Making your own handmade lotion for the first time can be intimidating. If you’ve never made lotion before, I would recommend using a tried-and-true recipe to get a feel for the process. You can find a variety of recipes here. Once you have a grasp on the basics, you may be interested in formulating a customized lotion recipe. It can be tricky to know how much water, oils and emulsifiers are needed to create a stable product. The great thing about creating a lotion recipe is that you can customize it to be the texture you love.
The first thing to understand when making your own lotion is the basic ingredients. Lotion is created by combining oils and water with an emulsifier. The texture of your lotion will depend on the proportions of each ingredient and the type of emulsifier and oils. Additional ingredients such as glycerin, thickeners, fragrance and color can also be added. Typically body butters do not contain any water and are made completely out of oils and butters. To see lotion making in action, check out the How to Make Lotion from Scratch video below.
Usually the main ingredient of a lotion recipe is water. Water typically makes up about 70-80% of a lotion recipe. Using more water results in a thinner and lighter lotion. Oils and butters are usually used around 10-25% of the recipe. Using a larger percentage of oils and butters in the recipe will usually result in a thicker heavier lotion. The type of oil and butter used also plays a huge role in the lotion texture. For example, adding a lightweight oil like sweet almond oil gives lotion very different properties than adding cocoa butter. Below are some of my favorite lotion-making oils and butters. Keep in mind you are not limited to this list of oils and butters; these are just some of my favorites. =)
Lotion Making Oil and Butters
- Sweet Almond Oil: Lightweight and odorless, sweet almond oil is a great option for lightweight lotion recipes. It has a rich concentration of oleic fatty acid and linoleic essential fatty acids, making it a skin-loving addition to any recipe. In lotion, it leaves skin feeling hydrated and non-greasy. A great alternative to sweet almond oil is apricot kernel oil. Find sweet almond oil in this recipe.
- Avocado Oil: A mediumweight oil, avocado oil is nearly odorless and colorless. It is easily absorbed in the skin, making it a popular choice for lotion and creams. It contains a large amount of oleic acid which contributes to its conditioning properties. Find avocado oil in this recipe.
- Shea Butter: Soft and moisturizing, shea butter gives lotion a slightly thicker consistency. As a heavier butter, it leaves skin feeling somewhat greasy but it is quick to absorb into the skin. Find shea butter in this recipe.
- Sunflower Oil: High in vitamin E and oleic fatty acid, sunflower oil is both lightweight and moisturizing. It does tend to leave a slightly more greasy feeling in lotions than other lightweight oil options, like sweet almond or avocado. Find sunflower oil in this recipe.
Emulsifiers are typically used around 10% or less in a lotion recipe. An emulsifier is key to creating a successful lotion. The emulsifier binds the water and oil together. The last thing you want is for the oils and water in your lotion recipe to separate. Various emulsifiers have different binding strengths and properties, so it’s important to consider which emulsifier is best for your recipe.
In addition to emulsifiers, there is another category of products referred to as co-emulsifiers. These ingredients are not meant to emulsify oils and water on their own, but will help to stabilize an existing emulsion. Co-emulsifiers often help to thicken products as well. A recipe does not require a co-emulsifier, but they often create a more stable and creamy product. Below are popular lotion emuslifiers, co-emulsifiers and their properties.
Popular Lotion Emulsifiers
- Polawax Emulsifing Wax: This waxy material is usually used between 3-6% of the total weight of your recipe. Manufactured by Croda (Polawax), this wax comes in the form of white pastilles. This product is a proprietary blend of ingredients.
- Emulsifying Wax: Emulsifying wax is a generic version of the popular Polawax Emulsifying Wax. It is made of Cetylstearyl Alcohol and Polysorbate 60. This wax comes in a mixture of pastilles and irregular waxy flakes. This is a great choice if you like your product to have a nice “slip.”
- Bio-Mulsion Wax: This wax derived from olive oil is a great natural alternative for Polawax. Normal usage rates are between 2-8% of the total weight of your recipe. This emulsifier comes in the form of medium off-white flakes.
- BTMS-50: This emulsifier is vegetable based, and is recommended to be used at 1-15% of the total weight of your recipe. BTMS-50 contains a large percentage of conditioning agents (Behentrimonium Methosulfate), which makes it a good choice for hair care in addition to skincare. It comes in the form of white pastilles. BTMS-50 is also capable of emulsifying silicone. BTMS-50 tends to add a less greasy feel to lotions than other emulsifiers.
Note: Polysorbate 80 and polysorbate 20 are popular emulsifiers as well, but we do not recommend using them as the primary emulsifiers in your lotion recipes. Instead, polysorbates are commonly used as fragrance and essential oil solubilizers.
- Cetearyl Alcohol: Cetearyl alcohol helps to thicken and stabilize emulsions. It is a mixture of fatty alcohols consisting mostly of cetyl and stearyl alcohols. It is oil soluble and should be added to the oils in your formulation. For creams and lotions, it can be used anywhere from 2-30%. In some liquid soap formulations, cetearyl alcohol can also be used as a surfactant booster.
- Stearic Acid: This cost effective co-emulsifier is often used to thicken lotion and other emulsified products. Stearic acid is derived from vegetables, and can also be used to harden soaps at a rate of .5% of your oils. For lotions and creams, it’s recommended to be used around 2-5%. The more you use, the thicker your product will become.
- Cetyl Alcohol: This co-emulsifier can be used to create a thicker texture in lotions and emulsified products. Normal usage rates are between 3-5% of the total weight of your recipe. Similar to stearic acid, many believe it imparts a slightly more emollient feel to formulas.
Water & Alternative Liquids
In addition to choosing the oils, butters, emulsifiers and co-emulsifiers, you also have the option of alternative liquids and special additives. Typically, lotion is made using distilled water. Water can be swapped with other water based liquids like aloe vera liquid or rose water. One liquid I do not recommend using in lotion is milk. Using milk in lotion is very similar to placing milk out on the counter. If you were to leave a carton of milk on the counter, it will go bad eventually. The same will happen to the milk in your lotion. If you do choose to use milk in your lotion, I would recommend storing it in the fridge and expect a shelf life of about 4-8 weeks, even with a preservative. While a preservative in your lotion will prevent mold and bacteria from growing, preservatives do not protect against rancidity, such as spoiled milk.
Colors & Additives
Special additives in your lotion recipe include ingredients such as extracts, additional humectants (ex: glycerin), colors and fragrance. To read more about extracts, click here. All extracts found at Bramble Berry are oil soluble, so we recommend adding them to the oil phase of your lotion. The suggested usage rate is about 3-5% of the total weight of your lotion recipe. Keep in mind that adding extracts does add a small amount of extra oil to your lotion recipe.
To give your lotion a hint of color, we recommend using water-soluble LabColors. They are easy to mix into lotions and creams, and do not leave streaks on the skin. If you haven’t used LabColors before, check out this post to find out how to dilute and use them. Skin safe micas, oxides and pigments can also be used, but don’t work great as they are oil-soluble and can leave skin streaky with color. This can be used to your advantage if you are trying to add a hint of color to your skin, as shown in the Bronzing Lotion Recipe.
Don’t forget to add a preservative to your lotion! This step is important. Because lotion contains water (and usually a very high percentage!) it’s likely to grow mold and bacteria. A preservative is an anti-microbial solution that helps to prevent mold from growing in your products. While it’s possible to make lotion without a preservative, it won’t last very long. Within weeks, you will find mold and bacteria growing in your product. If you prefer to stay away from preservatives, I would recommend creating a oil based balm (like this one) that does not contain water, and thus does not require a preservative. Click here to learn more about using preservatives in your products. In addition, this blog post by Susan Barclay-Nichols of Point of Interest! is full of information.
Ready to get started making your own lotion recipe? Below is a general recipe guideline that’s ready for you to customize! This general formula creates lotion with an average weight and texture. But remember: the kind of oils, butters and other additives you use will play a huge role in how your lotion will feel.
Lotion Recipe General Recipe Guideline:
70 – 80% – Distilled Water
3 – 5% – Stearic Acid (or other co-emulsifier)
3 – 6% – Emulsifying Wax (or other emulsifier)
Add the rest in of your choice of oils and butters
Remember, just like any bath and beauty project, making your own lotion all depends on personal preference. The recipe above is a great place to start, but it’s just screaming to be tweaked with your favorite ingredients. It can sometimes take a little trial and error to find the perfect formula for your skin type, but that’s half the fun.
What are your favorite ingredients to use in your handmade lotion?