Have you ever considered making your own lotion? So many people think making lotion is hard. It’s really not as bad as you think. I know a thing or two about making soaps and lotions because I make them for my family but also because I have background in chemistry; I’m a chemistry teacher so I hope that makes me more credible to you 🙂
There are a few basic things you need if you want to start making your own lotions, creams, and body butters.
- A scale. You really need a scale because mass/weight is a better measurement for your oils, liquids, butters, etc. than volume is. So a recipe that has units like ounces or grams (grams are better because they are more precise) is usually better and more reliable than a recipe that calls for cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons. If your scale uses batteries, make sure to change them often because when the battery is low, it can make measurements inaccurate.
- Weighing containers, at least 3. I use Mason jars because I have a lot of them on hand (I buy them on Amazon or at Target) but any heat-resistant, microwaveable container will do. I would stick to glass since it’s chemically nonreactive.
- A medium to large glass bowl, which you will only need for some recipes.
- A stick blender. This thing is so useful. It’s also a necessity if you’re interested in making your own soaps (more to come on that later). They aren’t all created equal. I bought one that died on me in the middle of its very first use. I love the Kitchen Aid one though
- Large metal spoon
- A mixing container. I prefer a glass or metal pitcher. You don’t have to get a pitcher but I think it makes mixing and pouring lotion easier.
- Electric mixer. This is only necessary for body butters.
- Plastic pipettes. These are optional but can be very helpful if you add too much water or oil and you only need to remove a small amount to get the correct mass.
That’s it for hardware. There are some other optional tools you need if you’re serious about making your own stuff but that’s for another post. Now let’s talk about the difference between a lotion, a cream, and a body butter.
Body butters are oil-based. You use mostly fat that is solid or brittle at room temperature like shea, cocoa, and mango butters, among others. You also use some liquid or low melting point fats, like coconut oil, jojoba oil, etc. You use an electric mixer, like the kind used for mixing cake batter, because whipping air into the butters makes them fluffy and smooth which is desirable. No preservative is needed since microbes do not grow well when water isn’t present. You will need some sort of antioxidant, like vitamin E oil, to prevent the fats from going rancid (which is NOT a process that has anything to do with bacteria).
Lotions are typically 65-80% water. They absorb more quickly than body butters and are lighter and thinner. They require preservative if you want to keep it any longer than 2 weeks. Without preservative, they must be stored in the refrigerator and used within 10 days or so. If you choose to omit preservative, you should make small batches.
Creams are usually 30-50% water and so are thicker than lotions. The smaller amount of water means you can use less preservative than a lotion. Creams without preservative can last up to 4 weeks in the refrigerator. One of the reasons I almost never leave preservative out in a cream is because they are usually too thick to store in a bottle and must be stored in a jar. That means you always have to put your fingers in it to get it out. As we know, hands are notoriously dirty and so, as much as I hate it, I do usually use a chemical preservative. Less than 1% of the entire batch is preservative though, so I don’t feel too bad, and I avoid parabens. [Note: there are also ointments which are usually 20% water or less. I don’t make a lot of those but they can be useful.]
Where to buy supplies
You can buy most of your hardware on Amazon or in any kitchen supply store.
As for ingredients and containers, I buy mine where almost everyone buys them: Mountain Rose Herbs and Brambleberry. Sometimes I also purchase from New Directions Aromatics. I restrict myself to buying supplies no more than 4 times per year. This keeps my spending to a minimum and ensures that I finish whatever inventory I have before trying new ingredients.
I do not like using chemical preservative. But I also hate mold and bacteria in my stuff. So, I use chemical preservative at the lowest effective percentage, 1% or less, depending on how much water is present. I know a lot of people like to use “natural preservative” but I don’t believe they are effective enough for what I make. All my recipes contain Optiphen as the preservative. You may omit it if you want, but remember that will greatly reduce the shelf life. You can also use your choice of preservative using the manufacturer’s recommendations for percentage.
A common mistake is for people to think that antioxidants = preservatives. This is FALSE! Vitamin E is NOT a preservative; it is an antioxidant. Antioxidants are necessary to prevent the fats from decomposing/going rancid. That process occurs with or without bacteria. Preservatives slow the growth of microbes, like bacteria, fungi, and mold. I have personally seen mold grow on a cream and it is gross. It’s also smelly. I like to avoid it.
Reasons to make your own stuff
There are many! I will give the ones that are most important to me.
- I like to know what’s in what I’m slathering all over myself and my kids, especially since whatever is on your skin can and does absorb into your bloodstream. I don’t like the unpronounceables that are found in many commercial lotions.
- Many commercial lotions have low-quality, cheap ingredients so they can mark up the price and sell it for a high profit. Mineral oil and petrolatum-based products are examples. Mineral oil has no value for making your skin healthier. It basically comes from rocks. Oil from rocks? That doesn’t even make sense to me. Petrolatum is also a close chemical relative of gasoline. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather buy the ingredients I prefer and make my own stuff.
- Homemade stuff moisturizes better in my opinion. People compliment me on my skin all the time. They always ask what I use and I always tell them I make it at home. They always say that sounds like a lot of work, but honestly, I make lotion once a month usually, sometimes less. And it takes less than an hour.
- It’s cheaper. Not only does it cost me less per bottle but I’m using MUCH higher quality ingredients and no crappy fillers.
- I think it’s fun.
Good recipes usually have 3 phases: oil phase, water phase, cool down phase. The oil phase is just all the fats that you melt together. Water phase is just the liquid you’re using; could be distilled water, aloe vera, a hydrosol, tea, etc. Cool down phase is oils that can’t be heated, essential oils, fragrance, preservative.
Here is a lotion recipe to start you off. I consider this a medium-level recipe in terms of difficulty. It is reasonably moisturizing and pretty light – good for summer. Remember that not everyone’s skin is the same; this lotion would never work for my older daughter who has eczema but it’s fine for my younger daughter who has normal skin. It’ll make about 16 ounces (454 grams) of lotion.
- 60 grams jojoba oil
- 16 grams sweet almond oil
- 23 grams raw shea or cocoa butter
- 10 grams coconut oil
- 23 grams emulsifying wax
- 14 grams conditioning emulsifier
- 14 grams vitamin E oil
- 284 grams distilled water
- 100 grams distilled water
- 100 grams aloe vera liquid (not to be confused with aloe vera juice or gel)
- 84 g calendula hydrosol
Cool Down Phase
- 5 grams Optiphen
- 20 drops rosehip essential oil
- up to 5 grams of your favorite fragrance oil
- Weigh and place all your oil phase ingredients into a glass container and microwave for increments of 30 seconds until it has just melted. Do not allow it to smoke otherwise you will have to discard all of it. [You can also set up a double boiler and gently melt the fats together. I prefer this method.]
- Weigh and place your water phase ingredient(s) into a glass container and gently heat. You want it to be very warm to touch but not too hot to handle.
- Pour your oil phase ingredients into your mixing vessel (I like to mix in a tall glass pitcher.) Now pour your water phase ingredients into the oil container you just emptied. Then pour that into the mixing container.
- Using a long handled spoon, gently mix. Then blend with your stick blender for no more than 15 seconds, be sure to keep the blender immersed while it’s blending to avoid air bubbles, which will cause your lotion to become frothy which is not desirable.
- Add your cool down phase ingredients. Blend for another 5-10 seconds.
- Pour into bottles. Do not cover until the lotion has come to room temperature.
That’s it for the basics. Soon I will discuss more about sanitation, how to choose ingredients, properties of different fats, and more! If you have questions, comments, or want an easier (or harder) recipe, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!