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Formulating Gentle Shampoo Products
Author: Susan Barclay-Nichols
Friday, March 2, 2018

When formulating kids’ products, we want to choose ingredients carefully to create “no more tears” shampoos with a pH that matches that of our eyes, around 7.5, to reduce irritation.

Contrary to popular belief, “no more tears” type shampoos don’t contain novacaine or another anasthetic. They’re tear free because the pH is balanced to match that of our eyes, much the same way water is.

Surfactants are always my first consideration when creating cleansing products as those foamy, bubbly, and lathery ingredients clean our hair and skin and determine the pH. They can be anionic or negatively charged, like sodium cocoyl isethionate (SCI) or sodium laureth sulfate (SLeS); non-ionic or neutrally charged, like decyl or lauryl glucoside; or zwitteronic, meaning the charge varies with the pH, like cocamidopropyl betaine or sodium cocoamphoacetate. Most will have a neutral to acidic pH of 7 or lower, but some, like the non-ionics, can have very alkaline pH levels up to 11. Surfactants are described as very gentle, very mild, mild, and harsh. Almost every surfactant we find will be described as anything but harsh, except sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).

Surfactant is short for surface active agent or an ingredient that lowers surface tension between oil and water, which makes it possible for them to mix. (Emulsifying waxes and ingredients like polysorbates are also types of surfactants.) The lathery ones solubilize the soil, sebum, and other icky stuff on your scalp and hair into micelles or little bubbles of oil suspended in the water, which are easily rinsed away. Those with a negative charge are better at this job than something like conditioner, which has a positive charge, or a lotion, which has a neutral or non-ionic charge.

The non-surfactant ingredients you choose determines the type of shampoo you make. Add a conditioner for a conditioning shampoo or a 2-in-1, add a moisturizer for a moisturizing shampoo, or leave them both out and make a clarifying shampoo. (There are also medicated shampoos, like those for dandruff, but those are considered drugs, and we can’t make them at home.)

For children’s shampoos, we don’t need to create something supercharged, deep cleansing, or heavy duty as they produce very little sebum.  Children often have more fragile or finer tresses as they have fewer layers of cuticle to protect the cortex and medulla than adult hair. You can modify a base, like foaming bath whip, or formulate a milder, more gentle shampoo that still produces a lot of fun foam and bubbles. In either case, I add a little light conditioning to create something that works as a two-in-one by adding a cationic or positively charged polymer, like Honeyquat or Polyquaternium 7. I add glycerin as a hydrator and bubble booster, and a hydrolyzed protein like silk, oat, or wheat to act as a film former.

To create a “no more tears” type product, you’ll need to adjust the pH of most of the products you make or modify to around 7.5. I use a blend of 50 grams citric acid dissolved into 50 grams distilled water to make the product more acidic or decrease the pH. I use an 18% lye solution - 18 grams of sodium hydroxide in 82 grams distilled water -, triethanolamine, or sodium borate dissolved in water to increase the pH or make the product more alkaline. Measure the pH of your product using some very good pH strips – those with 3 to 4 indicator patches – or a pH meter. (Many pH meters can’t read very thick or opaque products like foaming bath whip or lotions, so create a sample you can test by measuring 10 grams of product into 90 grams distilled water.) Add 0.1% of the pH altering liquid, mix, measure, and repeat until you reach pH 7.5-ish.

As a note, it’s important to use distilled water as it has a pH of 7. Tap water can be more acidic and contain metals while the pH of alkaline water is too high.

When formulating for kids, add a bit of sparkle with glitter or mica or color it with water soluble dyes and add a fun fragrance like bubble gum, Monkey Farts, or Fruit Loops. Let them name the product and create a cool label, although you will run the risk of having it called something with the word “poo” in it. I’ve made blood red products for tiny pirates and dragons, teal blue for mermaids, and black with charcoal for emerging goths and Tim Burton fans, and they’re all so excited to have something made just for them.

3-IN-1 KIDS’ SHAMPOO, CONDITIONER, AND BODY WASH

For this 3-in-1 cold process foamer bottle formula, dilute the clear conditioning shampoo base (pH 6.3 to 6.7) with distilled water, glycerin, silk amino acids, and a titch of Honeyquat to add extra conditioning. You can use any number of surfactant bases for foamer bottles: Just follow the formula below and use it in place of the clear conditioning shampoo.

Ingredients:
62.2% distilled water
30% clear conditioning shampoo base
3% glycerin
2% honeyquat
2% silk amino acids
0.5% fragrance oil
0.3% water soluble PF preservative
Water soluble, liquid colorant, if desired
0.1% triethanolamine, sodium borate, or 18% lye solution to increase pH

Directions:

1. Weigh all the ingredients except the pH adjuster into a container, and mix gently with a fork in a zig zag motion until uniform.

2. Measure pH. If necessary, add 0.1% pH adjuster, mix, measure, and repeat until you reach a pH of 7.5-ish. Mine required 0.1% 18% lye solution, but your product might require more or less.

3. Package in a foamer bottle and call it something fun!



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