If you love DIY but hate being greasy (cc endless lotion bar recipes), let me introduce you to the wonderful world of beginner formulation. It’s scary: you sometimes have to use ingredients you can’t buy at the grocery store, but the reward is elegant-feeling lotions, cleansers, hair-care products, and no more bottles to throw away (so satisfying).
It’s not for everyone, but for the initiated, it’s a creative, rewarding, educational habit that will reap lovely quality benefits (no more lanolin or petroleum jelly for you). There’s little that can rival the joy of applying a gorgeous, nourishing face cream that you MADE except for knowing that you saved money, trash, and skipped cheap fillers.
[NOTE: some things you don’t want to DIY. Sunscreen is one of them. I don’t buy most skincare products anymore aside from some lovely The Ordinary serum concoction things that honestly rival wholesale prices, come packaged in glass, and allow me to customize the way i’ve grown… accustomed (heh)… to doing. But I will always, always buy professionally formulated and tested sunscreens. Please do not attempt this on your own. Josie Maran is a pricey but lovely pick for a nicely formulated, natural-ish sunscreen that you can get a glass bottle (I splurge on the four-ounce and share it with my husband).]
[NOTE: normally I would just link to Amazon for where to get all these products (listed above and more to come below), but given the strike and a bunch of other crap happening at that company, I recommend finding your ingredients at MakingCosmetics, Lotioncrafter, Brambleberry, or the like.]
[NOTE: where to find formulations: generally, anybody who gives formulas by percentages, in weights, and uses preservatives for products with water in them is worth a shot. My personal fave is Humblebee and Me but there are lots of other great sources out there too. Explore the interwebs!]
This doesn’t need to be as intimidating as it sounds–I got mine (Germall) on Amazon. (Though given the strike it might be a nice time to get something on Etsy instead). Make sure to get something “broad spectrum” (ie. kills bacteria, yeast, fungus, mold, etc) and use as instructed. Most preservatives are used in the 1% of the formula range.
2. Vitamin E
Think of this as a preservative for your lovely oils. I recently used some expired Argan oil all over my face and broke out like crazy, so, even your oil-only formulas need help staying fresh or there will be consequences. Angry, bumpy, red consequences.
This is your gateway drug to all things creamy, milky, and lotion-y. The right emulsifier gloriously unites water and oil, enabling you to make you a delicate facial moisturizer, a rich foot cream, a moisturizing spray, a conditioner bar, an easy-to-rinse-off cleansing balm, or a simply better lotion bar (re: actually absorbs, especially on wet skin).
Do your research, but know that emulsifying wax NF is usually good for basic lotions and creams, while something cationic, like BTMS-50, is better for getting “slip” as with conditioners (lest you make hair “lotion.” Ew).
Olivem 1000 is great for face creams, and polysorbate 80 or 20 is good for liquid solutions (depending on what you’re making).
Beeswax is… not an emulsifier and don’t let anybody tell you differently. Marie Rayma explains why better than I can.
3. Better Butters and Oils
Shea butter is cute and all, but if you’re ready for a more professional look and feel, mango butter is where it’s at for most lotion recipes. If you’re doing haircare stuff, Tucuma butter makes amazing bars (shampoo, conditioner, and face wash). And while cocoa butter is great, but murumuru and ilipe butters are lovely and lighter for facial formulations. Have you heard of absorption rate? If you’ve been making all your products with coconut oil, you might love something lighter or “faster” like hazelnut oil or jojoba (which is technically a wax, but absorbs so nicely into the skin). So many options, and they can make an incredible difference in how your finished products feel and perform.
4. Targeted Ingredients
Evening primrose oil might be a gamechanger for you. Or maybe you’re more of a baobab person. Rosehip seed oil is a holy grail ingredient for others. Botanical extracts are something I haven’t gotten super into yet, but I know lots of folks geek out on them. Get creative, do your research, and chose a few “active” oils to start seeing skincare results (because, while skin feel improvement is wonderful, actually seeing a difference in your skin is SO exciting).
BUT: remember my argan oil shit-suation? Know your shelf lives before ordering and get an appropriate amount. Then read the bottle for storage details. Most oils need to be kept cool and dark, but even more fragile oils, like Baobab, probably benefit from refrigeration. Oxidized oil is wasted money and skincare loveliness, so buy smart!
This is less of a must have for literally making oil + water combos and more about necessity for following real formulas. Most of my favorite “recipe” sites are sophisticated enough to call for a little cetyl or cetearyl alcohol in a formulation, and while they can sometimes swap in for each other, they’re hard to skip altogether. Depending on what you want to make (and definitely research a top ten list of “must-tries” before going on any shopping sprees), they might greatly expand your repertoire.
If you want to make anything that cleans or foams, you’ll need surfactant. Do your research to see what your most enticing formulas call for, but coco betaine (INCI* or “Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients” cocamidopropyl betaine) is usually a safe bet for face and body washes, while sodium cocoyl isethionate is an MVP for shampoo bars. Surfactant is also a sneaky way to get a water-based formulation to disperse an oil, so it’s great for say, mixing in a lavender-scented EO for a nigh-time themed micellar water. Also, surfactant is needed for making micellar water! TMYK…
*INCI’s are a great thing to know when buying ingredients because suppliers will make up stupid marketing names for ingredients that make it impossible to know what the heck you’re getting. Exhibit A: who the heck knew “Surfpro CC-6” was PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides? Not me until I finally starting going straight to the INCIs.
PS. knowing your INCIs is also a great way to decipher intimidating cosmetics labels. Cera alba=beeswax. Consider yourself enlightened.
Bonus: What You *Might* Need, Depending on What You’re Making
Specialty Haircare Ingredients:
Silicones and behentrimonium chloride. There are some naturalish subsitites like Broccoli Seed Oil and Daikon Extract, but for professional results, you’ll likely need a little dimethicone or cyclomethicone. Also, don’t ask me why, but behentrimonium chloride is an absolutely unbeliable detangling ingredient and it’s in almost every leave in or conditioning formula worth its salt I’ve ever seen. Stalking the ingredients on Lush conditioner bars will underscore how effective it is.
Bougie Skincare Ingredients
Water soluble actives can take your facial formulas to the next level. Willow bark for that skin-clearing salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid for plumping and deep moisture… just make sure you understand the solubility of an ingredient so you don’t waste something your skin can only absorb via a water-based or oil-based formula only on the wrong recipe.
Essential Oils to Make Your Creations Smell Awesome
First, read about dermal limits and phototoxicity. Then, purchase a few treats in different scent families (camphorous, spicy, citrus (careful with these though with the phototoxicity stuff that you definitely read about, right? Please read about this!), resinous, floral, etc). And word to the wise, test your adventurous scent blends in their own little beaker before mixing in a big vat of expensive and painstakingly-crafted lotion. As someone who reaaaaally overestimated how much she was going to like geranium and peppermint mixed together, I promise you will thank me.
In closing: this may seem overwhelming, but try to think about strategically expanding your horizons a bit with maybe *one* product in each of these categories at a time, or one of each to get you started. Emulsifying wax NF, Germall, vitamin E, cocobetaine, mango butter, grapeseed oil, and an active ingredient (either oil or water soluble, depending on whether you’re testing out facial and body oils, or lotions and toners) are a wonderful place to start and can get you making so many fun things.
Remember, make small batches, take pictures and notes, and learn learn learn. Good luck and have fun!