Monday, May 6, 2013

Back to the very basics: What you need to know about making any product (part 2)

Yesterday we covered the basics of making products - what anhydrous means, what it means for something to be water soluble, and so on - so we'll take a look at a few other ideas before resuming the Newbie Tuesday posts tomorrow.

You cannot mix oil soluble and water soluble ingredients without an emulsifier. An emulsifier brings water and oil together to create a uniform product that doesn't need shaking. Lotions and conditioners are examples of emulsified products.

You can add a bit of an oil based ingredient into a water soluble product by using a solubilizer, or something that will help mix the oil into a product. If you wanted to add an essential oil to something like a water based toner, you would have to use a solubilizer like polysorbate 20 or caprylyl/capryl glucoside to help the oil mix with the water based product.

You will have to read the posts on those ingredients and do some playing to get the right ratio for your specific oil based ingredient. This is a process of trial and error, and the only way to know how to do it is to play in your workshop. Asking questions of everyone isn't going to help you as successful solubilizing depends upon your oil based ingredient, your product, and the solubilizer. I'm not trying to be mean, but this is really one of those things you need to try on your own to make a great product. 

You can add a bit of a water based ingredient into an oil soluble product by using an emulsifier. If you wanted to add glycerin to a whipped butter or lotion bar, you would need to use an emulsifier to make this work.

If you really want to add less than 5% of something like a humectant to an anhydrous product, consider using lecithin or lanolin

Please note, beeswax is NOT an emulsifier. For some reason, we think it is, but it's not. It can be combined with borax to create a water-in-oil emulsifier, but it is not an emulsifier on its own. Please read this post on the topic if you wish to learn more. 

Can I make a suggestion? I would keep the water soluble ingredients in the water soluble products and the oil soluble ingredients in the oil soluble products, and see what you can find in the suppliers' shops that you can add to the specific product you want to make. Solubilizers tend to be sticky ingredients, and even amounts as small as 3% can be annoying when left on your skin.

If you want to add green tea extract to an oil soluble product, consider using an oil soluble version instead of trying to emulsify a tiny bit of a liquid, water soluble extract. If you want to add calendula extract to a toner, find a water soluble version and add that instead. I have a bunch of posts on the blog about using solubilizers - start here and click "newer post" - and you can see that it really isn't that easy to use them.

Related posts:
Emulsification - what's that then?
Emulsifying systems: Polawax, e-wax, and BTMS-50. 
Emulsifiers - check what you've got!
Emulsifiers: What's an all-in-one or complete emulsifier?
Esters: Polysorbates

I often see preservatives and anti-oxidants mixed up, so let's clarify what they are and how they are used.

Anti-oxidants are ingredients we add to products that contain oils to retard the rancidity of those oils, butters, esters, and so on. We can add them to anhydrous products or we can add them to things like lotions and conditioners that are mostly water but contain oil based ingredients. Adding something like this will retard the rancidity of your oils and make the product last longer. Vitamin E, citric acid, BHA, BHT, and rosemary extracts are examples of anti-oxidants. They will not preserve your products and they are not preservatives.

Preservatives are ingredients we add to water containing products to prevent contamination from bacteria, yeast, mould, and fungi, which we collectively call "beasties". (Click here for details.) If you are making a product that contains any water or might be exposed to water - like a scrub - you MUST use broad spectrum preservatives. You cannot put it in the fridge and expect it to last more than a few days.

GRAPEFRUIT SEED EXTRACT (GSE) IS NOT A PRESERVATIVE. It can be used as an anti-oxidant, but repeated analyses of this ingredient has shown the only preserving power it has comes from the preservatives used in the product! Read that last part for a second...GSE contains preservatives. People who use GSE as a preservative to avoid preservatives are actually adding things like parabens to their products. 

Preservatives are not optional in water containing products: They are essential. If you do not want to use preservatives, then you can't make water containing products. In the last four years, I have heard every justification for not using preservatives, and none of them matter. If you don't plan to use preservatives, you don't get to make water containing products. No shampoos, conditioners, lotions, body sprays, facial cleansers, toners...nothing. Do some research and you will see there will be a preservative that fits into your philosophy and lifestyle. You won't be allergic to every single preservative out there and you can find something that you will likely consider natural. If you don't, then you can't make water containing products. I cannot stress this enough. If you don't use a preservative, you cannot make water containing products.

Join me tomorrow as we resume the Newbie Tuesday posts with a few whipped butter recipes and a discussion about what we made!


Katherine Chiu said...


You are an excellent teacher, and I thank you for doing this "Back to the Very Basics" series. I wish I had known about your blog when I started my soap-making/lotion-making journey.

You explain the basic concepts so clearly, demystify oft times conflicting information, yet encourage our experimentation and creativity because you help us to actually understand every component in our recipes.

This series is great, because it helps me go down my mental checklist, making sure that I've grasped all the necessary concepts involved in making products. When I'm fuzzy on something, I can track back through the links you sprinkle so generously in your posts and clarify points and answer my own questions (like anionic/cationic/amphoteric charges).


Mariah said...

Hi Susan,

I have been mulling over emulsifiers for some time now so it is perfect timing for your post. I have been making my own syndet bar for my mom and myself and we love them. I don't use an emulsifier for them since I don't add any water ingredients only powdered surfactants, liquid surfactants, powdered ingredients and EO's. My friends want me to make them some as well but I am now wondering if I will in fact need an emulsifier or will they be fine without one?

Thanks so much!

Linda said...

Wow, this is a great 101 series! Thanks so much for this post. I for one always thought beeswax is an emulsifier :( I've already bookmarked this post and foresee myself referring to this quite regularly. Thanks!

Ditsy Daisy said...


I'm an absolute newbie and have only just started on the road to making my own products for my own use. However, I don't like the oils/butters floating on the top of the bath water and am wondering if an emulsifier would prevent that from happening. I purchased cocamide dea to use in bubble bath bars as a secondary surfactant, but noted that it is also listed as an emulsifier, does this mean I can use a little in with my fizzy bath melts to make the oils blend with the bath water better? Or doesn't it work like that?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Ditsy Daisy. Cocamide MEA is water soluble, so you can't add them to an oil soluble product like a bath melt. I suggest doing a search on the blog to find either bath melts or a bath oil with emulsifier. I have quite a few recipes for those on here. You'll want something like polysorbate 80 or e-wax as an emulsifier.

mashinmaro said...

So I was reading your posts about preservative and realized you may be interested in one that a Korean company is using. The product is geared towards "natural" sense, and a fiasco happened concerning one of their products and possible contamination. The company was using an Eco-cert preservative called euro-napre, inci name:zanthoxylum piperitum fruit extract, pulsatilla korean extract, usnea barbata (lichen) extract. In response, they added pentylene glycol, which they describe as a "booster" for the preservative along with increase the preservative slightly. Here is a link to the product in question: .

Chelsea Walker said...

Hello Susan,

What a great blog! I’ve seen some cosmetics that contain camu camu powder- which professes a high content of vitamin C. Could something like this work with a emulsifier and a preservative in a face cream?