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. 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.

  5. Hello
    I’m just starting out making lotion. I noticed the wax is lumpy. Do I need to destroy this batch and start over or can I fix it?

  6. @Deborah – Do you mean you didn’t melt the wax completely before mixing the liquid into the oils, or did the lotion get clumpy after it cooled?

  7. Is it possible to overheat a hand cream? Mine is currently to hard. Should I melt it add more liquid ?

  8. @Alizabeth – It’s certainly possible! I don’t know that it would make it harder than normal, however. You can definitely try re-heating it and adding more liquid. Just be sure to continue whipping it as it cools and add more preservative if needed.

  9. Hi there! My lotion separated after 3 weeks in the bottle. I think Optiphen Plus may be the issue. It looks like a whitish liquid almost like skim milk. If I shake it it goes back into the lotion. How do I prevent this from happening?

  10. @Cvb – Without knowing your recipe or how you put it together, it could be that you need more emulsifier, or it could be a temperature issue when you combined your ingredients. I would contact your supplier to see if they have any recommendations.

  11. I need help Please? I make Handmade Lotion and it keeps blowing up on me! I come home and its like a Volcano Erupted and i don’t why..what am i doing wrong? here are my Ingredients. > Handmade item
    Materials: Aloe Vera gel, Distilled water, Grape seed Oil, Jojoba Oil, Mango Butter, Shea Butter, Coconut Oil, Cocoa Butter, Evening Prim Rose, Vitamin E, Emulsifying Wax, Neo Defend Perservative, Lavender Scent

  12. @Frankie – I apologize it has taken me a few days to respond. It sounds like you may have some ingredients that don’t play well together. I’ve never heard of Neo Defend preservative, but I can tell you that I use aloe vera juice, not the gel. There may be something in the gel that is reacting. Sorry I’m not more help! Have you contacted the supplier of your preservative?

  13. Hi Amy, last night I made a batch of lotion like I have so many times and after I had it ready to pour in the bottles I realized I had forgotten to add my shea butter. I melted it and added then and mixed it with my hand mixer. It seemed
    to mix in just fine. My question is will it be ok or should I throw it out?

  14. @Lisa – Should be fine. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t separate, and if you heated higher than your preservative can handle, you’ll need to add it again.

  15. Hi there,
    I made my first batch of goat’s milk lotion last night at first it was pretty runny, but as it cooled down it turned very rich, thick and creamy which is the way i wanted it. i made a very large batch to give away as Christmas gifts but im not sure if i put a little bit too much preservative. i’m using phenonip if i did use a little too much is that a bad thing? i also put a little extra sheabutter in the mix is that ok?

  16. Congrats on your first batch of lotion! The only problem with using too much preservative is that it can be irritating to the skin. Extra shea butter? Not a problem as long as you figure out your percentages and know how much extra preservative to use – which it sounds like you already have plenty! The only other issue would be if you don’t have enough emulsifier to hold the whole thing together. I wouldn’t give this batch away until you know exactly what it’s going to do over time.

  17. Thanks for the prompt response. The lotion still looks and feels great. I’ve been testing it on myself and it feels good on the skin.

  18. hello ladies. i have a big problem with my homemade body balm. everytime i do mix all ingredients together, after it cools down the mixture , the balm becomes too thick. is thick like the butter, when what i follow is to obtin a more liquid one… can somebody help me with this problem? i tried different recipes but i have the same result. i use coconut oil solid, sweet almond oil, vanilla fragrance, beewax , distilled water and an emusifier so it blends water and the oils… what other alternative can you give me, but not for soo expensive materials as chemical preservatives? i am not english or american , appologies for my english…
    thank you.

  19. @otilia – Without knowing what your recipe is, it is difficult to say what can be changed. If you are using beeswax AND an emulsifier, perhaps you can take the beeswax out of the recipe. Hopefully you are just using this for yourself if you do not wish to use a preservative. It must be kept in a refrigerator for up to two weeks. Do not wait for visible mold to grow to throw it away.

  20. hello ladies again. i come back with an other question. in my body balm i use oils like coconut oil(1/2 cup), sweet almond oil(1/2), shea butter(2 tbsp), perfume(vanilla fregrance : 10-15 drops), beewax(1/4 cup) and an emulsifier for allow mixing water-oil(1/4cup) and water(1/2 cup), but in the next hour from the preparation , my body balm becomes very thick, like a hard butter. and yes @Amy , i don’t use preservatives, but i want to do it for a small bussiness local (to beggin with) and… to be honest i don’t afford to waste materials because here are not soo cheap… i already waste a lot of them and the raw material stock is already going down too much….
    i need some advice please… help!!!!
    thank you!

  21. and what advice you give me for a natural preservative in the case i need to use it?
    because my body balm i want it to be all natural without chemicals or synthetic products in it. also because it will be even harder to pass the lab’s tests with non-natural ingredients….

  22. @otilia – First, I’m going to recommend that you start at the beginning of my lotion tutorial and read through to the end. Here’s the first post: I also recommend that you re-formulate your recipe without the beeswax using percentages and weigh all your ingredients. Part of being a formulator means you will have to test your recipe. It’s not a simple process and none of us got it right on our first try. I also must insist that as long as there is water in your formula, you MUST use a preservative in order to sell. Your balm WILL grow mold and make people sick if you don’t. I’m not sure which lab tests you are trying to pass that require all natural ingredients, but I also did a short post on preservatives. You should definitely do your own research on those to figure out which will work best with your formula.

  23. hello Amy. an other question please. can i use also stearic acid instead of silver citrate or silver acid?

  24. Hello Amy
    How can I preserve a solution with protein in it? I’ve already tried with some preservatives like Germaben2, geogard ECT, liquapar optima. But all of them make the protein solution coagulant. I will be apricciated if you answer my question.

  25. @Nasim – I’m afraid that is beyond my scope of knowledge. You might try asking Angie at The Herbarie or Jenny at Lotioncrafter. Both are excellent resources!

  26. @Angela – You need to let it cool longer. I let mine set up over night. You don’t want to have any condensation because it can develop bacteria.

  27. I am still having this same issue so I thought I would give some more detail…
    I start by sterilizing all my bottles,utensils, and everything else i will be using with 70% alcohol. I use distilled water and put it into a canning jar, I mix my almond oil, cocoa butter, stearic acid, emulsifying wax, and vit. E oil. I put them into another canning jar. I have a water bath that I temp at 180 degrees i put both water and oil into canner and set timer for 25 min. I remove oil and water and let cool to about 125ish, then put Optiphen and scent in. mix well in bowl continue to mix every few minutes until it is completely cool and thickened. I then put my lotion into my bottles. this is the part I cant figure out… i keep getting moisture in my glass lotion bottle after I’ve got it all done and on the counter!!!!! by the way I wear a hair net and lab coat also keeping a the widows shut to prevent contamination of any sort. What in the world am I doing wrong????

  28. @Angela- I am honestly not sure. I’ve never stored my lotions in glass before, so I don’t know if that has anything to do with it? You’ll have to find someone more experienced than I am to figure this out. Try Angie from The Herbarie or Jenny from Lotioncrafter.

  29. I was wondering if I could just whip up Shea butter and solid coconut oil together without adding any other ingredients? I would melt them and refrigerate until solid again before whipping.

  30. I love making my own body butters but I cannot figure out where I’m going wrong. The consistency is perfect but I notice tiny bead-like lumps after it has settled in the jar. It looks like the beeswax reverted to pellets.

  31. @Melanie – It’s a specially made shea butter. Majestic Mountain Sage carries it. You can work around it by quick cooling your body butter as you whip it, but if it gets warm and re-melts, the stearic will still form.

  32. I usually use almond oil in my lotion recipe and it turns out fabulous. This time, however, I used all hemp oil. It melts down with everthing fine but when I whip it, it turns lumpy. How can I save this batch?

  33. im making a pomade. i melt beeswax with some olive oil and petroleum then pour it into the glass jar. after cooling down about 1 hr the texture become lumpy. what is the cause? please help me

  34. @syahmizailand – I couldn’t say for sure. I’ve never worked with petroleum before, but I’m guessing it has to do with how slowly it cools down. Try putting it in the refrigerator after pouring and see if that helps. If that doesn’t work, then I don’t know what else to tell you – sorry!

  35. I have tried making lotion a few times. Shea butter. Coconut oil. Beeswax, whichever recipe I try it ends rock hard.

    I follow the recipes to the letter. But it never comes out smooth and silky

  36. @Mary – Those three ingredients are solid at room temp, so it would make sense that they would make a solid lotion. If you are trying to make a softer lotion, you’ll need to use some liquid oils.

  37. Hi Amy,

    Happy New Year.

    I made a hair conditioner today with Ghee (Clarified Butter), Shea Butter, Castor and Coconut Oils, Lavender Hydrosol/Water and emulsifying wax. Initially, I thought that the wax wasn’t effective so it looks like I ended up adding way too much. Now it feels candle like; waxy. And it’s not exactly smooth. I need this to last for up until 6 months and I’m going to use Rosemary Oil and Vitamin E Oil as a Preservative. Please kindly advise what I can do as it’s too waxy. Do I add more shea Butter or Oils? I’m sorry worried. I spent the whole day doing this.

  38. You could try melting it down and adding more liquid oil, but it may not fix the problem. Hair conditioner isn’t typically made with emulsifying wax. Usually it’s made with BTMS.

  39. Thanks for your feedback.
    I used ceatyl alcohol and emulsifying wax, but I just realized I used too much of the emulsifying wax.
    One last question, please. When I try melting it down, can I add water to the oil? And can I use and emulsion blender afterwards to make it smooth? Also, after melting it down, can I add BTMS? Please advise.

  40. @Jennifer – How do you know how much of any of these ingredients to add to your current emulsion? You are much better off starting over with a conditioner recipe that uses BTMS. Make a small batch, let it set up properly overnight and then decide if the recipe needs to be tweaked. Without using a proper preservative, if you continue to add water and oil, it’s going to start growing bacteria very quickly.

  41. I am so happy that you are kind enough to keep answering these comments! I am ready to make a larger batch of lotion. I have trouble getting the lotion into the bottles even with a zip loc bag and corner tip cut out. It starts out thin enough to barely pour in, but then starts thickening up fast. How thick so I have to have it to start pouring? I’m bringing it to room temperature while blending it every few minutes. If I can pour it pretty thin, I could get more in the bottles before it got difficult.. I guess I’m afraid it will separate if I don’t blend till it starts to thicken??

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