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Terminology Used when Making Lotions from Scratch - Part 3 of 4

Have you ever read through a lotion recipe or listened to someone talk about making lotion and ever wonder what they are really saying? What is an emulsion or emulsifier? Anhydrous or Hydrous? Fats or Oils? Viscosity? Here is a list of some common used terms and how they relate to making lotions.


Anhydrous means without water. Hydrous means with water. Any time a mixture contains water or water-like ingredients you must use a preservative.

The state of a liquid mixture where water and oil, dissimilar ingredients, are bonded together to make a homogenous mixture that will not separate. Emulsions need emulsifiers. Beeswax is not an emulsifier.

Fat and Oil
The terms “fat” and “oil” are often used interchangeably. For the sake of simplification we will refer to fats as being solid at comfortable room temperatures, and oil as being liquid at comfortable room temperatures. Both can be used in the same recipe and in any lotion making project.

A preservative is to prevent yeast, bacteria and mold. An anti-oxidant is not a preservative. Think of preservatives as helping your jar of cream when your child makes mud pies, picks their nose, uses the toilet and then uses your cream jar without washing their hands. Preservatives prevent our lotions and creams from becoming walking Petri dishes.

Readability is the smallest increment your scale can show. Think of all the steps as either the approach to a front door or the approach to the Lincoln Memorial. The more steps the more expensive the device. The fewer steps the cheaper the device. Steps do not determine accuracy.

In lotion making we make general classifications on ingredients, they are either water soluble or oil soluble. Water soluble ingredients will require your lotion to have a preservative. Oil soluble ingredients will only combine with other oil soluble ingredients and the whole requires an emulsifier to combine water and oil soluble ingredients into one.

Microwaves are super efficient tools and have the ability to heat a liquid beyond the boiling point. Without agitation, or small dimples in the finish of the heating vessel, the water (or any liquid) cannot have air bubbles come out of suspension and rise to the surface causing the boiling action. A liquid, most often water, that is superheated will rise up violently upon agitation and can easily burn the person moving the vessel. If you happen to set the microwave to a long heating time, then step away while the cooking has progressed, it is easy to superheat the mixture. Use a spoon or spatula to move the vessel to cause disruption in the water prior to placing your hand on the container. Any boiling action that takes place instantly will then flow into the microwave and not over your hand. Please be careful using a microwave, it is a tool that has lost much respect because it has become too common place.

Viscosity is how scientists determine what the layman calls thickness. A cream has a greater viscosity than a lotion, in most instances. Items like shea butter have a greater viscosity than shea oil. Stearines, also called stearic acid, are used to build viscosity in an otherwise very fluid mixture. If the lotion is too fluid, or too thin, then increase the thickening agents.

If you are new to making lotions you should be much more relaxed about jumping in and making lotions from scratch. I know I am! One more blog coming up that will explain lotion recipes and how to calculate the math, the percentages, the grams, and the ounces. I know you can’t wait; everyone loves to do the math! Especially knowing there will be a test afterward.


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