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

Additives:
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

46 thoughts on “Making Lotion: Troubleshooting Your Recipe

  1. Thank you for the informative article. I have only make two batches of lotion so far and I’m pretty happy with them. I am looking to make a thinner lotion for all over body use, and something that would come out of a bottle without banging on it. I wouldn’t want it runny though. I made on using almond oil, water, and emulsifying wax. It is a little to thick, would it help to use a different emulsifier. I am looking to use organic or natural ingredients.

  2. Marcia – any recipe can be tweaked to make it thicker or thinner. I don’t know what your percentages are, so I’m not entirely sure how to counsel you. However, you can easily thin your lotion a bit by reducing the amount of emulsifier or increasing the amount of water. I’m not sure which to tell you without seeing your recipe. Feel free to contact me directly.

  3. I just discovered your site today and thank you for the great info! I do still have some questions regarding things that I have researched myself and found conflicting information. I’m trying to keep my products as natural as possible but do plan to sell them eventually. I’m not sure what to believe about the preservatives out there. I’ve heard that Potassium sorbate is more natural but not very effective. Also, is it necessary to weigh the products to figure percentages or can I figure the total ounces and percentages in ounces? Hope I’m not bombarding you with too many questions! Thanks so much!

  4. @Danielle: The only way to know if your preservative is effective is to get your formula challenge tested by a lab. I send mine to Dr. Cindy Jones of Sagescript Institute. If you want a more natural preservative, I recommend using tinosan – it’s citric acid and silver citrate.

    If I understand your question correctly, you can figure your formula entirely on paper without weighing anything. When you actually put the ingredients together, you must weigh them.

  5. Hi Amy, thanks for the quick response. It’s so awesome that you are willing to share your knowlede. I also fist made some products for family for Christmas and got really good reviews. Is there any way to know what kind of shelf life your products will have with the preservatives or do you just have to test it over time?Is it only water based products that need them or are there some oils that will cause the bacteria to grow? I’m just not getting the weighing and % system, why is it that you have to weigh the end product? I’ve never followed a recipe based on % of ingredients.I have just been mixing and adjusting until its the right balance & writing it down as I go! A cup of this, a tbsp of that,no wonder I’m lost! LOL

  6. @Danielle – Whenever I send my products to Dr. Jones, she is able to tell me based on the amount of bacterial growth during the challenge test about how long the shelf life will be – you can’t know for sure without testing it again, of course. You can re-test the product after 6 months to a year to see if it has changed.

    It’s mainly products that contain water-based ingredients that are the most likely to grow bacteria. Although bacteria can grow in oil based ingredients if they happen to be contaminated, which is why you should heat both the water phase and oil phase to 170 degrees to kill any nasties.

    Weighing the ingredients is the only way to have consistency in your formula. A tablespoon of emulsifying wax is going to be completely different than a tablespoon of shea butter. If your formula is in percentages, you can increase or decrease the amount you make consistently as well. You should start out making small test batches of lotion. Once you have it the way you like it and need to mass produce it, you can re-produce it exactly if you use the same percentages.

  7. Thank you so much for this post. You just saved me! Made a big batch of baby lotion and it started separating. I heated it as you advised, gave it a nice stir with my high shear mixer and voila…stable. Thank goodness!
    .-= Ivy´s last blog post ..Easter Decorating =-.

  8. Amy, have you had any difficulties with that Olivem 1000 emulsifier yet? I love the texture and original outcome of the lotions I’m making with it. They are very light and have a whipped texture to them but after a few days they start to become runny. It doesnt really look like its seperating to me but just turning into a liquid. Do you have any suggestions? I’m not sure if i need to increase the percentage of the olivem but I also dont want it to become greasy.

  9. @Danielle – I have not had any issues with the Olivem 1000. I’ve heard that certain preservatives can cause adverse reactions, such as liquidy lotion, but I thought that usually happened right away, not after a few days. I would ask Angie at The Herbarie if she has any recommendations. She’s very knowledgeable!

  10. Hey, thank you for the tip on using cocoa butter instead of stearic acid. I have a recipe that calls for 2 teaspoons of stearic acid. If I were to use cocoa butter would I use the same amount or more or less? How much cocoa butter do you think would be sufficient enough to thicken a 12 oz bottle of lotion?

  11. @Eva – First, I would suggest making sure you are weighing all your ingredients. It’s very difficult to get consistent results – especially with a 12 oz. recipe if you don’t. I’ll have to contact you directly to get more information about your recipe before I can advise how much cocoa butter to use. :)

  12. If an emulsion LOOKS creamy, but then separates when rubbing it into the skin, is that due to too much wax in the formula?

  13. @Melissa – You’ll have to tell me what your emulsion system is. Are you using beeswax & borax, or emulsifying wax, or something else?

  14. beeswax and xantham gum are my only emulsifiers/thickeners…what does the borax do? My oils (though i dont think it matters) are avacado, shea, lanolin, and olive. My preservative is Tinosan and i feel like ive heard it can seperate emulsions sometimes or maybe this was a different preservative i read about?

  15. @Melissa – Sounds like you may have an iffy emulsion system. Your other ingredients make me think that you are looking for the most natural ingredients possible. I strive for the same; however, I rely pretty heavily on emulsifying wax (naturally derived ingredients) because I know it will be stable. Personal preference for me, but you might want to consider it. From what I’ve heard, there aren’t any other really reliable emulsion systems that are truly natural and don’t have an offensive odor. P.S. I’ve never used beeswax & borax before, I just know that others do and some have issues with separation. You might check with Angie from The Herbarie for more information. She’s truly an expert.

  16. i do, in fact everything i make has ingredients you can pronounce and identify in its natural state (aside form the tinosan, but thats for legal purposes). I have made similar lotions before that held together excellently, however this time i followed a recipe i devised myself that apparently went wrong and i dont know wnough about how my ingredients work to fix it. All my attempts to fix have resulted in the same (mostly because i added more H2O and it ended up with the same result only with more of the water smearing effect). Its like my lotion is encapsulating water and when you go to spread it it pops the capsuls of water and it feels liek your rubbing water around on a wax surface. Im so thrown by it.

  17. @Melissa – It’s an interesting problem…wish I had better answers for you. Definitely check with Angie at The Herbarie or Jen at Lotioncrafters. They are both very knowledgeable.

  18. I have a problem with the last batch of lotion I made which I have never had before.
    I use lannette N wax and stearic acid to emulsify, and solubulizer. My usual practice is to add my water to my oil and emulsifier, and blend. It mixes, then seperates again. (looks like scrambled eggs) I then add the solubulizer and it brings it back to a stable state. This last batch I did not wait until it broke down, and when I added the solubulizer it stayed stable but went very thin and has no body. I have added two more batches of very thick cream (cut the water to 1/4 but it still keeps going thin. I have a lot of lotion made that I don’t want to throw away-any suggestions? I have been making this recipe for two years and have never had this happen…

  19. I have just started making lotions, I am having a problem with it separation. I want to know if I am mixing it to much, I am using Olive oil, bees wax, water, and glycerin, and some vit. E. I have tried 6 different ways and they all separate. I have tried using a little castor oil and lanolin in the mix but it didn’t help. I have been using 3/4 oil to 1 cup water. I see you was saying that bees wax can separate, if that is the problem what would you then use. Thank you

  20. @Sunny – you definitely want to use emulsifying wax instead of beeswax. If this is just for you to use, then you need to keep it in the refrigerator and discard after a week or two.

  21. See, I knew I remembered your post about lotions for a reason! Lol
    I just made my first homemade batch (yes, I am lame and have been buying a base). I would love some more info on the lab you send it out too…if you can facebook the info to me, I would greatly appericate it!
    The recipe I used did call for steric acid, and I don’t think it’s too waxy, but I will be asking for testers…would you be willing to be a lab rat for me? :-)

  22. Love your.site. I started making goat milk lotion. I use Optiphen as preservative. No problems until recently and after bottling the lotion it is oozing out around the pump. I’ve been making lotions for about 6 months and this just started. Oils are sweet almond, pumpkin seed, grape seed, flax seed, jojoba, sunflower. Any ideas? Thanks!

  23. @Sally – I’ve actually never experienced this or heard of it before. The only things I can think of are perhaps you overfilled the bottle or somehow the lotion is growing??? Have you had your formula tested to be sure it’s free from bacteria? I’ve heard the goat’s milk lotions are the hardest to preserve.

  24. Hi Just came across your website and got some great tips. I have just started lotion making and i was wondering why some recipes say to pour the liquid in to the oil and others vice versa? Also, is this related to o/w emulsion and w/o emulsion? I thought those two types of emulsions just meant that one had more oil than water. Any advice would be very appreciated.
    Thanks

  25. From what I’ve heard, it doesn’t make any difference which gets poured into the other. I was taught to add the oils to the water, so that’s what I do. I know others who do it the other way around. It will all get mixed in one way or the other! :)

  26. Hi

    I remembered looking at your website some time ago and, now I have a problem, I thought of you straight away and wonder if you can help.
    I’ve been making skin creams for a few years now and my ingredients are stable and successful (usually). However, the problem I have is too much air in my pouring mixture. Once it cools and sits for a couple of weeks, its starts to reduce in the pot. How can I avoid airating the mixture and how can I remove the air if it is already there?
    Thanks in anticipation – Jenny

  27. @Jenny – A couple things come to mind. First is your blender. You should be using an immersion blender, same as you would use for soap (although I use a separate one for lotions). Always tap the blender on the bottom of your pot to get the air bubbles out before you start to blend (I also do this when making soap). If, per chance, you are using a stick blender that you’ve also used for soap, the lye can eat away the seal and cause it to start sucking air. I’ve had this happen several times! If you notice that your blender seems to be producing a lot of air bubbles, it’s time to get a new blender. As for removing air that’s already in there, your best bet is letting it sit the way you have been. Tapping your pot down on a hard surface may help as well.

  28. Oh thanks so much, this was a lifesaver! I just finished my first ever attempt at making a lotion. I wanted it thin enough to be used in a pump bottle, and it came out way too thick. I kept adding boiled water a little at a time, attempting to thin it, and then it finally started separating at the end. Your tip has saved the day! Thanks again!

  29. Hi, I’ve been wanting to make lotions and scrubs to sell. I have been making for my self and never putting any persveratives in them, because they were for me but now I would like to sell them. I have a question should I put something to persvere the body butters even if I am not adding water to them? I also made a hand lotion about 4 days ago I made it with water olive oil, emulsyfing wax I put essential oils in it with vit e and some cinnamon. I sold 2 but I told the people who bought it to keep it in the frig, should it last?

  30. I have one more question I order optiphen not optiphen plus will it be ok that I just got the optiphen. I hope so

    Thank YoU
    Michelle

  31. @Michelle – You would not have to add preservative to a body butter that doesn’t have water in it. Be sure to add some vitamin E to help prolong the shelf life though, because the oils can go rancid. The lotions you sold without preservative will be ok in the refrigerator for a few weeks, but please, please, please do not sell anymore without preservative! The optiphen should work fine. You will need to send a sample off for testing before you sell it though to make sure your lotions are free from contaminants. Sagescript Institute is a very reputable place for testing with reasonable rates.

  32. Hi Amy
    I want to try the olivem 1000 – if i use between 3-4% would i need to use xantham gum to stabilize it? Or would some butter/beeswax help?
    Thank you

  33. Hi just came across this page and noted that you are using (vegetable derived) emulsifying wax, like I am. I was initially very excited with making ‘natural’ lotions but doubts have just started to grow as I researched further. I think homemade lotions can still be really good, but care must be taken as i)we do not have full knowledge, ii)we do not have quality control of the ingredients we buy from retailers. e.g. Emulsifying Wax itself is not that harmful, but has high contamination concerns. I am now ditching Emulsifying Wax and going to use Olivem1000 instead. See details here: http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/todays-chemical/2009/1/17/vegetable-emulsifying-wax-nf.html
    emulsifying wax is rated as a no-go-zone according to the above article, and unfortunately it is pretty convincing.

  34. @Seba – I appreciate this information. Obviously not all natural products are good for us, nor are all synthetic products bad for us. It is up to each formulator to make up his or her own mind about which ingredients to use, and for the consumer to decide whether or not to purchase our finished products!

  35. Hi i made a face cream about a month ago without germall plus liquid and just made one now with the presevative. my question is that my lastest batch is much more runny than my oldest batch for some reason. i waited a couple minutes for the cream to cool down and added the presevative. is that wrong. I also added 1% of it to the batch

  36. @Sophia – Sounds like you added about twice the amount of preservative that you needed. Recommended usage is just 0.1 – 0.5% of your batch weight. Also be sure the temperature of your lotion is less than 120 degrees before adding.

  37. Hello, I accidently put in 4 tablespoons instead of teaspoons. How will this affect my lotion? Is it still ok to use? Thanks for your time :)

  38. I just wanted to leave a quick comment about using the Geogard Ultra. It should be added at the end of the batch, after combining phases, around 35 degrees celcius. Hope that helps! Great article!

  39. Amy – I’d read so many articles and watch many youtube videos on how to make lotions and facial cream. However with all these information, it’s so hard to absorb which and which are truly the best to try. I want to make some lotions and soap as a party favor for my son’s graduation. But I am not sure where to start, how to measure from water, preservative, EO, FO, butter and oil. I also want to experiment a lotion and facial cream for my own use due to skin sensitivity. Any suggestion that could help me achieve the proper process for a start.

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