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Ingredients to Use When Making Lotions from Scratch - Part 2 of 4

I would like to share with you the fundamental ingredients to use when making lotions from scratch. I will be going over the ingredients used in making lotions and what their purpose is in your lotion.


Water and water-like ingredients are the foundation of our lotion making activities. Without water a mixture cannot be classified as a true lotion. You might choose water, aloe juice, aloe gel, or even hydrosols as the water potion of your lotion recipe. Combinations of various water materials can make wonderful lotions and creams. Keep your eyes open and consider even making your own teas/infusions to use in lotion making.

Fixed Oils
Fixed oils are sometimes called carrier oils or nutrient oils. Texts that explain how to make lotions, creams and other natural mixtures tend to use terminology that sounds more wonderful than the oil might really be. Fixed oils are generally plant derived oils and not animal derived oils, however, animal fats can be used in lotion making with great success. We refer to fixed oils as “fixed” not because they were once broken but because they are not volatile like essential oils. An essential oil will evaporate if the bottle is left open, fixed oils do not evaporate.

Emulsifiers have the wonderful ability to bond water and oil together. Without an emulsifier our oil and water blends can separate much like a vinaigrette. Regular shaking or high speed mixers only temporarily make the mixture to appear emulsified. There are three primary emulsifiers in our catalog: 1) Emulsifying Wax – this is the work horse of our emulsifiers and it uses the least amount needed in a recipe, general use is in the 3 to 5% range; 2) Conditioning Emulsifier – this emulsifier will certainly do its work and it can bring a nice velvety texture to the finished lotion, however, sometimes a little more is needed to make a stable lotion or cream, plan on using 4 to 6% in a typical recipe; 3) Veggie Emulsifier – this completely plant derived emulsifier is a nice option for those who wish to use only plant materials, however, it is much weaker than most emulsifiers and will likely need to be used at 6 to 9%.

Most creams and lotions have at least one thickening agent added to the recipe. Our workhorse thickening agent is Stearic Acid. This fatty acid is found in many vegetable fats and is what causes the fat to be solid at room temperature. Palm, coconut, soy and other fats have a fair amount of stearic acid in their fatty acid profile. If using something that has the word “acid” in the name is bothersome to you, then search for fixed oils that are solid at room temperature like Shea Butter, Mango Butter, Cocoa Butter and the like for your fixed oil choice. This will help thicken your lotion without adding an ingredient exclusively for the thickening abilities.

Humectants are the ultra wonderful part of a lotion, they help hold the water of the entire formulation near the skin. When our skin feels dry this humectant action is what is soothing and conditioning to the skin. The humectant helps stop the itching. There are several options for humectants. Here is my list of humectants in order of my preference: 1) Hydrovance – a fluid, non-sticky humectant that helps skin keep moisturized for long periods of time, become a believer by applying lotion before your shower and then feeling the skin after the shower; 2) Sodium Lactate – this lactic acid derivative will help the skin feel soft and moisturized for a long period of time, it can on occasion feel sticky if too much is used; 3) HoneyQuat – this honey derived mixture is also helpful to the skin, yet I don’t believe it is as effective as Hydrovance but this may be due to our very dry climate; 4) Isopropyl Myristate – this humectant is very nice especially if a dewy or velvety texture is desired in the finished cream or lotion, such as a face cream or serum treatment; 5) Liquid Glycerin – liquid glycerin is very effective at pulling water from the air and this is how it moisturizes dry skin, however, it is sticky and can pull moisture from our skin instead of the air when the air has very low percentages of relative humidity. Don’t be afraid to try variations. Make the same recipe multiple times and change only the humectant, you will quickly find which humectant your skin prefers.

Plant extracts are to help skin repair itself. Many plants offer healing, soothing and beneficial properties to the skin. The extracts in our catalog are oil soluble. Sometimes the difference between a good lotion and a great one is the extract used. Small amounts are generally used, up to 2%.

When scenting I would like to propose that less is more. An overly scented lotion will not hide the body odor, it only irritates other people. Intensely scenting body products also contribute to olfactory fatigue, a problem where the brain fails to register any odor at all. Use scenting oils at 0.1 to 0.5%. If more scent is desired it can easily be added when the lotion has cooled.

Preservatives have a single job and they must do that job well. Their only job is to prevent the growth of yeast, bacteria and mold. If your mixture needs a preservative it is better to add an effective ingredient than to hope the mixture doesn’t grow microbes. Just because you cannot “see” anything on the surface does not mean the mixture is clean. My go to preservative is Liquid Germall Plus because it is used at a low rate (up to 0.5%) and it does not alter the formulation by thinning or discoloring.

Wow, what a great wealth of information, once you know about the basics then you will be ready to make your own lotions and creams from scratch! Tomorrow is terminology and then Thursday is MATH! Did I mention there will be a test on Friday?


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