Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Moisturizers: What's important in a moisturizer?

Someone asked me if I could offer information on making easier moisturizers. The first step is to understand why we are using what we're using in a product.

What's important in a lotion? Let's a take a look at basic recipe, which I've taken from this Newbie Tuesday post.

68% water

15% oil (sunflower, soy bean, rice bran, or olive oil)
5% shea or mango butter
3% cetyl alcohol
7% emulsifier (BTMS-50 or Polawax)

1% fragrance or essential oil
0.5% to 1% preservative
(This doesn't total 100% because of the difference in preservatives!)

As with every lotion, the important parts are the oil, water, emulsifier, and preservative. Everything else is nice, but not essential to the chemical process that creates an oil-in-water lotion.

Let's say you want to make this recipe more basic. You could use all oils for the oil and butter amount - so that would be 20% oils - and you would leave out the cetyl alcohol (which is used for thickening and more moisturizing). So the recipe would look like this...

73% water

20% oils
6% emulsifier (BTMS-50 or Polawax)

0.5% to 1% preservative

Follow the general lotion making instructions for this recipe.

I've increased the water amount by 4% to make up for the loss of the cetyl alcohol (3%) and fragrance/essential oil (1%). This is about as basic a lotion as you could make.

When we remove something from the lotion, we must make up for it in the water amount so the recipe will total 100%. 

What's the problem? No problem, in the grand scheme of things, but it really bothers me that we've left out simple ingredients that can make a basic lotion into an amazing lotion. Adding a few inexpensive, easy to get ingredients can make this lotion awesome.

Like glycerin. A humectant like glycerin at 3% in your heated water phase can take your lotion from good to fan-freakin'-tastic. It'll draw water to the atmosphere and hydrate your skin better than any lotion alone could do. Sodium lactate at 2.5% would also work very well here.

Cetyl alcohol is a really great addition to any product. It's inexpensive and thickens your products while offering more emolliency. At $5.00 a pound, it's cheaper than any butter you might add and it brings a lot to the party. Add it at 3% in the heated oil phase of your lotion. If you want to make something that is thicker, more like a whipped butter than a glidy Cool Whip creation, stearic acid is a great addition as a thickener. Like cetyl alcohol, it's inexpensive and a great emollient. As well, it can make a lotion feel a bit cooler, which is really nice for a foot product or a warm weather product.

A moisturizer is thinner than a regular lotion - I think of them as having at least 80% water and being quite thin - so you could take any recipe on this site, and basic it up. Let's basic up this moisturizer recipe! (Read that post so you can see why I'm using what I'm using ingredient by ingredient!)

77.5% water
2-5% humectant of choice
0.5% allantoin

8% oils
4% emulsifier
2% thickener

0.5% to 1% preservative
2% hydrolyzed protein
2% panthenol
0.5% extract
0.5% another extract

If I reduce it down to the basics of water, oil, emulsifier, and preservative, I get this recipe...

85% water

10% oils
4% emulsifier

0.5% to 1% preservative

Use the general lotion making instructions for this product.

The problem again is that we are lacking the awesome ingredients that make this product go oomph! We don't have the humectant, which will increase hydration, and we don't have the thickener, which will increase the viscosity and offer more moisturizing. It'll be a fine enough moisturizer, but not great. If this is what you want, then have a go at it and see what you think of it! (That sounded very guilt inducing, didn't it? "If this is what you really want..." but there really are such lovely things you can add to this product to make it awesome that it seems a pity not to put in something like a humectant...)

If you try the recipe, please let me know what you think of it in the comments below. Please be specific about which oils and emulsifier you used! 


Melanie Stock said...

I had a question. If our extracts say they are water-soluble, how are they able to go into the cool down phase? How can they solulize in a cream? If they are powder form, do we need to dissolve the extract in water first, and they add to the cooled down mixture? Thanks!

Claire said...

My question: would an addition of butylene glycol/propylene glycol change the amount of emulsifier needed? also, I've never worked with cetyl alcohol before but I don't particularly like stearic acid because it gives that whithish cast on the lotion (the more you rub, the whiter it gets-- type of deal), I'm hoping that cetyl alcohol won't do this? Thanks!

sox said...

I'm totally with you on this one - I cannot understand why people would bother making their own products if they aren't going to make at least some effort to make them as fantastic as possible. I get that some things can be fiddly or difficult to get right, like getting salicylic acid to dissolve in water or dissolving extracts in slightly heated water before adding them to the cool down phase, but just chucking more stuff into the heated water or oil phases like allantoin, panthenol, fatty alcohols, humectants etc really isn't hard or expensive and makes such a difference!

Susanna Originals said...

Aren't you kinda setting up the "back to basics" folk to fail? When you reduce your recipe to the bare necessities, you're eliminating the thickener and adding more water. Won't that just make a thinner product? If you want a gluten free gravy, you leave out the flour but you don't add more water to compensate, or you'd have a very watery gravy!
Hopefully everybody has Polawax or equivalent and a preservative, but a lot of beginners, me included, get the oils and butters but don't have the alcohols or stearic acid or things like that.
So if you leave out the cetyl alcohol, wouldn't it make a better lotion if you increased the oil or butter and whatever's needed in Polawax? Or am I whistling in the wind?

Anonymous said...

I've been making a basic lotion for about 8 years. It consists of water, glycerin, stearic acid, oils and butters and Ewax-NF. and a preservative of course. Simple. Inexpensive. A lot of the ingredients also work for other products I make (I'm a soap maker - I use the glycerin in liquid soap and the stearic acid in cream soaps. I use the ewax in emulsified scrubs. The butters and oils I use everywhere). I try to stick with oils that have a longer shelf life and aren't GMO (almost all soy is GMO unless you buy organic - sunflower has a short shelf life). So olive is my oil of choice, though apricot kernel or sweet almond would also be nice.

Anonymous said...

I have a wee issue with how your post was put Susanna. One, if they were the generous author of an awesome, informative blog, might take a little offense to the line 'setting up the "back to basics' folk to fail'.
Assuming that you know enough or have read enough to tackle a lotion, then we can probably assume that you know that upping the butter and reducing the oil would help with the thickness of your lotion or that using a harder butter would do so as well.
Or, if you really don't know, just ask. But, I think you do because you basically answered you own question.
I thought this was a very useful post. It takes the lotion down to the bare bones. Making a small batch like this and comparing it to others with additional ingredients is a great way to learn what each does and how they affect a product in regard to feel, thickness etc.


Susanna Originals said...

Sorry, I have the greatest respect and admiration for Susan and how much knowledge she shares, Erin. I just didn't understand why taking the recipe, which was originally 20% oils and butters and 68% water was watered down so much in the back to basic recipe. And I really was asking! If the cetyl alcohol is removed, does it make sense to replace the percentage with water? Like the young fellow in the Anne of Green Gables book, "I really want to know!"

Anna said...

Hi Susan, I found a magnesium oil creme recipe that I would like to make, should I follow these instructions even though magnesium oil is water based? Should I add the cetyl alcohol? Thank you

Me said...

Good to know Susanna :)
Sorry if I jumped the gun and assumed otherwise. It's like email, you don't get any inflection so tone is interpreted and wrongly sometimes.


Mary Walton said...

Hi Susan
can I use stearic acid powder in a cold process emulsification method please?
Thank you

Rocio García said...

Hi dear Susan:

A question. What is the difference between a hand cream,a face cream and a body cream?

I really appreciate your help.

My best regard

Rocío García

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Rocio! Check out the back to basics on lotions in the newbies section for the answer to your question!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Mary! I can't see how you could use stearic acid in a cold emulsification because you wouldn't be melting it and it has to be melted to work. So I guess you can't use it in that product.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Melanie! I'm sorry but I think I'm a bit confused about what you're asking. Are you asking why a water soluble ingredient would go into the cool down phase? The cool down phase is not that cool - it's still 45˚C or over 100˚F - so things will dissolve nicely in it. You can dissolve it in a bit of water first - I tend to do this when I'm using a lot of something - and add it, but compensate for the extra water by leaving some out in the heated water phase.

Hi Claire. Butylene glycol and propylene glycol are water soluble, so they won't change the emulsifier amount. Cetyl alcohol doesn't tend to have that issue.

Hi Anna! I know nothing about magnesium oil and can't get good information about it, so I'm sorry but I can't be of help here.

Hi Susanna! As the goal of this recipe was to take a basic lotion recipe and turn it into a moisturizer consistency, removing the thickener was the easiest way to get to that viscosity. In general, when we remove anything from a product, we add more water so the recipe will total 100%. If we increased the oil amount, we'd have to increase the emulsifier and reduce the water, so it's just easier to increase the water.

But that depends upon the goal. If you wanted to remove the cetyl alcohol for some reason - let's say you don't have any - and wanted to keep the product around the same viscosity, then you would substitute something in its place, like a butter or beeswax, for example. If you wanted to remove the cetyl alcohol and wanted something thinner, you would make up the differentce with water. Or if you wanted it slightly thinner, you might reduce the cetyl alcohol slightly and replace that amount with water. And so on.

In your example of the gravy, removing the flour and increasing the water means you have more water (or oily water). In the example of the lotion, removing the thickener and adding more water still creates a lotion - you still have oils and emulsifier in place - but creates a thinner lotion.

Check out this post on the water phase of our products for a little more information!