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Learn to Make: Lotion from Scratch

This lesson is an introduction to the ingredients, basic process and concepts of making lotion from scratch. There are many high-quality lotion bases on the market, but if you want something more hands-on that offers complete control of the formulation, then making lotion from scratch is for you! 

Common Ingredients in Lotion

Water - Lotion is made with up to 70% water. You’ll want to use distilled water. You can substitute some or all of the water with a hydrosol:
  • Hydrosols - Hydrosols are essential waters that consist of the leftover water from the steam distillation of the plant or herb. They can add a small amount of scent to your lotion.
Base Oils - You will want to choose oils that have a long shelf life. Different oils offer different results in lotion based on their properties. Some examples:

Lighter base oils for a face or oily-skin lotion:
Medium oils:
Heavier oils for a heavy body lotion:

Butters - Butters are great to use in lotion. They add protective barriers to the skin and help to add emolliency and thickness to the lotion. Butters can include shea butter, cocoa butter, mango butter or any other natural cosmetic based butter or butter blend.

It is important to note that harder/brittle butters will make a thicker lotion and softer butters will make a thinner lotion. Some common butter choices include:
  • Cocoa Butter - Pure Cocoa Butter is thought to reduce skin dryness and improve elasticity. 
  • Shea Butter - Pure Shea Butter is high in vitamin and mineral content, which is thought to benefit dry skin. 
  • Mango Butter - Pure Mango Butter is thought to exhibit excellent moisturizing properties while countering the drying effects of bar soaps and cleansers.
  • Tucuma Butter - Tucuma Butter is considered to have high levels of Lauric, Myristic and Oleoic fatty acids, which are all thought to moisturize the skin and hair.
Emulsifiers - Oil and water don’t mix. You’ll need an emulsifier to emulsify your lotion. Some common ones include:
  • Emulsifying Wax - Soft & Silky - Provides a powdery, soft, silky feel to lotion formulas. Lotions made with this emulsifier tend to have a very light, whipped appearance. 
  • Emulsifying Wax - Traditional - Provides a protective feel to lotion formulas. Lotions made with this emulsifier  tend to have a heavy, cream-like appearance. 
Thickener - Lotions can be made thin to put into bottles with pumps or made thick enough to put into containers, such as jars, and scooped out. The most common thickener is:
  • Stearic Acid - makes a thick cream. Also helps stabilize the emulsion. 
Fragrance - You can fragrance lotions using fragrance oils, essential oils, or a combination of both. The typical usage rate for both is about 1% of the total lotion recipe, but double check IFRA guidelines to make sure you comply. 

Preservatives - Since lotion formulations include water, you’ll need a preservative to prevent contamination. This is not optional. Natural bacteria, mold & yeast thrive in water-based product environments if not preserved.

Pay careful attention to the formula pH, manufacturing temperatures and usage rate of your chosen preservative as they vary by product.
Most preservatives give a usage range. If you are bottling your lotion into containers that restrict anything from getting back into the container (such as a disc cap or lotion pump), you can use the lower amount. Use the higher amount when one of two things occur:
  1. You use an open jar or container that allows for more contamination (especially from fingers dipping in).
  2. You use harder-to-preserve ingredients such as botanical extracts, etc.
*Grapefruit seed extract, Rosemary Oleoresin and Vitamin E are not preservatives; they are antioxidants used to prevent rancidity in oil-based products. They should NOT be used in place of an actual preservative.

Some common preservatives include: 
  • Optiphen Plus - Highly effective broad-spectrum antimicrobial preservative that is effective at pH levels below 6.0.
    • Paraben Free. Formaldehyde Free.
    • Product Manufacturing Temperatures: No Higher than 176°F
    • Formula pH: Best Below 6.0
    • Effective Against: Bacteria, Mold, Yeast
    • Usage Rate in Lotions/Creams: 0.75-1.5% added to cool down phase
  • Germall Plus Liquid - Excellent broad-spectrum antimicrobial preservative, compatible with virtually all cosmetic ingredients. Good for water based formulas.
    • Paraben Free.
    • Product Manufacturing Temperatures: No Higher than 122ºF
    • Formula pH: 3-8 Restrictions
    • Effective Against: Bacteria, Mold, Yeast
    • Usage Rate in Lotions/Creams: 0.1-.5% added to cool down phase
  • Germaben II - Effective against Gram-positive & Gram-negative bacteria as well as yeast and mold. Recommended to preserve water-containing formulations with less than 25% fixed oils and/or butters. 
    • Contains Parabens.
    • Manufacturing Temperatures: 140ºF
    • Formula pH: No restrictions.
    • Effective Against: Bacteria, Mold, Yeast
    • Usage Rate in Lotions/Creams: 0.5-1% added to cool down phase
  • Germaben II E - Effective against Gram-positive & Gram-negative bacteria as well as yeast and mold. Developed for creams and lotions containing over 25% fixed oils and/or butters.
    • Contains Parabens.
    • Manufacturing Temperatures: 140ºF
    • Formula pH: No restrictions.
    • Effective Against: Bacteria, Mold, Yeast
    • Usage Rate in Lotions/Creams: 0.5-1% added to cool down phase
  • Phenonip - This is a preservative that is intended to prevent bacteria, mold and fungal growth in products. It is insoluble in water so must be added to the oil phase when making lotion, prior to emulsifying with water. 
    • Contains Parabens.
    • Product Manufacturing Temperatures: No restrictions
    • Formula pH: 3.0-8.0
    • Effective Against: Bacteria, Mold, Yeast
    • Usage Rate in Lotions/Creams: 0.25-1% added to cool down phase

How to Formulate a Lotion Recipe

You can formulate your own lotion recipe by using the percentages below.

Water - 70%
Liquid Oil - 15%                                                    
Butter - 5%
Emulsifying Wax - 5%                                                     
Stearic Acid - 3%                                                                                   
Fragrance or Essential Oil - 1%                                         
Preservative - 0.1 - 1.5%   (based on your preservative’s recommended usage rate)

Basic Lotion Recipe Example:
Water - 700 grams (24.69 oz.)
Grapeseed Oil - 150 grams (5.29 oz.)                                                 
Mango Butter - 50 grams (1.76 oz.)                                                    
Emulsifying Wax - 50 grams (1.76 oz.)  
Stearic Acid - 30 grams (1.06 oz.)                                           
Essential Oil - 10 grams (0.35 oz.)                                          
Optiphen Plus - 15 grams (0.53 oz.)

The above recipe makes a thick cream-like lotion that can be put into jars. 

Modifying a Recipe
The above percentages are recommended as a starting point. If you want a lighter or heavier formula you can adjust the water, liquid oil, butter, stearic acid, emulsifying wax…etc.  Fragrance and preservative percentages should remain the same.

Some Considerations When Making Lotion

Equipment Required
  • Two heat-safe containers to heat the water and oil mixture
  • Immersion blender to emulsify lotion
  • Scale to weigh ingredients
  • Spatula or spoon
  • Hair net and gloves
Heat & Hold to Kill the Nasties & Stabilize Emulsion
For preservatives to best work, your lotion needs to be as free from contamination as possible during manufacturing. A common practice in lotion making to kill off bacteria, mold and yeast is to heat and hold your raw materials. Heating and holding at 160º-170ºF for 20 minutes will kill off many contaminates including some mold, yeast and bacteria that might have been introduced from the manufacturer, your environment or equipment. To heat and hold you can use two methods:
  1. Place water into a heat safe container and oil soluble ingredients (oils, butters, emulsifying wax and stearic acid) into a separate heat safe container and place in double boiler. Heat to 160º-170ºF and hold for 20 minutes.
  2. Place water into a heat safe container and oil soluble ingredients (oils, butters, emulsifying wax and stearic acid) into a separate heat safe container and place into your oven turned onto lowest setting (warm setting is usually around 170ºF). Heat to 160º-170ºF and hold for 20 minutes.

Do not heat & hold heat-sensitive ingredients such as fragrance oils, essential oils, preservatives, hydrosols, some oils/butters etc., save those for the cool down phase.  

Heating & holding also helps ensure a stable and strong emulsion. Sometimes when your water and oil-soluble mixture are different temperatures or not melted enough, emulsions can suffer instability. 

Containers for Lotion
There are many types of containers that you can package lotion in. Some common containers include:
  • Bottles with Pumps or Disc Caps - Bottles come in a range of sizes and colors to hold lotion. Pumps allow you to easily pump lotion out of the container and disc caps allow you to squeeze lotion out of the container.  
  • Jars - Jars are great for thicker creams that would be hard to pump or squeeze out of a bottle. You can get glass or plastic jars ranging in many different sizes and colors.
  • Malibu Tottles - Tottles are another great way to package lotion. They are a style of bottle that comes with a flip top cap that allows you to squeeze the lotion out.
*You should not have to sanitize containers directly from a manufacturer. Sometimes by trying to clean containers, you are actually doing more harm by introducing water containing harmful bacteria and mold. Keep your containers sealed up tight in the plastic bags that they come in. 

Bottling Tips
Depending on how thick your lotion or cream is when you bottle it, it might be hard to get it into a container. You can put it into a freezer bag, cut the tip and squeeze into bottles. You can also use a piping bag. Sometimes bottling lotion can get messy. Wipe your filled bottles with alcohol to remove any mess.

An Example of the Process

Sanitize Your Workspace & Equipment
Before you begin your lotion-making session, you need to sanitize your workspace, equipment (immersion blender), mixing utensils and mixing containers. To do this, spray everything down with a bleach solution (1.5 tablespoons bleach in 2 cups distilled water). Let set for 5 minutes to kill contaminates. Wipe up with paper towels.

Heating & Hold
Weigh out the water into a heat-safe container. Weigh out oils, butters, emulsifying wax and stearic acid into another heat-safe container. Heat both (by either double boiler or in warm oven) to 160°-170°F and hold at that temperature for 20 minutes. Remove from heat.  

Combine the water and oil mixture and emulsify using an immersion blender. Blend for about 5 minutes. Mixture will turn cloudy and white but will remain quite liquid. Let set for 10 minutes and blend again.

Cool Down Phase
Let mixture set until it reaches 115°-120°F. Now it is safe to add heat-sensitive ingredients such as fragrance oils, essential oils, preservatives and hydrosols. Blend once more using an immersion blender to ensure emulsion. 

You can now bottle your lotion. Do not cap your containers until the lotion or cream has completely cooled. Condensation can get trapped in bottles and jars and cause mold to grow.
Once completely cooled down, cap your containers.

A note: The process used in this article, heating & holding, is one of many methods for making lotion. It best ensures that your lotion comes out contaminate free and emulsified without issues. 

For slightly different methods and various recipes you can view the recipe library here

Related Videos:
Oatmeal and Aloe Lotion Recipe
Cashmere and Pear Body Whip Recipe

Filling Lotion Bottles

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