Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Can we create a more natural moisturizer?

This same person who asked if we could make an easier moisturizer, which we looked at yesterday, asked if we could make a moisturizer more natural. I hate to do it, but before we start, I must ask the question - what does it mean to be natural?

I'm going to be honest here and say that I don't really know what natural means. There isn't a standard for it - you can call anything you like "natural" and you won't get in legal trouble for doing so. For the purposes of this post, I thought I would consider things we find in our bodies as natural, ingredients like glycerinstearic acid, and sodium lactate. But then, those ingredients require a lot of processing. Does a processed ingredient count as a natural one?

My husband asked me how I would classify Pringles chips. They're derived from potatoes and contain a lot of potatoes (about 42%), but the process they have to go through to become Pringles is a lengthy one filled with all kinds of other "derived from nature" ingredients. They are heavily processed to become Pringles, but they are still "derived from potatoes" and contain lots of potato goodness. Would I call them natural? The amount of processing something has to go through to become an ingredient is probably on par with what a Pringles chip has to go through to become a Pringle, so why do we consider one thing natural and not another?

What about regular chips? Why are Kettle Chips considered "all natural"? Read their statement about natural and tell me what sets them apart from something like Old Dutch. Is it because one says they're natural and the other doesn't? 

I think we can agree that our ingredients are processed. Take a look at decyl glucoside, an ECOcert ingredient that a lot of people consider natural. "Decyl glucoside is produced by the reaction of glucose from corn starch with the fatty alcohol decanol which is derived from coconut." (Wikipedia) Would you really consider it a natural ingredient if it requires that much processing to exist?

Click here to learn a tiny bit more - but not much - about ECOcert. Why so little information on their site and Wikipedia? So infuriating! Or you can take a look at this really really long document to learn more. Take a look at the Cosmos standard as well. 

Related posts:
Natural products - a look at some ingredient lists
What does natural mean?
What does "coconut derived" mean?

I have to draw a line in the sand somewhere, so I will consider anything that is ECOcert and/or found in our bodies as natural. This means we can use the emulsifier Ritamulse SCG in our products. Here's an example of a minimally processed ingredient lotion with this emulsifier. If we look at yesterday's moisturizer, it'll look something like this...

83% water

10% oils
6% emulsifier

0.5% to 1% preservative

I've had to increase the emulsifier to 6% because we require more Ritamulse SCG when formulating than we do Incroquat BTMS-50 or Polawax, for example. I generally use it at 8%, but that might be a little too thick for a facial moisturizer, so I'll try it at 6%.

There is no hard and fast rule for how much Ritamulse SCG to use the way there is for something like Polawax. Most formulations you see will use it at 8%, so we're taking a bit of a risk using it at 6%. The only other rule to keep in mind is that you can't go over 25% oils with this emulsifier. 

This lotion could be 100% natural if we used a preservative considered natural, like Leucidal or Advanced Aloe Leucidal.  The problem is that there are reports coming from all over the place that these preservatives aren't working as well as they could for big companies, which makes me very worried for us homecrafters! Plus there are reports it might not be compatible with Ritamulse SCG, which is our main ingredient here! I would prefer not to work with something that could fail like this. If you really must use one of these preservatives - and until we get more information, I don't encourage it - then use it at the full 4% to be on the safe side. Remove that 4% from your water phase. (So 79% water, 4% preservative in the cool down phase.)

If you are considering using Leucidal in your products, please take a look at this report on the Badger sunscreen recall using a preservative similar to Leucidal, and a note in this forum that some are using an anti-fungal like potassium sorbate with this preservative. Please be obsessive about cleanliness and choosing the right container for that product, like a pump or something with a small orifice. 

I'd much rather work with a tried and true preservative like liquid Germall Plus. If you think about it, you're using 0.5% in this lotion, which is very little, but you're getting really big returns in the form of lovely lotions that aren't contaminated. Or try something like Optiphen at 0.75% to 1.5% in the cool down phase, but make sure you add it carefully at below 45˚C or it might curdle your lotion.

I'm never sure why the idea of no preservatives is so appealing. We are so fortunate to live in a time when we can add a little something to a product and save ourselves from bacterial or yeast infections and much worse! I swear, our ancestors from the Middle Ages would beat us to death with their scythes if they could see how we reject life and health preserving measures! But I digress...

What about the rest of the ingredients? This is where your own sense of what is natural has to kick in because clearly I'm unable to make those decisions for you. The lovely thing about making products is that you can customize it however you like!

Which oil to choose? For a facial product, I like to use a drier feeling oil because we don't want our faces to look really shiny. The emulsifier here is already quite dry feeling, so I don't have to be too worried about that shiny look, fortunately. You can use any oil you wish here. I think I'm going to use evening primrose oil because it's a drier feeling oil with some good phytosterols and fatty acids.

So what will our recipe look like in the end?

81% water
2% sodium lactate

10% evening primrose oil
6% Ritamulse SCG

0.5% liquid Germall Plus

Use the general lotion making instructions for this recipe.

So there's an idea for something that is more natural. If you want to stay away from preservatives, may I suggest an anhydrous or non-water containing product like a lotion bar for your facial needs? You could keep that kind of product 100% natural with great ease!

Suggestions? Comments? I'm always here to listen!


La Prairie Lady said...

About emulsifer I can replace cetearyl alcohol with cetyl alcohol in recipes.


Elisabeth said...

Many thanks for another insightful article, and for positioning yourself honestly in the field. It may be just that I'm naturally suspicious, but so many seem to have a vested interest in making *their* definition of the word 'natural' (which by no means is stated outright and so remains fuzzy) to be the only ruling one. IMO the only stance we can take is personal -- what can I get behind, what aspects of the concept are important to me? Ecocert or no, for me it's important that the majority of ingredients are biodegradable and aren't sourced from animals, but as far as "natural" goes, to me that means that anything beyond the OCM with cold-pressed vegetable oils are out of the question.

Elisabeth said...

*and* rhassoul clay, I meant to add...

Carolyn said...

In cases such as these it can be useful to have some Socratic dialog regarding the definition of 'natural'. There is *something* in people's minds; they just have trouble putting it into words.

One requirement that one of my friends has is that the finished product be practically edible. Not that she'd enjoy eating it, but if she accidentally spilled a quarter cup of it into her coffee and drank it it wouldn't adversely affect her. The reason that she has this requirement is that she views absorbing substances through her skin to be equivalent to eating them. With penetration enhancers, there is additional risk that substances that wouldn't ordinarily be absorbed might be ushered in. So just because a substance is supposed to be film-forming only, doesn't mean that she won't absorb it in an aggresively-formulated lotion (for example, nano-sized titanium dioxide). To her, it is not that there can be no processing, only that, if she "eats" it through her skin it's completely safe. Anything that has been processed with ordinarily-dangerous chemicals and that might still contain traces of those chemicals is therefore right out (e.g., 1,4-dioxane in ethoxylated ingredients).

A long shelf life (more than 3 months) is NOT important to her, as it is important to big cosmetics companies. She'd rather keep her lotion in the fridge than have parabens, propylene glycol, and formaldehyde-releasers in it. It's not that she objects to preservatives; it's that she would prefer a lotion without possible toxicity/carcinogenicity, to a lotion that she can keep open in the bathroom for five years.

I think about this issue every day, because I have several such friends. I'd like to market cosmetics to such people. As a person who is very picky about her cosmetics, I understand how frustrating it is to stand in the cosmetics aisle reading bottle after bottle that all have the same basic formula that I find irritating, too smelly, too heavy, or comedogenic. It turns out that a lot of the problematic ingredients are just the same ones that my friend "wouldn't eat"--and that in fact there are alternatives.

It's a very different way of formulating than you typically discuss on your blog. You obviously know how to formulate that way because you occasionally write about the chemistry of it. You don't tend to label those formula as "natural", though.

Not intending to speak for anyone else here. I thought maybe more people might want to share what they mean by 'natural' if I gave a little push in that direction. Just because something is difficult to put into a one-sentence definition doesn't mean that it cannot be at least loosely characterized.

I also don't mean to say that more natural ingredients are safe for everyone--obviously they aren't. I'm allergic to most plant oils. Aloe vera makes my eyes water and my skin crack and bleed!

So, what if we asked you, what are some ideas you have for formulating "edible" lotions, serums, and treatments? Which of your recipes already posted could be classified that way?

Bye for now!


Marina said...

Hi there everyone!

Just to help everyone out, I have made pretty much this exact "simple" lotion that Susan describes in the article:

71% Distilled Water
15% Sunflower Oil
3% Shea Butter
8% ECOMulse (a.k.a. Ritamulse)
3% Leucidal Liquid

Result: This lotion was very thick. It felt like a thick cream going on my skin, so I do recommend lowering the ECOMulse level to 6% or so as Susan stated. This lotion doesn’t seem to absorb into the skin very well. It really felt like just putting water and oils on my skin, probably because that's almost exactly what it is! There are no humectants to draw moisture to the skin, there were no ingredients that help with glide, there are no ingredients that help with absorption, there are no film forming ingredients, and I felt this lotion actually *irritated* my eczema and didn’t do a good job smoothing or protecting my skin.

Take Home Message: Those extra ingredients like panthenol, wheat protein, extracts, glycerin, caprylyl glycol, cetyl palmitate, allantoin, and others really do make a difference. I really think without some of these ingredients you don't really have a great lotion. It's OK, but not blow-your-mind wonderful. I think it's important to communicate this with customers and actually show them a lotion which is really "simple" and stripped down to see if they really like it.

Plan: I plan on making a set of lotions with this "simple" lotion recipe above, but with just one of these "special" ingredients listed above in each one. This is to see if I can tell the difference between a stripped down "simple" lotion and one with just panthenol added. I will then compare with a "simple" lotion with just wheat protein added, etc.

When I have some results, I will share.

Thank you for another wonderful article, Susan!!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Diane! Neither cetearyl alcohol nor cetyl alcohol are emulsifiers. They are thickeners. Take a look at the ingredient listings for each one and see if they are interchangeable.

Hi Elisabeth! My point is exactly that. There is no definition for natural, so you have to make the decisions for yourself by learning about the ingredients.

Hi Carolyn! You could eat any of the products I make on the blog. They would taste terrible, but they are safe to eat. I could put that my recipes are all natural - take a look at the products marketed this way in the shops and tell me how mine are that different - but that would feel dishonest. If someone is looking for a blog with a focus on natural ingredients, I'm probably not a good fit for them, and I encourage them to find the hundreds or thousands of other blogs that use that word more liberally.

I can't imagine marketing to an audience where everyone has their something! You have those who won't touch animal products, those who won't touch palm oil, those who won't use something they can't pronounce, those who think gluten is a "toxin", and so on. Do you reformulate every time there's a "Dirty Dozen" from EWG? What do you do when every emulsifier is naughty? How do you preserve anything to keep your customers safe? And every person thinks that their definition is the right one, so you couldn't even offer education to potential customers! You'd be fighting an uphill battle the whole time. All the power to you! It sounds terrifying to me!

As an aside, lotions and products that contain water have maybe a week in the fridge. Three months isn't attainable without freezing it or preservatives. I would encourage your friend to do her research on non-preserved products to see what she is really applying to her skin.

Hi Marina! I love love love your comment! It's amazing how 1% or 2% of something takes our products from good to incredible! This is how I learned about my ingredients. I would make a lotion and add one ingredient. Then I'd add another ingredient. I'd learn what each brought to the mix in terms of viscosity, smell, skin feel, and so on. That is why I love the ingredients I do!

I'd like to offer you an e-book as a thank you for your experimentation and to encourage and reward your curiosity! Send me an email at and let me know which e-book you'd like to have!

Marina said...

Hi Susan, hi everyone! As promised, I spent a lot of time making a lot of lotions with just one added ingredient each to see the effect. My basic recipe was:

Water Phase:
81% Distilled water

Oil Phase:
12% Meadowfoam Oil
3% Olivem 1000

Cool Down Phase:
4% Leucidal Liquid SF

I heated and held the water and oil phase in separate double boilers at between 75-85 C for 20 minutes, used a stick blender to emulsify, cooled on the counter or in the freezer, and hand mixed in the cool down phase.

These are the added ingredients I tried:

1. Using 81% Trader Joe's Aloe Vera Juice (with potassium sorbate as a preservative) instead of 81% distilled water

My expectation: Aloe Vera juice is said to be soothing and anti-irritation.

Result: This lotion was very soothing and helpful to my eczema, but the emulsion started to separate after a day. I think I needed to add some BTMS-50, cetyl alcohol, or lower the aloe vera percentage to 10-20% as Susan had advised me.

2. Add 3% Glycerin (brand: Now) to the water phase (and lower the distilled water to 78%)

My expectation: Glycerin is an effective humectant, helps keep skin soft and moisturized.

Result: I thought glycerin would made a really big difference to the lotion, but it really didn't. It makes the lotion just a little sticker, but I feel like the lotion is better absorbed by my skin with the glycerin than without.

3. Add 2% Caprylyl Glycol and ethylhexylglycerin (sold as a combination through to the oil phase (and lower the distilled water to 79%)

My expectation: This combination is a humectant and preservative in one which helps soften skin.

Result: This made the lotion significantly thinner and more watery. It also seemed to irritate my sensitive skin and even dry it out a bit. This was like using a watery lotion.

4. Add 2% Allantoin (purchased through Making Cosmetics) to the water phase (and lower the distilled water to 79%)

My expectation: Allantoin helps regenerate skin cells, is an anti-irritant, and a skin protectant.

Result: This lotion was *very* effective at removing dead skin cells - almost too effective. 2% allantoin is way too high. That concentration needs to be used with caution because it made my skin slough off quickly, but also irritated it.

5. Add 2% cetyl palmitate (from Making Cosmetics) to the oil phase (and lower the distilled water to 79%)

My expectation: Cetyl palmitate is the synthetic version of an ingredient found in sperm whales. It is supposed to be a film former and reduce the greasy feel in lotions.

Result: I didn’t see a big difference by adding this ingredient except maybe that the lotion sinks in more easily. This ingredient did thicken the lotion.

6. Add 2% panthenol dl (powder, from Organic Creations) to the cool down phase (and lower the distilled water to 79%)

My expectation: Panthenol is supposed to be a powerhouse ingredient that is hydrating, skin regenerating, and soothing.

Result: I don't think I saw any difference in adding this ingredient. It could be because I bought this panthenol dl a couple of years ago, and the manufacturer (Organic Creations) did not state an expiration date. It could have been an old, ineffective ingredient.

Marina said...

7. Add 3% hydrolyzed oat protein (liquid, from Organic Creations) to the water phase (and lower the distilled water to 78%)

My expectation: This ingredient is supposed to give a velvety glide and smoothness to the lotion, while minimizing irritation.

Result: This ingredient (purchased from Organic Creations) was very irritating to my skin. Every time I tried this lotion it resulted in itching and irritation. It did have a velvety glide, however.

8. Add 3% isopropyl myristate (from Lotion Crafter) to the oil phase (and lower the distilled water to 78%)

My expectation: This ingredient is supposed to help the lotion absorb and sink into skin.

Result: This ingredient does help the lotion absorb better, but I did not observe any skin smoothing or soothing benefits.

9. Add 2% Niacinamide (bought from IngredientsToDieFor) to the water phase and 3% Honeyquat (purchased from WholesaleSuppliesPlus) to the cool down phase. I accidentally added two ingredients instead of one to this lotion.

My expectation: Niacinamide is supposed to be a miracle ingredient that reduces trans epidermal water loss, heals skin, and minimizes age spots, among other things. Honeyquat is supposed to be even more effective than glycerin as a humectant. It is supposed to soften skin and make it more pliable.

Result: Although my hands feels soft with this lotion, I think the niacinamide is a little irritating for my eczema. There is a slight burning sensation for a few minutes.

9. Add 3% Honeyquat (liquid, from WholesaleSuppliesPlus) to the cool down phase (and lower the distilled water to 78%)

My expectation: Honeyquat is said to be a powerful humectant that helps skin feel soft.

Result: This ingredient did help my hands feel more soft and moisturized.

10. Add 3% Liquid Silk Amino Acids (from Organic Creations) to the water phase (and lower the distilled water to 78%)

My expectation: This ingredient is supposed smooth skin, penetrate, and heal skin.

Result: This is a wonderful ingredient that did what it says it is supposed to do. It is a skin smoothing and softening ingredient. However, There is a soaping effect (looks white until really rubbed in) with this ingredient.

11. Add 81% oat water (made at home by boiling organic ground oats in distilled water for about 1 hour).

My expectation: This ingredient will help soothe my irritated and itching skin.

Result: This was an amazing ingredient! This resulted in an extremely soothing and protective lotion that felt like a wonderful oat soak for my skin. This greatly calmed my itching eczema. Some things to keep in mind: When making boiled oats, use only a little bit of oats in a lot of water. I essentially made oatmeal and used this as 81% of the recipe, resulting in a very thick lotion. Susan, I know you don't like when people use food products in lotions because there is a great chance of microbial growth. I suggest using a better preservative than the one I use, use this lotion quickly, and keep it in the fridge. Or, find a better oat extract than the one I used in #7 above.

My favorite ingredients, from best to worst: 1. Boiled oats in water as the water phase, 2. Aloe Vera Juice, 3. Liquid silk amino acids, 4. Honeyquat, 5. Glycerin

Least Favorite: Caprylyl glycol and ethylhexylglycerin, using too much allantoin, hydrolyzed oat protein, niacinamide.

Neutral: Cetyl palmitate, Panthenol dl, Isopropryl myristate

Any thoughts, Susan?

Thank you! I hope sharing this info is useful for all! :) Marina

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Thank you, Marina! This was epic! What a great way to demonstrate how adding just one ingredient can change a lotion! I'm going to link this as a post later today.

I would like to offer you an e-book of your choice as a thanks for putting all your hard work into this work. Email me at for that e-book!

Kim said...

I agree with Marina on the addition of oats making a big difference in lotion. Love, love love oats! Even though I change things here and there, my body lotion formulation has always had hydrolyzed oat flour, or Venasilk in it. I originally used it to stabilize the emulsifier and thicken, but it feels so good on my skin . . . super silky and soothing. The unscented lotion smells nice - faintly of oats. Venasilk is a powder, and I think this may cause fewer preservative issues - and less work! I use it at 2%. I had actually forgotten a lotion with oat powder for several months, and there was no visible growth in it. Tip: after heating and holding both phases, I blend the powder into the oil phase, then add the water phase to it - no clumping.

Also have to agree with the use of silk protein. So much fun making lotion!

Anonymous said...

Question for Marina -

Do you think the Oat water would require you to use more preservative or did you use the same amount that you normally would?

Thanks, Nicole

Marina said...

Thank you so much for the wonderful feedback. I wasn't sure if this information was going to help anyone. I am so glad it has! I am just thrilled to find a place on the internet where people support, appreciate, and help each other, especially when it comes to doing something fun like cosmetics formulation. Thank you, Susan, for this wonderful, AMAZING website!! I love it! :-)

I'm definitely doing to try that hydrolyzed oat flour and change my preservative to Germall Plus. Thank you! :-)

Martha Patterson said...

I am confused about the term "hydrolyzed" oat flour. What hydrolyzes the oat protein or flour?

Martha Patterson said...

I am thinking about finding organic oats or oat meal, grind it unmercifully and either boil it for at least an hour or just add it in my oil phase (2% powder in distilled H2O). Also I think use liquid Germal Plus from MMS.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Martha. I don't recommend using oats in your product as I don't think the liquid Germall Plus will be enough to preserve it in a lotion. The hydrolyzed oat protein is modified - hydrolyzed - so it will be more soluble in water. Check out this post on hydrolyzed proteins will give you more information.

Sarah Johnson said...

This was a great post and fantastic commentary. I echo Marina's praise for a place on the web that people can go to really learn from each other instead of just trying to be right.

I have been perusing past posts about the "natural" controversy and I just wanted to chime in with something. Did it ever occur to anyone that cosmetics in general are not "natural." I imagine that the first neanderthal woman who looked down at the berries or animal fat she was eating and thought "Gosh, my fingers feel softer after eating this. I wonder what would happen if I just rubbed it all over my body." got some really strange looks when she followed through.

I'm not saying that anything topical is unnatural. I mean, birds instinctively take dust baths and elephants spray themselves down. The difference is, we get to experiment. We can think and observe and manipulate things around us. My personal feeling is, we should remember that we are natural. No matter what your spiritual beliefs or secular philosophy, you can't deny that we sprang from the same well as the great web of dynamic matter around us. I think it's erroneous to consider anything we create or synthesize to be "unnatural." If nature didn't support the reactions and refinements we oppose on things, they wouldn't work at all!

Nature is all about balance and doing things in the simplest, most efficient way possible. (Though sometimes that efficiency can seem extremely complex to our limited minds. Organic chemistry anyone?!) The question in my mind is not whether something should be unrefined, but whether we are using it in a balanced way. Slapping an "all natural" label on something is banking on people's unconscious trust in nature's balance. But Wait! Nature made us.

We have intelligence. If we employ that intelligence, for instance while reading this blog and its comments, we will find that everyone's chemistry is a little bit different. There is no miracle ingredient that will make everyone happy, no matter how "natural" you think it is.

The oil in an olive was not intended by the plant to be refined and slathered over human bodies. It was intended to nourish a new tree. So maybe we should take our heads out of the sand and see the world for what it really is. Stop depending on nature to make your ill-informed decisions for you and take a chemistry class (organic chemistry, I dare you!)

Use the brain "nature" has endowed us with and seek to understand the purpose and balance of your creation on a more meaningful level than: ten websites stating that an ingredient "has been reputed to...wipe your butt for you." Because nature is not chemistry. Chemistry is our attempts to understand nature. And there's soooo much to learn!

Sarah Johnson said...

"Impose", "Impose on things." Gah! Why can't I edit my post? Well, Darn. I guess I'm human.