Reformulating Facial Moisturizer

All 5 test batches of Skin Glow Facial Moisturizer

I’m back to the old grindstone. The Skin Glow Facial Moisturizer is completely sold out, and now I need to reformulate because I couldn’t get oil soluble green tea extract anymore. I have a water soluble variety now which has to be added to the water phase instead of the oil phase. Well, of course that throws everything off.

I like to work with percentages so that no matter what size the recipe is, I can duplicate it proportionately. I went back to my original recipe with the percentages and re-calculated a few things. For one, I’ve had some issues with the emulsion breaking down over time (most notably in the summer months), so I thought I’d try increasing the cetyl esters which are supposed to add stability. I also recalculated the water phase with the green tea extract added in, and increased the squalane and macadamia nut oil to make up for the loss of the oil soluble green tea extract. Of course, I also decided to try out a different natural preservative while I was at it, so there are now at least three different variables that have changed. Then I started making test batches.

The first one turned out too thick and a little bit grainy. For the second batch, I changed a few things and the consistency was good, but it was still grainy. So I decided it might be a small batch issue. Like perhaps the oil phase wasn’t melted long enough or staying hot, so I tried making a regular sized batch. Now it was SUPER grainy:

Third test batch - a close look

Seriously? Now I’m thinking it has to be the new preservative, so I reformulated again with my original preservative. The fourth batch wasn’t too bad, but still seemed a little bit grainy. I finally backed down the cetyl esters to where they had originally been for the fifth batch, and now I have some decent looking moisturizer:

Fifth and final batch - looks pretty good!

The texture still isn’t quite the same as the original formula, but it’s close. And in case you were wondering, the golden color comes from organic sea buckthorn berry extract. It’s a mega-nutrient for your skin and has been used traditionally in skin care for hundreds of years. In addition to aiding in skin regeneration, it also offers some protection against the harmful effects of UV radiation.

I’m not exactly thrilled with the amount of ingredients that have been “wasted” in this reformulation adventure. These aren’t exactly your inexpensive soaping oils. I’m not even sure I’ve changed the stability issues, but I do know that this is one fabulous unscented facial moisturizer which should be back in stock very soon!

How to Package and Label Your Handmade Lotion

So you’ve made this wonderful lotion and now you are ready for the fun part. Giving it to your friends (or selling it to your customers)! You can’t just hand them your pyrex cup full of lotion though. You need some swanky containers with fabulous labels! Believe it or not, if you are just wanting to make a few lotions for your friends, you can get some pretty nice bottles with flip-top caps at Walmart in the travel-size toiletries area of the Health & Beauty section. However, if you are ready to start selling to customers, you’ll need more than just a few bottles.

Here are some of my favorite container resources if you need more options (I have ordered from all of these before): in GA
SKS Bottle in NY
Majestic Mountain Sage in UT
ED Luce Packaging in CA

Once you have your containers, you might be wondering how to get the lotion from the pyrex cup into the small opening of your bottle. Easy! I recommend using a ziplock freezer bag (quart or gallon, depending on the size of your batch). Just snip off a corner, and squeeze it in! If you are selling your lotion, be sure to weigh the amount that goes into the bottle so you can put that number on your labels.

About labeling. You could go to the office supply store and get some labels. But they probably won’t hold up very well. My all-time favorite place to order labels from is called Labels By the Sheet because it’s just what it says. Need one sheet of labels? Then order one sheet! Need a whole case of labels? You’ll get a better price. They have every size, every color, inkjet or laser, waterproof or non-waterproof. Inexpensive shipping. What more could you possibly want?

Another thing about labeling. If you plan to sell your lotion, there are some rules about what information needs to be on your label. Marie Gale has a wonderful book with easy-to-understand information about how to be legal about your labels called Soap and Cosmetic Labeling.

Need someone to help you with a label template? I would recommend checking out the label service at Majestic Mountain Sage. You can see what the owner drew up as an idea for a label, and what the label service came up with here.

Finally, I will reiterate that if you are planning to sell your lotion, you should have it challenge tested to be sure there aren’t any nasties in it, and your preservative is effective. Again, I can recommend Dr. Cindy Jones of Sagescript Institute to test your lotions for you.

This post is the final part of our lotion making series. If you missed the tutorial, you can start with the introduction, and work your way through. Comments are appreciated, so if this information has been helpful to you, please let me know!

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

Making Lotion: Formulating a Recipe

(This is part five of our lotionmaking tutorial. Please start at the beginning with the introduction, and work your way up.)

We are finally ready to start formulating our recipe! You will want to work in percentages so that you can duplicate it in any amount.

In order to make a simple lotion, let’s start out with

Water Phase:
78% distilled water

Oil Phase:
5% polawax
8% apricot kernel oil – or other light oil
6.7% shea butter – or mango butter

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

Let’s say you are a soapmaker with a regular sized stick blender and a scale that measures hundredths of an ounce or 1 gram increments. You will need to make at least 16 oz. or 500 grams of lotion in order for the stick blender to be completely immersed and not be whipping lotion all over yourself. Multiply each percentage by 16 or 500, depending on the unit of measurement you feel most comfortable working with to determine the amount of each ingredient.

If you have invested in a mini mixer and a scale that measures in hundredths of a gram, you could make 100 grams of lotion simply by changing the percent amounts to gram measurements – 78% distilled water = 78 grams of water, etc.

Once you have your recipe written out in measurements, you can begin! For demonstration purposes I will be making the smaller batch, just switching the percent amounts to grams.

1. Sterilize all of your bowls, spoons, counterspace, and hand blender.

2. Weigh the distilled water in a pyrex measuring cup that is large enough to hold your total amount of ingredients. I had to use my large scale, since my small one will only weigh up to 50 grams.

Weighing the water

3. Heat the water to 170 degrees.
Your method of heating could be one of two things: either creating a double boiler system on the stove, or using your microwave (make sure it is clean!). Some people argue that valuable nutrients are lost from the use of the microwave. I haven’t noticed a difference in the feel of the lotion by using the microwave, although I do use half power when heating my oil phase ingredients. It would be hard to say if the structure or nutrients of the oils have been compromised. If someone knows of a study where this has been proven, I would love to hear about it.

4. Weigh the polawax, apricot kernel oil (or other light oil) and shea (or mango) butter in another glass cup, and heat to 170 degrees.

Emulsifier and Oils weighed in cup

After one minute in the microwave on half power, the polawax and shea butter aren’t completely melted, let alone 170 degrees:

Emulsifier and Oils after 1 minute in microwave at half power

Just thirty seconds more at half power gives the results we want:

Emulsifier and Oils Completely Melted

5. Once the liquid and oil phases have been heated, check to be sure the temperatures are within 10 degrees of one another and pour the oils into the water. (It’s a bit more difficult to keep both phases near the same temperature when you are making a very small batch. Just re-heat as necessary.) Agitate with your high shear mixer or hand blender. This is my favorite part of the process since you can immediately see the water get cloudy when the oils are poured in.

Pouring the Oil Phase into the Water Phase

6. Weigh the vitamin E, preservative and fragrance; add them to the emulsion after it cools to 100 degrees or less. You can speed up the cooling process by placing the measuring cup of fresh emulsion in an ice water bath – either using the container you used for your double boiler system, or another larger bowl, being very careful not to contaminate the lotion.

Here is the final lotion, complete with additives. It’s a little on the thin side right now, but it will thicken as it cools. I always test a little bit on the back of my hand, just because I can’t help myself, and I must say this one feels very nice!

Finished Lotion, around 85 degrees

7. At this point, I cover the pyrex cup with plastic wrap to protect the lotion inside, leaving the spout hole open. Then I let the lotion set up overnight to see what the final texture and thickness will be.

Perhaps you are wondering about adding color. There aren’t any natural ways to color your lotion. Some people are more interested in color and fragrance than how natural your product is, so this may not be a problem. If you want to color your lotion, you will need to have a very white lotion base, and use water-soluble dyes. I have successfully used several different brands of FD&C dyes. MMS has a water-soluble dye kit with three colors that you can mix. I haven’t used it before, but it looks like it would work well, and is less expensive than others I’ve seen. It only takes a few drops, so add a few at a time until you get the desired brightness.

What if you aren’t satisfied with the results of your lotion so far? Our next lesson will be ways we can tweak our recipe!

Making Lotion: Acquiring Ingredients

This is part four of the tutorial on making your own lotion. Please go back and read the introduction, preparation, and lotion making equipment posts before proceeding with today’s lesson, which is acquiring the ingredients you will need.

There are four basic parts to a lotion recipe: liquid phase, oil phase, emulsifier (which is added to the oil phase), and heat-sensitive additives such as the preservative.

Liquids – The obvious choice would be distilled water. However, you could also use aloe vera juice (not gel), and/or hydrosols. This will be about 70-80% of your total recipe. Distilled water is the easiest to acquire and works wonderfully for a starter recipe – or even an advanced recipe. I discovered after making several test batches of facial moisturizer that sometimes a simple recipe is better than a complex one. Fewer ingredients means fewer possibilities for negative skin reactions.

Emulsifier – Again, I recommend polawax (emulsifying wax), or possibly BTMS (behentrimonium methosulfate) which was the favored emulsifier in Anne-Marie’s lotion making class at the Handcrafted Soapmaker’s Guild this year. Recommended usage: 4-5%

Oils & butters – Soapmakers can use their imaginations on this one, unless you are a three-oil (coconut, palm and olive) only soaper. Then you might have to branch out. Shea and cocoa butters make nice lotions, as well as avocado oil, apricot kernel oil, jojoba oil, etc.

A few things to keep in mind when choosing your oils and butters:
1. Color – For example, if you want a nice, white lotion, you should choose clear jojoba over golden.
2. Texture/Solidity – Refined shea butter may cause graininess in your lotion; unrefined is a better choice. Also, the thicker the butter, the thicker the lotion. If you use a brittle butter such as cocoa, it will make your lotion thicker than using shea butter.
3. Vegetable sources are best – This is purely my own opinion. I have actually heard that lard lotions can be quite nice, but I just can’t imagine what it must smell like!
4. Research the oils that will provide the nutrients and skin benefits you are wanting.
Recommended usage: varies depending on the amount of solid ingredients, but somewhere in the 10-15% range.

Additives – This includes all your heat-sensitive ingredients such as preservative, fragrance, vitamin E, extracts, etc. Always use the manufacturer’s recommended usage rate for preservative; fragrance could be synthetic or natural essential oils, but should always be skin-safe, usage rate 0.5-1%; vitamin E and extracts are minimal amounts, usually 0.5-3%.

Resources for Ingredients:
If you didn’t find everything you need from Lotioncrafter in WA or The Herbarie in SC, here are some other places that offer quality ingredients: Formulator Sample Shop in NC, Majestic Mountain Sage in UT, From Nature With Love in CT, Brambleberry in WA, Wholesale Supplies Plus in OH, or Texas Natural Supplies, located in – you guessed it – Texas. I’ve probably left out several other quality suppliers, but these are the ones I’ve either used myself or have heard good things about. It helps to order from a company that is closer to where you live so that you can save money on shipping.

Next lesson: Formulating a Recipe

Making Lotion: Needed Equipment

If you want to learn how to make lotion from scratch, please read the introduction and preparations posts before proceeding with today’s lesson.

If you are a soapmaker, you should already have most of the equipment you will need to make lotion (and even most of the ingredients). However, your equipment might look like exhibit A:

Large Lotion Making Equipment

#1 – digital thermometer; if you don’t have a digital one, a glass candy thermometer will suffice.
#2 – stick blender; preferably stainless steel and dedicated to lotionmaking.
#3 – digital scale; this is my KD 7000. It will weigh up to 15 pounds, and has 1 gram increments.
#4 – glass batter bowl and measuring cup; larger one for the liquid (water-soluble) ingredients, smaller one for the e-wax and oil-soluble ingredients
#5 – stainless steel spoons; you could use plastic, but stainless is recommended

This equipment will work great if you are making at least 16 oz. (around 500gm) batches of lotion. But what if you want to make smaller test batches? You will need smaller equipment, such as what is featured in exhibit B:

Small Lotion Making Equipment

#1 – digital thermometer
#2 – digital scale; this is a JS-50XV. It will weigh up to 50 grams, with readings in the hundredths of grams. I bought the little white container on top separately – it’s called a weigh boat. Very lightweight, and useful for measuring small amounts of ingredients.
#3 – mini blender; runs on two AA batteries, and whips up those smaller batches easily.
#4 – smaller pyrex measuring cups
#5 – stainless steel teaspoon – you may need more than one.

Not sure where to find some of these items? I’m going to share some of my favorite resources with you. For specialty lotion ingredients and equipment, I highly recommend ordering from Jen at Lotioncrafters, or Angie at The Herbarie. I bought my Cuisinart stainless steel hand blender at Sam’s Club a year or more ago. I doubt they carry them anymore, but you can get them on ebay. I bought my digital thermometer from Cabela’s. Best piece of equipment I ever bought!

Other necessary equipment:
-Spray bottle of rubbing alcohol and a roll of paper towels, or other sterilizing substance.

Spray Bottle of Rubbing Alcohol

Next lesson: Acquiring Ingredients for Making Lotion (includes list of suppliers!)

Preparations for Making Lotion

Maybe it seems like I’m drawing this out more than necessary, but I just feel it’s important to recognize the safety issues involved with making lotion. Especially since the small, handmade toiletries industry is pretty much unregulated. Yesterday, I talked about the necessity of having your lotion preserved to prevent the nasties from growing. Today is more about preventing the nasties from starting out in your formula by using what’s called “Good Manufacturing Practice“.

The main rule is: keep everything clean and sterile. That includes work surfaces, utensils, mixing containers, and even the ingredients. Before you intend to make lotion, you must have a clean, sterile work environment. This can be achieved in a number of ways. For me, since I work in my kitchen, I have to be sure that there is no food near my work area, and all of my countertops have been sterilized. I also sterilize my utensils and bowls. It is important to use glass or stainless steel, since plastics have been known to harbor bacteria. Your stick blender (or hand blender) should get extra special treatment. One of my formulating friends says she takes care of hers by “turning it on high and blending the dickens out of really hot soapy water with a splash of bleach in it. That helps get the little divit of an arm clean up inside.”

My preferred sterilizer is a spray bottle of rubbing alchohol and clean paper toweling. Other formulators use bleach water (1 part bleach, 5 parts water). You can also use Lysol spray or disinfecting wipes.

Your ingredients need to be kept as clean as possible too. First and foremost, they should be stored in airtight containers in a cool, (and dark) enviroment if possible. Avoid cross-contamination with other ingredients or “filth” as the FDA calls it. Lotion recipes also call for the ingredients to be heated to kill any bacteria that may have already accumulated. I have sent my lotion to Dr. Cindy Jones of Sagescript Institute who performs challenge tests in her lab for bacteria as well as yeast and fungi. She gives this advice for reducing the bacteria in your ingredients:

I do recommend bringing both water and oil phases to 150-170 degrees for 15 minutes. I can tell you I have had a few clients who have had bacterial growth show up in my tests and after I told them to do this, the bacterial growth cleared up.

I take Dr. Jones seriously when she says:

“If bacteria grows in your lotion, you really have no way of knowing it. Your customer could come down with eczema, rashes, or possibly a skin infection which may or may not be difficult to trace back to your product.”

Whether you are making lotion for yourself or for your friends or to sell to the public, I’m sure you agree that it is important to use Good Manufacturing Practice to avoid such a disaster!

Next lesson: Needed Equipment for Making Lotion

Making Lotion

I’ve been making a lot of lotion lately, and thinking about how far I’ve come in learning this craft. I am NOT an expert by any means, but I have had quite a bit of practice. If you are thinking about trying your hand at formulating, I’ll do my best to guide you in the process.

First, I’m going to start by describing what lotion is. This may seem simple, but I don’t think I ever really thought about it before I started making it. Lotion is an emulsion between water-soluble and oil-soluble ingredients. All you need for a basic lotion is some water, oils, an emulsifier, and a preservative. Most people can’t just go to the store and buy an emulsifier and preservative. They have to be ordered from a supplier who specializes in lotion formulating. Some soap supply stores have started carrying these items as well.

Emulsifying Wax - pellets

Emulsifying Wax - pellets

OlivEm 1000 - flakes

OlivEm 1000 - flakes

So what is an emulsifier? Most of them are waxy substances, usually flakes or pellets, that are added to the oil soluble ingredients of the lotion and create an emulsion when the oil and water soluble ingredients are combined. There are two that I am currently using. The first is called Polawax, otherwise known simply as “emulsifying wax”. It’s highly stable and easy to work with. The other one is called OlivEm 1000 (INCI name: Cetearyl Olivate (and) Sorbitan Olivate). It’s derived from olive oil, and I’ve been using it in the facial moisturizer that is currently being tested. It has also proven to be easy to work with, and gives a very light, cushiony feel to the moisturizer. There are LOTS of different emulsifiers out there, but the one I would recommend for a beginner is the emulsifying wax.

If you are wondering whether or not you really need a preservative for your lotion, the answer is most definitely YES! Preservatives must be used in any product that contains water-soluble ingredients. If it has water in it, it has the potential to grow nasties. All kinds of nasties. Nasties you can see – like a big ol’ fuzzy mold, and nasties you can’t see – like bacterias that can cause infections if introduced to broken skin. There are a whole host of chemical preservatives available. I discussed some of these in my post about the preservative I chose for the facial moisturizer – which happens to be all-natural. I’ve decided to use it for my regular lotions as well. Read more about preservatives.

One of the reasons I say that I am not an expert lotionmaker, is that the chemistry behind it is rather daunting to me. There is a system called the HLB System (Hydrophile – Lipophile Balance) which is the ratio of oil soluble and water-soluble portions of a molecule. (I’ve lost you already, haven’t I?) Each ingredient is assigned a value from 0-20 that is supposed to help you figure out a formula for your lotion, and to predict how the emulsifier will behave. I have no clue how this works. Your eyes are probably glazed over as well. But that’s not all! There’s also the cationic, anionic, and nonionic behavior of the ingredients that has me baffled. Suffice it to say that I can work within a recommended range of percentages to come up with a pretty good formula.

Next lesson: Preparations for Making Lotion

lotion making tutorial