be more cost effective than using any of the drier feeling oils. (Although having said this, fractionated coconut oil isn't that much more expensive than the others, which could give you a lighter lotion with less greasiness, but you wouldn't be getting all those lovely phytosterols and polyphenols from our oils.)

For thickening, coconut oil is cheaper than any of our butters. It's about $7.00 a pound, so it's cheaper than any of our butters (which can range from $11 to $16 per pound). Stearic acid and cetyl alcohol are both really inexpensive - about $3 a pound - so thickening with these ingredients rather than a butter might be a better bet.

And we could use water instead of all our fancy hydrosols (distilled water is $2.00 for 4 litres). So what would this look like...


(from this post)
65% distilled water - $0.04
3% glycerin - $0.03

15% oil - soy bean, rice bran, olive oil - $0.12
5% coconut oil - $0.08
3% cetyl alcohol - $0.01
2% IPM - $0.02
5% emulsifier (BTMS or Polawax) - $0.10

1% fragrance or essential oil - variable, about $0.05
0.5% to 1% preservative - liquid Germall Plus - $0.05
(This doesn't total 100% because of the difference in preservatives!)

This works out to about $0.50 for this lotion, which would make a really great body lotion. Tweak it with stearic acid (about the same cost) and you've got yourself a nice body cream.

The one down side is that it would be a fairly greasy lotion with these oils but we can bring it down with the IPM. You could go as high as 5% IPM and get a less greasy feeling lotion (cost about $0.01 per gram). You could use BTMS instead, which would bring the cost up to $0.15 for the emulsifier and up to $0.55 per 100 gram batch of lotion.

This hobby of cosmetic chemistry isn't a cheap one - I haven't factored in how much the container would cost or how much bandwidth you might use sending out pictures of your new awesome lotion to your friends - and it's understandable that we get upset when we make something we don't like or create a messy goo instead of a lotion! Having said all of this, it's easy to understand why the larger companies use mineral oil. The costs can really add up! 

As a secondary thought, with all that inexpensive distilled water in there, you can see how lotions generally cost less to make than anhydrous products! Consider the cost of a whipped butter ($1.75 or so for 50 grams, which should fill a container 100 ml container) or a lotion bar (tired of doing math now, but you can figure it out!) vs. a lotion in the same container. 

As a note, all of these amounts are based on buying about 1 litre or 1 pound of the ingredient in question from a few different Canadian retailers. I haven't included the hated HST (at 12%) or shipping costs (because I tend to drive to my retailers). Taxes, shipping, storage, and so on will increase your costs, whereas buying larger amounts will decrease the cost of the product. Your mileage may vary. 


Madeaj said...

Good post! Its certainly something to think about. Especially if you want something for general use, like for a public lav or something. I often purchase cheap lotion for the ladies'. Once I do a few test batches, this might be an option.

Will said...

Love it. I'll be playing with this because the only cost will essentially be time.

I made myself curious and went to the dollar store. I bought a 24.5 fluid oz bottle (big) for $1.00. It compares itself to Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion.

These are the ingredients: Water, glycerin, stearic acid, glycol stearate, petrolatum, sunflower seed oil or soybean oil, lecithin, vitamin e acetate, vitamin a palmitate, urea, collagen amino acids, sodium stearoyl lactate, mineral water, sodium pca, potassium lactate, lactic acid, dimethicone, oat kernel flour, keratin, glyceryl stearate, cetyl alcohol, magnesium aluminum silicate, fragrance, carbomer, stearamide amp, triethanolamine, corn oil, methylparaben, dmdm hydantoin, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, disodium edta, bht, propylene glycol, titanium dioxide.

The lotion itself is pretty good (a little greasy to me but you knew I'd say that, I suspect the petrolatum).

I know in volume stuff is cheap, but still, this was a buck and I doubt I could even find a big bottle with a squirter for that price!

Q: Are there any ingredients that you recognize in there that you would consider to provide a big bang for the buck? Any lessons to be learned from the formulation?

I'm loving this topic!


Nene said...

Sunflower is a great inexpensive addition. Preferably High Oleic sunflower for a longer lasting shelf life. HO sunflower is cheaper than rice bran and olive oil and is less greasy which is another plus.

Patrick said...

Patrick here again.

Now I had to travel to my dollar store. I bought a 34 oz "Advanced Therapy for Severely Dry Skin".

Water, Glycerin, Stearic Acid, Glycol Stearate, Retinyl Pammitate, Tocopheryl Acetate, glyceryl Stearate, Cetyl Alcohol, Petrolatum, Fragrance, Dimethicone, Magnesium Aluminum Silicate, Isopropyl Palmitate, Triethanolamine, Carbomer, DMDM Hydantoin, methylparaben, Disoidum EDTA, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Titatnium Dioxide.

Lotsa similarities, especially considering this is a "Vitamin E" lotion.

The lotion I got seems maybe like there's not enough moisturizers in it. About a half hour after putting it on your hands, you can't tell.

I think the other lotion that's "pretty good" is the winner. Will's dollar store wins!

I'm waiting to hear the expert opinion/lesson, too!

I like it when stuff gets deconstructed and investigated. Wish I was cosmetic-engineer-smart enough to do it, too!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Madeaj! I don't really think about the costs of my products much, but if I were to make some for the bathroom at work, I think I'd give some serious consideration to cost.

Hi Nene! Sunflower is a great choice, but I know Will & Patrick are seeking less greasy lotions, which is one of the reasons I didn't include it. It costs about the same as rice bran and soybean for me, and I use it in a lot of my products!

Hi Will & Patrick! I think your dollar store finds need to be their own post! I've written it up here. I'd love to hear your comments!

catherine said...

Hi! I've totally seen the cost savings with lotions, esp. facial moisturizers. But I don't think I've seen them with shampoo/body wash.

Which is too bad because it really is enjoyable and satisfying to make your own. But my family is on a serious budget and I have to factor that in.

I was all set to reorder my SLeS and coco. betaine from Then I noted that, with shipping, the cost was about $13/month. And even if I were to buy by the gallon instead of quart, the cost with shipping would still be maybe $10/month. Versus spending about $10 for a 16 oz bottle of high-quality Jason body wash which lasts maybe 2 months.

I think part of the problem is, in our house, the homemade stuff goes a lot faster than store-bought because of the lower foam. Also, the later shampoos I made were more concentrated than the earlier shampoos because the thickener seemed to degrade and be less effective over time. (Have you ever heard of that with Hydroxyethylcellulose?) So I added more SLeS to thicken.

Also, maybe there are better priced online stores but I feel like I've really done my research and personal formulator and the herbarie seem to be the way to go for non-lye soap making ingredients in the u.s.

I was excited to try my hand at conditioner and shampoo bars. I only had to add cocoa butter to the ingredients I already have on hand to make conditioner bars. But for shampoo/body bars! I did the math. The herbarie sells SCI for $9.75 for 12 oz. (And that doesn't even take into consideration a $30 minimum order plus shipping!) From what I've learned that would make about 6 or 7 bars of soap, right?

I feel like that's the same price I used to pay for already-made soap. And like I said before I can buy Jason body wash for about $10 for 16 oz that would last about 2 months.

So, am I calculating incorrectly? Or can I really buy a nice brand of shampoo/body wash for much less than homemade?


ps. the cheapest body wash with good ingredients i've found is the whole foods brand but...yuck yuck yuck. so's what made me decide to try to make my own shampoo in the first place. :)

Nedeia said...

let's not forget that we can use our supply of kitchen oils in our recipes! Sunflower, Olive, Coconut, I have all of them in my kitchen cabinet.

in my country there are also some shops where you can buy small amounts of different "exotic" oils (not exotic, but generally not used in the kitchen). Avocado, sweet almond, argan and so on. I have nothing against the kitchen ones, so you do not have to buy 1 liter (even though the cost per g of oil is lower). Or you could buy 100 grams of cocoa butter and you have yourself a very nice body butter with some occlusion.

Or you can skip adding any oils and use ewax, cetyl, cetearyl and other fatty alcohols .

got to love it :-)