Making Lotion: Troubleshooting Your Recipe

Yesterday we formulated a recipe to make a simple lotion. I thought it turned out very nice, but it’s not very thick. It soaks in quickly, but it doesn’t glide across the skin very well. Now, I’m not saying that you couldn’t give this to your friends and they wouldn’t be amazed at your incredible talent, because let’s face it: who makes their own lotion?? But, I am saying that we could tweak the recipe just a bit and make it better.

Perhaps you have a recipe that you’ve made and it’s not quite the way you want it to be. Let’s look at some of the most common problems I’ve faced when formulating a new lotion recipe, then we’ll get back to the changes I would make to the lotion from yesterday.

1. It’s too thin. This one is fairly easy to fix. Decrease the liquids slightly, and re-figure the percentages of the ingredients.

2. It’s too thick. Also a simple fix. Increase the liquids a bit, and re-figure the percentages.

3. It’s too greasy. There are several possible solutions to this problem. One is to add some tapioca starch with the additives at the end. I’ve tried this, but it wasn’t my favorite solution. Another possibility is to substitute oils that are easier to absorb in your skin, such as sweet almond, apricot kernel, jojoba, macadamia nut, or fractionated coconut oil. As you can see, three out of five of these are nut oils which may pose a problem for people with allergies. Use your own judgment. Another option is to add some IPM (isopropyl miristate). It’s not an all-natural ingredient, but it’s not sensitizing either. It imparts a dry, velvety emollience to products. Try 1-3% as part of your additives.

4. The color is too murky or greyish. This goes back to my tips for choosing oils and butters. Remember that darker oils and butters will create darker colored lotions. Clear jojoba works well, as does fractionated coconut oil, which is also clear. If you choose to make a hemp lotion, it will likely have a greenish tint to it. If you plan to package in an opaque container, this might not be an issue anyway. But, if you want to color your lotion, you will need a very white lotion base.

5. The texture isn’t smooth. I had trouble with this when I used Optiphen Plus as my preservative. If I didn’t add it at just the right temperature, it seemed like it had an adverse effect on the final texture of the lotion. One of my soaping friends suggested cooling down the water to 140 degrees, then add the Optiphen Plus directly to the water before adding the oil phase. This seemed to fix the problem. I also had trouble with this when I tried a new preservative called Geogard Ultra. I never figured out a solution though, so I haven’t used the product since!

6. It’s too waxy. Some recipes include ingredients like stearic acid to give the lotion more body. The other effect is to make it too waxy feeling and not slip across the skin. If you are using stearic acid, find a way to use something else! Use shea or cocoa butter instead if your goal is to use the most natural ingredients possible. If you aren’t using stearic, but still want a more slippery feel, try adding some silicone oils. They aren’t all natural, but they aren’t sensitizing either. Cyclomethicone and dimethicone are good choices – adding just 1% of each with the other additives will make a noticable difference. Your emulsifier can change the way your lotion feels too. You could back down the amount of emulsifying wax, or try some BTMS instead. It has a more conditioning feel, as does OlivEm 1000.

6. The lotion separated! I have not personally had trouble with this before, but I’ve heard of people who have. If you have used polawax at the proper amount, this should not be a problem. Check your recipe to be sure you have added the correct amounts. If the amounts are correct, then it could be a temperature problem – the oil and water phases weren’t the same temperature when you combined them. You can gently re-heat your emulsion – preferably in a double boiler, constantly stirring until it becomes liquid-y again. Check the temperature, and if it’s still under 140 degrees, you shouldn’t have to add more preservative. If it’s over that temp, you will need to cool it back down and add more. Use your high shear mixing device to continue blending until the emulsion cools and stabilizes.

Back to our recipe from yesterday. If I wanted to make it thicker and have more glide, I would decrease the liquids to 74%, increase the apricot kernel oil and shea butter by 1% each, and add 1% each of cyclomethicone and dimethicone. The new recipe would look like this:

Water Phase:
74% distilled water

Oil Phase:
5% polawax
9% apricot kernel oil – or other light oil
7.7% shea butter – or mango butter

0.3% liquid germall plus – or preservative of choice at manufacturer’s recommended amount
1% vitamin E
1% cyclomethicone
1% dimethicone
1% fragrance

Whatever changes you decide to make, it is important to write everything down and make sure your formula still equals 100%. Take notes on what works and what doesn’t work. Keep a journal – and a sense of humor! Lotion making is fun! (And you get to keep the test batches that didn’t turn out quite right for yourself!)

Next lesson: How to package and label your lotion.

troubleshooting lotion recipe, handmade lotion too greasy, lotion separated

55 thoughts on “Making Lotion: Troubleshooting Your Recipe

  1. Were I’m confusing myself is in the conversion. I have no problems with my soap percentages and conversions; but for some reason that 0.3% is throwing me off. I will be using Tinosan SDC and it recommends from 0.1% – 0.3%. So converting 0.3% to ounces that is .048 oz? Or should I be converting to grams? ( That would be for a 16oz. recipe) I’m not even sure if I can convert a percentage to a gram.

  2. @Sherry – Yes, 0.048 oz. would be 0.3% of 16 ounces. You can convert to grams if you want to be a bit more accurate. You would convert the ounces to grams, so it would be 1.36 grams.

  3. Thank you so much Amy. If I may ask one more thing….If I replace the hard oil with liquid oil, do I need to increase the wax? My daughter likes a more liquid lotion so I might try isopropyl miristate. Have you used that with the Tinosan?

  4. @Sherry – If you want a more liquid lotion, then less hard oils would accomplish that. If you add more wax, it will thicken it back up. It’s all a balancing act. I have not used IPM with tinosan. You might want to check for compatibility.

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