June 06, 2018 5 min read

Lotion Making 101

 

In this week’s blog, we reveal the lotion making process and see why it's worth the effort. If you’re a novice at making lotions and creams or want to get into DIY, read on!

 

What’s In A Lotion?

A lotion is an emulsion, a mix between oil and aqueous phases. A lotion is a slightly more runny version of a cream, that is easily absorbed and spreads well. It is light and non-greasy. A lotion is the middle ground between a skin milk and a cream. 

To make an emulsion, an emulsifier is used to blend an oil phase and an aqueous phase together so that they don't separate. There are two types of emulsions: the ‘oil-in-water’ (O/W) emulsion when oil is dispersed in the water phase, and the ‘water-in-oil’ (W/O) emulsion where the water phase is dispersed in the oil phase.

O/W emulsions typically contain 10-35% oil phase and are typically lighter day creams and lotions.

W/O emulsions contain 45-80% oil phase and have a heavier, greasier feel; they are generally night creams or extra moisturising body creams for dry skin.

By default, a lotion will be an O/W emulsion. The oil phase will be around 10% and the water phase will be around 70-80%.

Insert: don’t be confused by the percentages, you can simply convert them to grams or milliliters, as a total of 100% can be equivalent to 100ml or 100g, as long as you keep the same units with all ingredients.

 

So we know a lotion contains oil and water, but let's chat a little about the key ingredient in any emulsion, the  emulsifier. An emulsifier has the ability to blend water and oil together, two substances that would otherwise never mix. Emulsifiers come in the form of emulsifying waxes, but other ingredients such as surfactants and thickeners can also have some emulsification properties.

Emulsifiers are used at around 3-8% and are incorporated with the oil phase of the formulation.

For an in-depth understanding of emulsifiers we highly recommend that you read a  Quick Guide To Emulsifiers.

 

The last key ingredient in a lotion is a preservative. Any product containing water will be susceptible to contamination by bacteria, fungi, mold or yeast, so we prevent this by using a broad spectrum preservative such as Geogard 221. Like an emulsifier, a preservative is absolutely necessary to any lotion formulation. Preservatives are used at 1-2% and are added to the cool down phase of formulation.

We highly recommend that you read more on preservatives here:  Quick Guide To Preservatives.

 

Apart from the four main ingredients of oil, water, emulsifier and preservative, lotions can also contain various other ingredients such to humectants to make them more moisturising,  active ingredients to achieve a specific purpose or bring an 'X-factor',  thickeners to manipulate the consistency, etc. You can make a lotion as simple or as fancy as you like!

 

Bringing An Emulsion To Life

As we have learnt, a lotion is an emulsion and contains four key ingredients: oil, water, emulsifier and preservative. When formulating, these ingredients are divided into three phases: a heated oil phase (oils and emulsifier), a heated water phase (the water), and a cool down phase (the preservative).

The oil phase is heated because the oils and emulsifier need to be melted together, and the water phase is heated because it needs to be in a similar temperature range to the oils for emulsification to occur. You can use the water cold but I find that emulsions turn out much better when the water is heated to match that of the oil temperature.

You will heat your oils and water phases in separate beakers in a water bath. A water bath is simply a pot of simmering water in which you can rest the beakers containing different phases. This way all the ingredients are heated gently and safely. You can use a microwave to heat the oil phase but you will need to be very careful and microwave for short bursts to prevent damaging the oils.

The heated oil and water phases are then combined, and you use a high shear blender such as a soup blend to mix them together. Use short bursts to blend, then let it cool for 5 minutes then another short burst of blending. Continue this blend-cool-blend cycle until the emulsion has cooled. Then blend in the cool down phase of the preservative. You can then decant your lotion into a  pump bottle and use.

 

Recipes

Now that we know what’s in a lotion and how it comes together, let's get into some recipes. You can use any carrier oil in your oil phase. I like a blend of almond and jojoba oil, but feel free to experiment with your favorite oils. You can also use whichever essential oils suit your needs and nose.

It is important to sterilise all utensils and equipment before making your lotions and it is best to use an immersion blender (stick blender) for all the mixing, as high shear is important for emulsification.

 

Healing Frankincense and Myrrh Lotion

heated oil phase

15ml / 8% olive oil or sweet almond oil

15ml / 8% coconut oil

15ml / 8% emulsifying wax

 

heated aqueous phase

125ml / 72% freshly boiled and slightly cooled distilled water

 

cool down phase

2ml / 1% Geogard 221

10 drops frankincense essential oil

10 drops myrrh essential oil

Option: leave out the frankincense and myrrh and use any other essential oil

 

As always, sterilise all utensils before you use them. Melt the emulsifying wax and the coconut oil gently but thoroughly in a water bath. Remove from the heat and stir in the almond or olive oil. Slowly blend in the water using the blend-cool-blend cycle. When the lotioin is made and cooled, blend in the essential oils and preservative. Pour into a pump bottle or jar and store in a cool place.

 

Want to make something a little more fancy? Try this vanilla body lotion:

Vanilla Body Lotion

35% heated oil phase

10ml jojoba oil            

10ml macadamia oil

5ml avocado oil

7ml Olive M1000

3ml cetyl alcohol

 

60% heated aqueous phase

60ml distilled water

 

5% cool down phase

1ml preservative such as Geogard 221

2ml D-Panthenol (ProVitamin B5)

2ml vanilla oil

 

Sterilise all equipment. Heat the aqueous phase in a water bath (bowl over pan of simmering water) to around 70 degrees. At the same time, gently heat the oil phase in a separate water bath also to 70 degrees. When both phases have reached 70 degrees, remove from heat and slowly add the oil phase into the water phase, stirring continuously. As emulsification takes place, place the bowl in some cold water to cool, still stirring. When the mixture cools to 40 degrees, add the preservative, panthenol and vanilla. Keep stirring until room temperature, then pour into a glass jar and store in a cool place.

 

Hopefully this blog has made lotion making a bit easier to understand. It may be a bit of a learning curve when first working with emulsifiers but I hope this inspires you. Happy making!

 

Lotion Making Part 2 is out - read it here!


6 Responses

Juliette
Juliette

September 13, 2021

Hi Eleanor, it’s so cool that you’re experimenting! :)

Unfortunately making lots of changes can change the end result somewhat. Perhaps try making a more simple formulation with fewer ingredients to see which could be the culprit causing the separation?

Eleanor Glaum
Eleanor Glaum

September 13, 2021

Hello, I’m new to making lotions and just tried one out using your Frank & Myrrh recipe as a template. I swapped for other essential oils and substituted about 1/4 of the water component for aloe vera liquid gel, I also added a tiny bit of beeswax and cocoa butter (about 3% each). I used a 600w stick blender. I also used Geogard Ultra which I incorporated into the water phase before blending all together.
My problem – it’s come out as more of a mousse than a lotion. I’ve tried knocking out the bubbles and air but it’s not made much difference. It’s also separating:( Help, please!
Thanks so much, Eleanor

Juliette
Juliette

August 26, 2020

Hi Lindy, I’m guessing it would depend on your scale of production. If you’re just making small batches to sell at a craft market for instance I doubt anyone will come asking for anything. But if you are mass producing for the retail market then I’m sure you would need to have some kind of certification. Perhaps get in touch with someone like the Soil Association, they might be able to advise.

Lindy
Lindy

August 26, 2020

Hello, I’ve been making lotion and am wondering what the South African laws are with regards to selling these. Is there some kind of testing that needs to be done before you’re allowed to sell, or is this not a must/law?

Juliette
Juliette

March 05, 2020

Hi Ronel, in this case I wouldn’t worry about heating up to 70 degrees. I don’t think that is necessary. You should just be able to dissolve the geogard ultra powder in the water and follow the recipe as usual.
Let me know how it goes!

Juliette

Ronel Brammer
Ronel Brammer

March 05, 2020

Good Evening,

I am very keen to try out the Rose and Cardamon lotion in your Lotion making part 2 section. The only trouble is that I have Ultra Geogard instead of Geogard 221 and I am not sure how to use it. Since it is a powder I think have to dissove it. I found a recipe on the internet where the person dissolved it in water and heated it up to 70 degrees. At the same time they also heated up the oils to 70 degrees and added the two solutions together.

Can you help at all?

I really enjoy your website and have ordered some products from you.

Kind regards
Ronel Brammer

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