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

Page with Comments

  1. @Melessa – You’ll need to make sure your lotion is completely cooled before pouring or condensate will form inside the bottle which can grow bacteria. If it’s too thick to get in the bottles, then I suggest adjusting your recipe to make it a bit thinner and easier to pour. I’ve also had thick lotion that I had to squeeze into the bottles and tap it down as it kept getting stuck in the neck of the bottle. It’s doable, but not fun!

  2. @Debra – Are they hard spots? If the lotion has gotten too warm and then re-cooled, sometimes there is a separation. Especially if there’s stearic acid or shea butter in your ingredients.

  3. What could make a lotion raise as if yeast is put in it… Even with preservatives “germal plus”

  4. Hi
    I use stearic acid in my recipe . ..after making my lotion it came out good. But after exposing it to 34 degree celsius it became too thin….in short it changes with weather. …

  5. I made the lotion and it’s perfect but when I add water with tea to it and mix it the whole thing separates when cooled down. My goal is to be able to add 20% black tea colored water to the lotion so it will have some color when applied.

  6. @CJ – Without knowing your formula, it could be technique, incompatible ingredients, preservative, emulsifier, stabilizers or lack thereof. If you’d like to share your formula, it might shed some light on the issue.

  7. Hi, ive been ‘trying’ to make lotion for the last 8 months and i just cant seam to get it the way i want it. I like thick lotion, not thin. But I dont want it so thick that you cant squeeze it out of a bottle. Ive tried soft and silky emulsifying wax, stearic acid, cetyl alcohol (all by themselves, mixed up..every variation I can think of) and I cannot get the waxy/greasy feeling to go away, and thats not something i want my lotions to feel like. I use shea butter and kokum butter, along with safflower oil. Ive also tried it without putting oils in it and it still has that waxy/greasy feeling to it. The preservative that I use is Phenonip. Any suggestions on how to fix this? I want to be able to sell lotions in my storefront but Im also very close to calling it quits. **sigh**

  8. @Steph – I just use a regular emulsifying wax and my lotions have a very nice feel. You might need to change your oil profile. I like equal amounts of shea butter, jojoba oil and avocado oil. The preservative shouldn’t affect the feel of the lotion, but you might want to try Optiphen instead. I also like to use half aloe juice and half water. Hope that helps!

  9. doing thick body lotion but in a few days got seperation of oil. Please look into my recipes ….
    oils 10%
    e wax 5%
    stearic 6%
    silicone 9%
    vitamin E 2%
    water 65%
    preserving 1%
    EO 2%

  10. @Andoo P – That is a LOT of silicone. Typical usage rate is no more than 5%. Vitamin E is also quite potent and no need to go over 1.5%. You can increase the ewax to 6 or 7% to compensate and decrease the stearic acid to 3%. Check out the recipe formulary at for more ideas of ranges.

  11. I made a lotion with Shea nut oil/ mango butter/
    Progranate seed oil and bit e and a scent. How do I thicken it
    I thicken it

  12. @Diana – Depends what type of product you are trying to create. If you’re trying to create an actual lotion, that is an emulsion created from a water phase and an oil phase. That’s what my tutorial is about: If you are just wanting to make a body butter with only oil soluble ingredients, you’ll need to heat everything up and add some type of wax or hard butter to thicken.

  13. Hello,i made a lotion with basic recipe. 75grm water, 14g of oil, 5gm of Shea butter, emulsifying wax 6g.. In the beginning I have this perfect consistency but after it cools down,the lotion begins to thicken making it difficult to pour.. It has very thick ,whippy, airy consistency.. How do I fix it? I want a thin lotion..

  14. @Nisha – You can heat it up and add a few more grams of water. Then whip it again as it cools. You’ll need to keep it in a refrigerator (up to 2 weeks) or use it within a few days if you don’t use a preservative!

  15. I have been having issues with my lotion recently either I have water floating or the lotion separates. This happens right after I add Optiphen Plus as my preservative. Today I experimented again, this time I have stirred Optiphen Plus no issue but the minute I used the stick blender it started separating. I’m assuming it’s because of Optiphen Plus please correct me if I’m wrong.

  16. @Bavani – It would seem so, but I’m not an expert in this area. You might want to ask Maggie at the Formulator Sample Shop.

  17. Hi Amy! I’ve now twice made my own lotion and after a few days it becomes pink. I’ve used kukui oil , Olivem 1000, and leucidal as a preservative. Is the color change something i should be worried about? Is it possibly a pH issue? I haven’t used strips to test mine.

  18. 2 days after bottling my lotion, it started oozing out of the sealed lid. Product was completely cooled. Can I fix this?

  19. @Kathy – I honestly have no idea! I’ve never experienced this before. Anything that has left the bottle would not be safe to sell for sure.

  20. I forgot to add my Dimethicone to my lotion yesterday can I still add it to the bottles and give it a good shake?

  21. @Barbara – Unless you have a lot of head room in your bottles and your lotion is very thin, it probably won’t incorporate very well. I would either leave it as is and sell at a discount if you can really tell a difference, or change your labels and just leave it out. I’m guessing it’s probably not worth the hassle of dumping all the bottles, mixing it in and re-bottling!

  22. Hi,
    I’m a beginner in making handmade products. I tried a simple aloe-rose face cream by seeing one the recipe from internet . Cream has become too thick and very greasy . I hope it’s because my stearic acid went little high. Is there a way to alter it ….???

  23. Hi,
    I tried making a basic aloe-rose face cream . I had used stearic acid in the cream. I think I accidentally added more than the expected percentage. My cream is very thick …!!! It’s not creamy . How do I fix this …???

  24. Pls after making my lotion it was too thin so I added petroleum jelly to it and reheated the lotion but as it cooled down the lotion began to separate, I have added dimethicone but still, and as I use the stick blender it becomes too liquidy. Please what should I do.

  25. @Joyce – Petroleum jelly is not a thickener. Without knowing what your recipe is, I can’t really advise you about what to do. If you used an emulsifier, you could have melted it down and added more emulsifier, but now that you’ve added petroleum jelly, I’m not sure there’s much hope to salvage it.

  26. Does Stearic acid have an expiration date to it.?
    I have made lotions using the same recipe, with different scents and all came out great.
    This last time I made lotion, it separated. I thought maybe the stearic acid looked funny when I added it, (didn’t desolve)
    So my second question is, how do I fix it?

  27. @Julene – Stearic acid is a pretty stable ingredient and if stored correctly should last several years. If it didn’t dissolve, it probably wasn’t hot enough. You could potentially melt the lotion down again to a liquid state, then re-mix as it cools. Be sure to add more preservative if you exceed the heat tolerance of the one you used.

  28. Hello!
    I made a lotion using water, almond oil emusilying wax glycerin, vitamin. Why would it fell a little sticky and dry? Would the glycerin do that?

  29. Hello!
    I am a beginner in formulating lotions. Its been months I am trying to have a non-sticky lotion. The lotion that I made gives a good texture to the skin but it doesn’t absorb well and is greasy and sticky too. Can you help me fix it?
    Water 73.4%
    Butylene glycol 6.0%
    Sunflower Oil 4.0%
    Glycerin 3.0%
    Niacinamide (Vit B3) 3.0%
    Ceteareth-20 2.0%
    Tocopheryl Acetate 0.3%
    Panthenol (ProVit B5) 0.2%
    Ascorbic Acid 0.5%
    Allantoin 0.2%
    Glyceryl Monostearate 1.5%
    Cetyl Alcohol 3.5%
    Xanthan Gum 0.1%
    Carbomer 0.4%
    Capryl/capric Triglycerides 2.0%

  30. @Fatima – I’m not even familiar with all of those additives. I do know that added glycerin tends to feel sticky in lotions, so that’s my best guess!

  31. Can you make cream or lotion without steric acid?.
    I got burning sensation on skin when I used stearic acid in my lip balm.

  32. Hi I made a hand lotion which was beautiful and creamy when just made. I used eco preservative. The next day when i opened the pot the texture had changed to a mousse. How can I rectify this? Hoping you can help.

  33. @Paula – I’m sorry I’m not familiar with eco preservative, and have no idea why it would cause a texture change. Usually a mousse-like texture comes from whipping too much air into the formula, but if it was creamy when you made it, then I’m not sure what can be done except to try to stir it down.

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