Sunday, January 6, 2013

Formulating on a budget: Buying ingredients

Making bath & body products are a great way to save money, but that's hard to do when you're just starting out and aren't sure what to buy! As you experiment with different oils and butters and emulsifiers and surfactants, you'll eventually find the ones you love, but at the start, ingredients will be your biggest expense.

When ordering or visiting a supplier, consider how much you need of an ingredient. Buying 120 grams or 4 ounces of emulsifying wax is probably a good decision - a basic lotion has between 5 and 8 grams per 100 grams, so 4 ounces or 120 grams will make you at least 15 lotions - but buying 4 ounces or 120 grams of shea butter might not be if your goal is to make whipped butters (80 grams of shea in 100 grams of product - giving you 1.5 containers of whipped butter, which isn't nearly enough!). I always buy at least one pound of cetyl alcohol or stearic acid as they are inexpensive and have at least a two year shelf life.

If you're buying oils, again consider your product. If you're making 100 grams or 3.5 ounces of lotion, you'll have a maximum of 30 grams or 1 ounce of oil in your product. If you want to make 10 lotions, you'll want to buy 300 grams or 10 ounces oils. I generally like to have at least 125 ml or 4 ounces of my carrier oils and at least 60 ml or 2 ounces of my more exotic oils. For things like olive oil or rice bran oil, I generally buy it by the litre (32 ounces?) and freeze some of it in between uses.

When calculating the volume of oil to the weight of the oil, you have to take into consideration the specific gravity of the oil. 1 ml of water weighs 1 gram - it's a 1 to 1 ratio - so 250 ml or 1 cup of water weighs 250 grams. For oils, however, it's lower, so 1 ml of oil weighs about 0.9 grams. Not that big a difference, but if you buy 100 ml of oil, you're only getting 90 grams of it for your products. So if you need 180 grams of oil, make sure you buy 200 ml. There are specific gravities for specific oils, but if you figure on 0.9 grams per ml, you won't go wrong! 

When buying in bulk, consider two things - the shelf life and where you might store it. Most of our ingredients have at least a one year shelf life, but some carrier and exotic oils might only have a three month shelf life (like unrefined hempseed or grapeseed oil). If you find a good deal on soy bean oil, note the shelf life - 12 months - and storage suggestion - cool, dark place - and make your decision then. You can freeze most of our ingredients, and definitely all of the oils and butters. (If you have room in your freezer! Mine is stuffed full!)

If you're shopping on-line, always consider the shipping. You might get a screaming good deal on 4 kg of soy bean oil, but if it's going to cost $100 to ship it, it might not be worth it!

Related posts:
Frequently asked question section - scroll down for the supplier list for your country.

Heating, holding, freezing, and thawing our oils
Determining shelf life (part 1)
Determine shelf life (part 2)

If you run out of something and don't have time to order, check out your local grocery store or health food store for things like our oils and butters. Visit the drug store to find things like mineral oil or glycerin, and consider places like the wine making shops for things like citric acid. To be honest, you won't get a better deal shopping like this than with one of our suppliers, but you will get your ingredients immediately, which can often be more important than saving money.

Related posts: Can we use grocery store oils in our products?

When you see a recipe you love, ask yourself if you have to use those ingredients. Our suppliers have great recipes, but oftentimes we don't have the ingredients they suggest. Break down the recipe into what each ingredient does, then figure out if you can substitute something for it. For instance, is it essential that we use shea butter in this recipe or could mango butter work? Do we need sea buckthorn oil or can we substitute wheat grass or sunflower or soy bean or any other oil? (This goes back to the whole know your ingredients thing...I know I harp on, but it really is vital!)

I try to make my recipes as generic as possible so you can get the ingredients you need, but remember that every change will change the skin feel and viscosity of the product! 

Related post: Can we substitute one oil for another?

What helpful hints do you have for saving money on ingredients? Share your thoughts!

1 comment:

catherine said...

What a useful post! If I knew then what I know now, my first 'lotion store' purchase would be just emulsifier, cetyl alcohol and preservative. You can make so many lotions with just those specialized ingredients and the rest from grocery/health food stores. Then you figure out what you like and that informs your next purchase...