Lotion Making Tutorial, part 1

(Over the next several posts I plan to publish a series of “how to’s” on some basic beauty DIY stuff. I plan on publishing here quite a few things you can make as Christmas gifts, so I hope to get as many tutorials out as possible giving you time to make things for the holidays.  I’ll also post links to pages with other great DIY ideas so you can get your gifts made and shipped and stockings stuffed.)

I also want to thank Marie at Humblebee and Me and Susan at Point of Interest. Your blogs and tutorials will be linked to over the next few days (and weeks), repeatedly, as your experience exceeds mine by leaps and bounds. Along with a few other blogs, both these women have been a source of inspiration this year, and I’m thankful they do what they do-so I can do what I do, better.

Today and the next time are about lotion. I dove into making lotion after reading blog post after blog post under the “Lotion” section at Humblebee & Me. I finally ordered Emulsifying Wax NF off Amazon (because I didn’t know where else to buy supplies back then) and I remember being thrilled once my lotion had thickened up into and that it got two thumbs up from my husband. It was a relatively complex lotion, looking back, but like all lotions the complexity was in the ingredients and not in the process. 

Now about lotion making: normally oil and water don’t like to mix, because water is polar and oil is non-polar. This, as I’m sure you’ve seen before, results in the oil just floating on top of the water. However, if we add an emulsifier -a ingredient that is water loving and oil loving (hydrophilic and lipophilic)-it will bring the oil and water together in a stable mixture. This mixture is called an emulsion.  

So let’s learn a little about emulsions.

First of all? You’ll hear the terms “oil in water” or “water in oil” thrown around on blogs, along with “anhydrous”. Anhydrous simply means water free, like a whipped body butter, a lotion bar, or a sugar scrub. “Hydrous” would be the opposite; contains water.  Oil in water are the kinds of lotions and creams we make, where there are oil droplets suspended in water with the help of an emulsifier. The bulk of the lotion is water-ideal for your stratum corneum, your outermost layer of skin -and there’s enough oil there to trap water next to the skin and keep it moisturized. That’s the grand plan. More on that over at Point of Interest. I will also cover skin anatomy and how lotion works another day.

Three things are needed to emulsify a lotion properly and keep it stable (this next part is taken largely-but not entirely – from a .pdf available at the Point of Interest blog):

1) Chemical emulsification: Choosing a good emulsifier will save you a lot of stress. Choose one that works with ingredients you like to use-some have a narrow pH allowance, so if you forsee yourself making Vitamin C infused face lotions, that might not be the emulsifier for you. If you really want to learn about emulsifiers, the HLB (hydrophilic -lipophilic balance chart) is the place to start. However, it’s a heck of a lot easier and more reliable to go with a complete emulsifier for basic lotions and creams. Ecomulse (also goes by Ritamulse,or Emulsimulse), Emulsifying Wax NF, brand name Polawax, and BTMS-50 (also called Incroquat BTMS 50), are four common all around emulsification systems (and we will be exploring those emulsifying systems another day) that are easy to use. My preference is Ecomulse, and I’ll explain why in a minute. However, any one of the four should work to make a lotion, so if you already have an emulsifier around or locate one wherever you choose to buy supplies, hey, go for it. But we won’t be using the “beeswax and borax” method, or any of the co-emulsifier systems like stearic acid and TEA. 

2) Heat emulsification: While there are increasing numbers of cold process emulsifiers out on the market-and I’m dying to get my hands on some and report back -the four I just mentioned above come in pellets or flakes and have to be melted before they are useful. All the ingredients in the lotions we make right now have to be heated to the point where they are ready to bond. 

3) Mechanical emulsification: This takes some work with a whisk at the very least, and ideally a stick blender or the whisk attachment on a hand blender. The flip side of that is that you can actually break an emulsification by over beating it. So small, controlled pulses are the way to go. 3 minutes at most at one time. 

How to make lotion? In the following recipe, and all lotion recipes I publish, you’ll see three phases. 
1) Oil phase: Heat these until melted in a double boiler, then hold at that temperature for 20 minutes if it contains coconut oil or shea butter. This should contain everything that plays well together as “oils” which includes the emulsifier, oils, butters, co-emulsifier, thickeners, and any oil soluble goodies. Coconut oil and shea butter need to be “tempered” for 20 minutes or they can separate and turn grainy in your lotion later. It’s unusual but it happens, so better to temper it. (This applies to anything Shea butter and coconut oil are in: body butter, lotion bars, lip balm, etc.)

2) Water phase: Heat these to a boil then reduce and simmer for 20 minutes with foil over the top to trap steam and stop loss of moisture through evaporation. This would include ingredients like water, hydrosols, aloe vera, witch hazel, sodium lactate liquid, and other water soluble goodies. We do this to kill any microorganisms that might be living in the water and could make you sick.

3) Cool down phase: These are the ingredients you’ll add to your emulsified mixture after it’s reached body temperature (it should be only slightly warm on your skin). This phase includes hydrolyzed protein, panthenol, fragrance or essential oils, and preservatives. 

A note about preservatives: yes, you must use them. If you aren’t willing to, you can stop reading now. No, they are not optional. A 4 oz or 100g bottle needs about .5g of my favorite preservative (Liquid Germall Plus). I would rather take .5g of preservative dispersed over 100g than the risk of invisible mold and bacteria making me potentially very sick. Lotion lasts 4-7 days before you SEE mold, but it can be there much sooner without a preservative, and bacteria are invisible. Since we are making lotion in our homes under less than sterile conditions, it makes the need for a broad spectrum preservative that much more necessary. 

The best way to make a double “double boiler”: take a large, flat bottom saute pan and fill with approximately 1″ water. Put your oil phase in one Pyrex (or other heat resistant)measuring cup and your water ingredients in another. Set them in the saute pan and heat on med until the oils are melted and the water simmers. Go from there! 

Example Lotion Recipe (real one after this!)

Oil phase: 

20g oils 

5g emulsifier

Water phase:

74g water

Cool down phase:

Preservative (as directed by manufacturer)

Fragrance (1-2%)

Use 25% of your oil amount in emulsifier. So for 20g of oil, you’ll want 5g of emulsifier. It’s been my experience that 6g works very nicely. I generally recommend 6g emulsifier as a good way to go. 

1) Weigh your oils ingredients and put into heat proof cup, put in saute pan.

2) Weigh your water ingredients and put into heat proof cup, cover with foil, put in sauce pan.

3) Heat until oil ingredients are melted and water ingredients have simmered 20 minutes. 

4) Pour together into heatproof container. Whisk together. This is emulsification! Rejoice! 

5) Break out the stick blender and mix the lotion in short bursts. Leave it for about 10 minutes, blast it again. Keep doing this. 

6) When the lotion is down to “just really warm” to the touch, add your cool down phase ingredients, mix again, and put into (pump) bottles. 

Why pump bottles? Studies have shown they are least likely to get contaminated with bacteria, mold, or other microorganisms. Next up is a bottle with a flip top cap or a disc “push button” cap. Those work nicely as well for everything except the thickest lotion and creams. And if course, some creams, like a foot cream, will just have to be packaged in jars. In that case, wash your hands before you handle the cream, and don’t double dip; don’t touch your feet or your body and then into the jar again. Get as much as you need the first time and spread it around, then come back to massage it in. This prevents bacteria and germs from getting into your jar of cream. Of course, nobody is perfect, and that’s why we have broad spectrum preservatives. They cover us when we store our lotion in a warm and humid environment, ideal for mold growth, like the bathroom. Or when we double dip into our jar of foot cream accidentally. Don’t do these things on purpose, but don’t panic if you do accidentally because you used your preservative correctly so you have coverage. 

Deep breath, as I put my soap box about preservatives away…

Now, how about a real lotion recipe?

First let’s discuss…

Supplies you will need for general lotion making (and DIY stuff, actually)

1) A scale- you can buy one off Amazon for under $20. Mine is an Ozeri and was $12. Admittedly, it’s my second one since I killed my first one when I got it wet, so they are very cheaply made and not water resistant or anything. But they weigh accurately and get the job done. For a bit more, like $40, you can get a much nicer digital scale that weighs down to milligrams, which is ideal. My scale doesn’t measure lower than one gram, so I’ve had to get creative. For 0.5 grams, I’ve been estimating by measuring out one gram and just pouring in half. For preservative, I measure it right in the lid-why get another container dirty and with that tiny amount you probably can’t transfer it properly anyways. I set the lid of the preservative bottle on the scale and tare it to zero, then add a small amout to the lid, and set it back down. The goal is usually one gram. Most preservatives call for 0.5 or 1 gram per 100g of product.You’ll have to read up on your preservative and know what it requires.  I also occasionally use the drops trick: 20 drops from a 3 ml pipette is 1 gram, so 10 drops should be 0.5 grams. This works well for extracts and essential oils. I suggest buying a box of 3 ml pipettes if you are going to DIY much, it’s $5 off LotionCrafters and you’ll use them for all your essential oils, extracts, anything that you want a small amount of and don’t want to spill. You might also ask at your pharmacy or crowd source your friends and see if anyone can get pipettes from work if you only want one or two. Often, pipettes come with larger bottles of essential oils as well.

2) Pyrex measuring cups (or other guaranteed heat resistant measuring cups). At the minimum, have two 2 cup measuring cups, but you’ll want many, many, more. You’ll find yourself searching thrift stores for them and just grabbing two every time you go shopping for a bit, in 2 cup then in 4 cup. (4 cup even more if you make soap!)

3) Spoons- you’ll need spoons for stirring things. Go buy a restaurant supply and buy at least 10, or thrift some. Consider buying a bundle of 25 or 50 if you’re going to really get into DIY cosmetics and bath and body. Otherwise you use up all your household spoons. 

4) Stick blender-immersion blender – ideally with whisk attachment. 

5) Everyone recommends a candy thermometer. I have two, and a digital thermometer, and I have never used them. However, other blogs with other recipes may give out temps to be followed, so grab a candy thermometer or an instant read. 

6) You’ll need a funnel for pouring your lotion into bottles. I recommend getting the three pack of funnels in different sizes; the small is useful for smaller bottles and you’ll be surprised how often you need it as you learn new things. I use mine to decant beard oil, high proof vodka into essential oil roller ball bottles, and all kinds of things into one ounce dropper bottles.

7) Bottles! If you only plan to do this once or twice, just pick up 1-2 travel size bottles in the travel and sample aisle of the supermarket. They can be push or flip top, or hand cream style for our purposes. If you hope to make a lot of lotions, give them to friends, etc., the cheapest place I’ve found for bottles and pump tops is Bulk Apothecary. In fact, if I’m totally honest, it was their dirt cheap price on bottles and jars that got me shopping there in the first place. I think you can get 50 bottles for around $15 and 50 pump tops for about the same, which beats anything you’ll find on Amazon. I know, you’re saying “I don’t think I need FIFTY bottles!” but if you start making lotion, and then you also learn how to make hair conditoner, and maybe you decide to join me in learning about surfactants and you end up making facial cleanser … Then you want to make some to give away as gifts…well, fifty bottles can go pretty quick. I would advise you to buy pump tops AND disc tops for them if you ever think you’ll want to make liquids like face toner or aftershave. It’s maybe $5 more for the disc tops and then you can use your bottles for so much more. If you can afford it, buy two sizes of bottles, get some 8 oz bottles as well, or a second pack of 4 oz in a fun color (they have bottles in red, blue, purple; not just white, clear, and amber ). I have 4 and 8 oz bottles, and pump tops and disc tops, as well as double wall plastic jars in 2 oz and 4 oz from them and attest to the quality. Where Bulk Apothecary and other suppliers hurt is in the shipping, so while you’re there, browse the oils and butters to make your lotion, and any essential oils you’ve been meaning to pick up.  I believe they carry emulsifier, too, but possibly not Ecomulse. Otherwise I recommend Lotion Crafters for emulsifier and things like hydrolyzed protein, silk, glycerin, etc. that you might want eventually in a nicer lotion. We’ll get to that.

Now about the basics.. 

Oils and butters: You have 19g of oils and butters to work with. I like my lotion to be a little heavy, to really moisturize (unless I’m called upon to make a light lotion, in which case I would skip butters and use all light carrier oils like fractionated coconut oil, grapeseed oil, and hazelnut oil). So I make 5-8g of that 19g a butter or coconut oil. My favorite thing to use is shea butter because it’s just so good for your skin, and by itself it’s very greasy but in a lotion you get all the benefits without feeling like a slippery mess. I also love using coconut oil For the same reason. 

For a first lotion, Susan of Point of Interest recommends you choose ONE oil like olive and stick with it (so that would be 19g olive oil). I suggest you do what you want, but you write it down so you can decide what you like and don’t like about the lotion. There are a ton of great lotion recipes over at Humblebee and Me , or you can follow this basic one. I prefer to use a butter, but this time we will use coconut oil. I like to use extra virgin olive oil a lot, because it’s easy to get, because it’s rich in skin healthy vitamins, and it makes a great lotion, and I think that’s it. Normally I would add something like sunflower seed oil, but I think I will make that optional so that nobody has to buy too much extra stuff. 

Emulsifier: I’m going to  recommend Ecomulse. It also goes by the name Ritamulse and Emulsimulse (INCI-that’s code for heres the ingredients!-Glyceryl Stearate (and) Cetearyl Alcohol (and) Sodium Stearyl Lactylate). Look for those ingredients. This emulsifier has certain perks; it’s ECOCERT approved for use in organic products, it gets a great rating from Skin Deep, and it’s easy to work with. It has proved to be mostly infallible, as long as you don’t add a bunch of low pH stuff in there or cationic ingredients. This really doesn’t effect us making basic lotions. Also, Ecomulse sets up into full lotion immediately while E Wax can take up to three days to fully thicken up. 

As for the other emulsifiers, Emulsifying Wax NF (E Wax) and Polawax are nearly identical. The NF stands for National Formulary. Ideally, E Wax should be the same no matter who you buy it from because it has the same active ingredients, however, each company makes the non INCI ingredients slightly differently so the E Wax you bought from some random place on Amazon might be very different than the E Wax LotionCrafters sells, that Brambleberry sells, etc. I haven’t tried them all so I can’t report back, but I will be discussing Lotion Crafters E Wax in a separate post. 

BTMS 50 is a cationic emulsifier that I’ve found makes excellent hair conditioner but somewhat watery lotion. Once I figure out what I’m doing wrong with it there, I’ll share a BTMS lotion recipe. If you have BTMS, by all means, give it a try! Everyone else swears it makes fantastic lotions so the watery thing is a flaw on my end (or I got a bag of bad emulsifier, wah wah). 

Water: While you can replace some or all of the water with hydrosols, aloe vera, witch hazel, and other ingredients, for this first lotion I’m going to suggest you use simply distilled water. You’ll want at least 70% water in a lotion. Water helps determine how thick your lotion is. 80% water, a thinner lotion, 60% water, much thicker (almost a cream, while 70% is still pourable and 80% is more like a facial moisturizer).

Preservatives: Most preservatives will require 0.5%-1%. I use Liquid Germall Plus for lotions and Optiphen ND for watery items like body sprays, room sprays, bug off spray, etc. I do not recommend using Optiphen products in lotion as they have a nasty tendency to break emulsions. That breaks your heart. 

We already discussed that preservatives are mandatory. I’ll leave it at that. If you want to know more, go to my About page and click on Preservatives

Fragrance: You want your lotion to smell nice. If you choose to add scent to your lotion, do so at 1% of the total weight. You can use essential oils or fragrance oil. Ensure you are using your oils at safe levels for a leave on product! Do your research! 1% of our lotion is 1 gram, or 20 drops. I can’t think of an essential oil that’s unsafe for the skin at 1%, but there may be some out there so be wary of new ones you aren’t familiar with. Feel free to ask me to look up anything in my essential oil safety guide for you. But plan for 20 drops! Single note or a blend. My favorite winter blend right now is five drops peppermint, ten drops spearmint, and three blobs benzoin for a minty vanilla like scent with some depth. It’s nice. If you put the benzoin bottle in a cup of hot water for about ten minutes before you try to get any out, it pours easier. Pro tip 😉

Skin loving extras: I love to add vegetable glycerin and silk peptides to my lotion as humectants, to draw moisture from the air and hold it by my skin. I also recommend hydrolyzed protein; I use oat but you can get wheat, baobob, and all kinds of things. Read more about hydrolyzed proteins!

I’m listing this first recipe in percentages, but you can just convert each number to grams and end up with 100g or 3.7 oz  lotion. This should fit in a travel sized bottle from the travel/sample rack or hopefully you’ve invested in some 4 oz pump bottles. 

Basic first lotion recipe:

Oil phase:

6% Ecomulse or other emulsifier

7% coconut oil (use high quality)

6% olive oil (extra virgin)

6% sunflower seed oil (or more olive oil) 

Water phase:

70% distilled water

Cool down phase

1% fragrance or essential oils

0.5%-1% preservative of choice

1) Weigh your water out into a heat proof container (measuring cup!) and cover with foil. Place in double boiler saute pan

2) Weigh out coconut oil, olive oil, sunflower seed oil, and Ecomulse and place that cup in double boiler. 

3) After water comes to simmer, set timer for 20 minutes. 

4) Pour contents of both cups into a heat proof container (small mixing bowl or larger measuring cup are good) and watch as emulsification happens! Yeah! Whisk gently! Lotion! 

5) Blend with stick blender for a few minutes. Let cool 10-20 minutes, blend again for a few minutes. Do this until the lotion is only warm to the touch.

6) Add fragrance or essential oils and preservative. Blend again. Use funnel to pour into bottle. Will reach maximum thickness in about 24 hours. However, you can use it as soon as it’s cooled off. 
That’s it! Give it a try and see how you do! Next I will give you a more complicated lotion recipe and explains for all the new ingredients. 

Addendum:

Due to the lack of page views or interest in this tutorial (despite me shamelessly promoting it), I’m not rushing to put out more. I had hoped to write and publish one every other day for a few weeks, but they are labor intensive and time consuming. I don’t mind, but it seems pointless if there’s nobody to take advantage of it. I’m not saying anything here that can’t be found elsewhere on the internet, with a little research. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out Humblebee and Me, or SwiftCraftyMonkey (Point of Interest) for other tutorials and recipes by two of my favorite people. Just until I can get new ones written. 

Good luck and happy making! 

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Author: scseery

Soap, bath and beauty, jams and jellies, and unique upcycled gifts. That's what I make and talk about here. A lot.

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