Sunday, January 8, 2012

Troubleshooting an epic lotion fail!

I was surfing around various forums yesterday morning while taking a break from the annoyance that was putting the tutorial for the cosmetic bag together (I really hate Microsoft products! Stop thinking for me!!!), and the number one question I saw over and over again was this - why did my lotion fail? Let's take a look at all the questions we can ask ourselves about our lotion fails!

Quick chemistry reminder: Lotions are formed through chemical, mechanical, and heat emulsification, so most of our questions will revolve around the issue of emulsification. 

Review your recipe. Write down the size of the oil phase, the water phase, and the cool down phase. It should add up to 100%. If it doesn't, take a look at what could be reduced - normally the water phase.

If it is written in volume - tablespoons, teaspoons, cups, and so on - don't make this recipe. It's simply not accurate enough so you can replicate it next time. You want a recipe written in weight so you can be sure you have the same measurements every single time. A tablespoon of emulsifier could be short one time and over the next. Accuracy is important!

Related posts:
How do I know if it's a good recipe?
Why do we weigh our ingredients?
How to convert from percentages to weight?
How to convert from weight to percentages?

How much emulsifier did you use? Every emulsifier has a suggested usage rate, and I recommend using the higher level of emulsifier if you're new to using it. For Polawax - and Polawax only - there's a 25% oil phase rule of thumb for its usage. If you have 20% oils, you will use 5% emulsifier (multiply your oil percentage by 0.25 to get your amount!) If you're using something like BTMS-50, you don't have to use the 25% oil phase amount, but it isn't a bad to start. I know with something like Ritamulse, I used 8% every time because I couldn't find a suggested usage rate from anyone, but I kept seeing this amount in the sample recipes from the company (never 7%, never 9%, always 8% regardless of the oil phase...weird!)

As an aside, some emulsifiers don't play well with other ingredients. Check to ensure your emulsifier can play well with cationic or positively charged ingredients, different preservatives, and extracts. (Using Optiphen as a preservative can cause some problems with curdled lotions!)

Did you actually use an emulsifier? If you used beeswax as the emulsifier in your product, you won't get emulsification.

Related post: Beeswax is not an emulsifier.

What was your process? Did you heat and hold both the heated water phase and heated oil phase at 70˚C/158F for 20 minutes? If you didn't, then go back and try the recipe again and do that. The majority of fails I read about this morning were from people who didn't heat and hold.


Related posts:


I'm really confused about why heating and holding is a controversial subject. I saw the owner of a forum tell the readers that we were wasting our precious "life minutes" heating and holding and that it ruins the oils. It does not ruin oils and we aren't wasting time heating and holding as it's an important part of the process for the chemistry of emulsification - read this post if you're interested in learning more - as well as the preservation of the product. 

Did you add the water to the oil phase or the oil to the water phase? Turns out that really doesn't matter much for us homecrafters!

Did you wait until the product cooled down to 45˚C/113˚F before adding the cool down phase? When I made a lotion with Ritamulse, I added my preservatives and cool down phase at 50˚C (which is fine for Polawax) and it curdled almost immediately! Eek! A kilogram of lotion ruined!

Related post: Cool down phase

Did you add some oils into the cool down phase without heating them? There's this idea going around that some oils are too fragile to be heated and held. This is simply not true. Oils can withstand a ton of heating, and the various things we find in oils - polyphenols, phytosterols, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals - can handle being heated and held at 70˚C. If you add them to the cool down phase, you may see some separation!

Related post:
Heating, holding, and thawing our ingredients! 
Does heating & holding hurt our oils?

How did you mix the two phases together? Did you use a stick blender, a mixer, a homogenizer, and so on? How long did you mix it after combining? How long did you mix it after cool down?

Related posts:
Questions about mixing. 
Combining the two phases: Mixing

Ask yourself these questions and I think you'll find the answer to why your lotion failed. Fails are normal and part of the process. I know it feels like you're wasting supplies, but think of how much you've learned from just one separated lotion! You've learned about emulsifiers, heating and holding, measuring by weight, choosing a good recipe, mixing, and everything else. It's worth the frustration and garbaged supplies if you can make an awesome lotion next time!

Related posts for this post:
The chemistry behind why lotions fail! 
An example of lotion fail! 

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Susan,
When a recipe ask for something that i don't have or don't want like 2% of cyclomethine and 1% hydrolyzed protein which adds up to 3% less in the recipe how should i ajust it? Reduce 3% of water?
Thanks,
Rosi

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Rosi. I've answered this question quite a few times in the past, but these are my favourite posts on the topic...

How do I modify the recipe when I add or subtract an ingredient?
And the start of the learning to formulate series - click newer post at the bottom of each page to get to the next section!

Ben said...

Thankfully, Susan, I've stuck to your advice and have yet to have a lotion fail! :D

Happy camper over here!

Tara said...

Hi Susan,
I'm just getting started on learning how to make lotion!
I made my first batch today, and epically failed. The batch seperated on me. So does that mean I'm not able to save the batch? Are there any instances in which you CAN save a batch-gone-wrong?

welly said...

Hi Susan,

Another problem I have encounter.. The lotions I made when applied become whitish and require some effort to rub it in. May I know roughly what causes it?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Welly. Look up the soaping effect in the FAQ for more information!

Welly said...

I see.. Thanks susan..

lynnie said...

Can you please please help me?
I found an amazing lotion recipe online and I decided to use that for my first lotion making experience
Everything went amazingly and it's a wonderful lotion. It's been a month now, and I'm noticing that my lotion has little...grooves? of oil in it. I used raw hempseed as the oil and i can see the bright green oil kind of collected in some places? it's really hard to explain and it just happened a couple days ago. Is there anything that can cause this? I can post a picture if you like since it's difficult to explain what's happening. It doesn't smell differently or feel different, just has what I guess I would call "stretch marks" of hemp oil at least that's what it kind of looks like.

also as far as heating and holding and all oils being able to handle it does that go for raw hempseed as well? people say it burns really easily and I'm worried about that.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lynnie. You are experiencing a lotion fail. Those little bits of oil are little bits of oil that are coming out of the emulsion. As for heating and holding, if you didn't heat and hold your oil, that would be why the lotion is failing. You have to heat and hold to get the two phases up to the same temperature to emulsify properly. Every oil can handle heating and holding - only essential oils have to go into the cool down phase. (Related post: Heating, holding, freezing, and thawing our oils.)

lynnie said...

okay, thank you. I will try the recipe again and do the heat and hold and hopefully that will fix the problem. I didn't realize that separation could occur that way- after a month and very very slowly, haha. thanks so much for all your help!

Tricia Lees said...

Hi there! Hoping you can help me solve a mystery I am dealing with for one of my lotions. I made a batch of facial lotion using your methods and it turned out great...at first. A week after I put it in a jar to store I opened the jar and the lotion had expanded (think foam) and when I gave the jar a shake it deflated to half its original volume.
Ever hear of anything like that happening???

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Tricia. I've never heard of a lotion growing. I've heard of foamy lotions deflating, but not growing then deflating. Can you send me your complete recipe in percentages with your complete process so we can figure this out?

Lisa said...

Hi Susan,
I have been making and selling my lovely lotion for 5 years. Due to higher demand I went from a 5 gallon batch to a 25 gallon batch, done in an oil melter. Exact same proportions/percentages. The lotion turned out totally watery! Not thick and creamy. Is this normal? Is there a trick to upsizing lotion recipes? I know food recipes can need some drastic shifts when upsizing...
Thank you
Lisa

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lisa! My general answer is no, i don't think you need to modify the recipe in anyway...however...I've never made that much before. So I wrote your comment up as today's Weekend Wonderings and have asked my readers what they think. I hope they can provide more information!

Lisa said...

Thank you!

Emily Coutts said...

Hi Susan,
Apologies for the late comment on this post. I was actually wanting to ask about how many oils you should be using in lotion making. I'm tempted to put 6 different types or more (:-S) in my lotion, not to mention the tocopherols and seabuckthorn pulp essential oil. Do you think it's overwhelming for skin to put too many things into the mix?
Cheers,
Emily