Saturday, March 26, 2011

If you're new to lotion making: Which ingredients should you buy?

If you're new to lotion making, welcome! This is a most addictive hobby, and I must warn you in advance that you will find yourself thinking about what you can do to tweak that lotion while you're going to bed, sitting at a boring meeting, or in traffic. You'll find packaging in drug stores really interesting, and you'll start yelling things at the TV when you see some dubious claim being made for a moisturizer.

Okay, the liability waiver's out of the way, so let's get to some ideas for ingredients.

If you're new to lotion making, I think the basic ingredients required are a few oils and at least one butter, a thickener, an emulsifier, a humectant, and a preservative. Let's take a look at each of these ingredients.

I know I've mentioned it before (find the post here on choosing oils), but I'll repeat it again. For the most part, you can substitute one oil for another in any recipe you see. You don't need to have a ton of oils to make great recipes, but using a different oil will result in a different skin feel, which is okay because you're starting out and you want to try different recipes to see what you want in a lotion!

Choose a few you like and use those in your recipes. Consider what types of lotions you want to make (and I am warning you right now, you will want to branch out to make lotions for every part of your body!) and what skin feel you want. My favourites are fractionated coconut oil (very light), soybean (light), rice bran (medium), and olive oil (heavy), with a few others I might use for specific purposes like foot lotions or facial products.

When it comes to butters, I like to have some cocoa butter, mango butter, and shea butter on hand because they offer different qualities to my products. Cocoa butter is an approved occlusive, mango butter feels dry, and shea butter is greasy.  (I like greasy products, so that works for me.) Click here for all the posts on our emollients. 

I recommend getting a thickener, either stearic acid or cetyl alcohol, or both. They're not expensive - somewhere around $3.00 a pound - so you can have both on hand. Stearic makes thicker, draggier creams and cetyl makes thinner, glidier lotions. It's good to try both to see which one you prefer.

When it comes to emulsifiers, you have a few choices. If you're just starting out, I'd recommend Polawax or Incroquat BTMS-50 for good, low chance of failure type emulsifiers. Incroquat BTMS-50 is a good choice if you like drier feeling lotions and want to branch out into hair care products. Polawax is a great emulsifier that works really well at 25% your oil phase. (I have nothing against emulsifying wax NF, but I find suppliers carry all manner of things called emulsifying wax NF and when you're starting out, you want to use the most stable emulsifier you can find). If you're choosing something other than these two emulsifiers, see if they require a thickener or some other ingredient or process to remain stable.

We have many choices when it comes to humectants. I like both sodium lactate and glycerin for my products. Both are inexpensive and both are great humectants. I use sodium lactate when the stickiness of glycerin could be annoying and I use glycerin when I was a great humectant that won't make me sun sensitive. (And I combine the two in hand lotions because my skin is surprisingly dry right now!)

And we come to the preservatives. You can choose from many different preservatives, but check to make sure when you add it to the product (heated water, heated oil, or cool down phase) and ensure your recipe is compatible (for instance, not using positively charged ingredients like BTMS-50 with Tinosan).

As the addiction grows, you'll want to add other ingredients to the mix, but these are what I consider the essentials for lotion making. Oh, and don't forget to order a few bottles and jars! You'll need something to contain your lotions, and those re-used Mason jars aren't your best choice (plus fancy packaging makes the lotion look more awesome).

You'll find a few more hints and tricks in this post on basic lotion making


Anonymous said...

I want to say thank you for all you do and offer here on your blog. You are a great teacher.

As for you repeating things, it is perfectly okay for those of us like me who just recently started reading your blog and making skin care products. Repeating for us newbies is good because it would take us a LONG time to read your entire blog. Also, you may have newer recipe information with newer/better ingredients by now.

Anyway. I LOVE YOUR BLOG and hope that you will continue it for a long time.

Anonymous said...

One question, since packaging is essential, could you tell me where to get the best prices on jars and bottles and cute labeling and packaging supplies?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Glycerin, there are 2 products on the market that I would like to recreate. One is called na-PCA by Twinlabs and the other is Glysolid. I could use your help especially with the na-PCA. Thx.

Anonymous said...


I'm the one who suggested this post and I just wanted to say thanks- and also that I'm incredibly impressed with the speed of your response.

mariefel said...

hello susan... i made a lotion for the formulation of :

water phase 75%:
distilled water 70%
titanium powder 4%
citric acid 1%

emulsifier 5% = cetrimonium chloride

oil phase 20%

coconut oil 15%
jojoba oil 2%
steric acid

fraghrance .5%
preservatives .5%

my problem is the result is very sticky shoul i increase my water phase and lower my percentage of stearic acid???or i will not include the titanium powder in the percentage of water phase....tnxxx in advance hope u can give an advice for me

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Mariefel. Cetrimonium chloride isn't a great emulsifier, so I wouldn't suggest it as the only emulsifier in your product. I'd suggest using e-wax, Polawax, or BTMS-50 as your emulsifier.

You don't list how much stearic acid you used, so I can't comment on whether you want to reduce it. I'm guessing it's 3% based on the 20% oil phase, so you could reduce it if you want.

Why are you using 1% citric acid? There's nothing in this recipe that will have a very high pH, so I'm not sure it's necessary.

My guess it that it's the cetrimonium chloride making it sticky, so if you switch emulsifiers, you'll probably be happier!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

I suggest ordering packaging from somewhere as local as possible because it's not cheap to ship them long distances. I get most, if not all, of my packaging from Voyageur Soap & Candle as they're local to me and I can drive down and get a few bottles when I need them. I like cosmo ovals because they look nice to me, and I use a lot of malibu/tottle bottles for hair care and shower type products. What you buy will depend on what you're making. I definitely recommend pump bottles for lotion - I get frustrated with disc cap containers because I can never get it all out - or malibu bottles.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

I took a look at the Na-PCA by Twinlabs and that would be really easy to recreate. Since we don't want to use sodium PCA at higher than 2.5% as it can make us sun sensitive, it's easy to figure out this ingredient list -
Pure Aloe Vera gel, Na-PCA (the sodium salt of Pyrrolidone Carboxylic Acid), purified water, Methyl Paraban (which should be spelled methyl paraben).

So get some aloe vera gel, add 2.5% sodium PCA, some water - not sure how much as I don't know the viscosity of it - and a broad spectrum preservative that works well in water based products, and you're done. All you have to do is figure out how much aloe vera gel you want in the mix. (I have a feeling this ingredient list isn't in proper order...)

As for the other product, Glysolid, they claim to be using 50% glycerin in their products along with allantoin (which we generally use at 0.5%). And looking at the ingredient list - glycerin, water, cetearyl alcohol, decyl oleate, ceteareth-12, allantoin, and dimethicone (I'm concerned about the lack of preservative in a water based product...) - I'd suggest making a lotion with glycerin as the main water soluble ingredient in the heated phase. Here are some thoughts: Glycerin at 50%, allantoin at 0.5%, dimethicone at 0.5% to 2%, some water (not sure how much as I don't know the viscosity of it), an emulsifier, a thickener (cetearyl alcohol will feel waxy on your skin), and a broad spectrum preservative at 0.5% to 1.5% depending upon the preservative. I've never used the product, so I can't suggest what percentages you want for the various emollients, but a little trial and error will get you in the right direction.

mariefel said...

im sorry i forgot to put the percentage of the stearic acid...i review my note i actually put kojic is the actual percentage i put... thank you for the advice of the right emulsifier i should use...should i better remove the citric idea is to make a kojic lotion...thank u very much susan it really help me a lot...

water phase 75%:
distilled water 69%
titanium powder 5%
citric acid .5%
kojic powder .5%

emulsifier 5% = cetrimonium chloride

oil phase 20%

coconut oil 15%
jojoba oil 1%
stearic acid 4%

fragrance (witch hazel) .5%
preservatives (acnibio) .5%

Anonymous said...

You are SO right it is addictive! I became quite literally manic when my first order of lotion making ingredients arrived! And stayed that way for about two weeks! I barely got any sleep I was so excited and was rendered incapable of thinking about ANYTHING else besides what I wanted to order next, how I could improve my formulations, what projects would be possible with the ingredients I already had, etc., etc. I did calm down eventually. Now I only spend about 95% of my time thinking about my lotion/body care projects, lol. Sometimes I have to force myself to stop researching and read something else. We all need a break sometimes. Anyway, your blog is just amazing and has helped me infinitely. Thanks <3


A Fajardo said...

What do you use as a preservative? There's so much on the list and I get confused. I'm new to lotion making. Thank you!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi A! Have you taken a look at the preservatives section of the blog? There are loads of ideas for preservatives there. If you've read any recipes on the blog, you'll know my favourite is liquid Germall Plus.

A Fajardo said...

Thanks, Susan!
I got another question though. I'm going to a tropical country where temperatures go up to 30+ degrees. Very hot & humid. I was wondering if I make a light lotion for everyday use with SPF, would you be able to suggest a recipe? And can I also use it as a regular sunscreen or should I use a separate sunscreen? Do you have a recipe for a great sunscreen lotion with a high SPF? Thanks! Hope you can help me on this.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi A! We don't make sunscreen around here. It's a drug, and there's no way to test if it is effective. Check out what I've written about sunscreens in the past. Please buy a good, effective, tested sunscreen for your trip and have a great time!