Ingredients to Use When Making Lotions from Scratch – Part 2 of 4 12

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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12 thoughts on “Ingredients to Use When Making Lotions from Scratch – Part 2 of 4

  • Karen Harvey

    Great post! Thanks for spelling everything out so clearly. Very helpful to me. So far I’ve made creams, no lotions yet. I love the creams so much! I will try lotions too, though. Have a great day everyone.

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  • Kam

    Thank you so much for putting this information on the blog. I enjoy making my own lotions, and I am always looking for ways to learn more so that I may improve both my skill level and products. Looking forward to the next lesson. 🙂

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  • Nichol

    This is so helpful. I’ve just started looking into making lotion and your posts are always wonderful.

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  • Andrea S

    Thank you Tonya, for taking the time to put all of this together and for all of the great classes. I love them and am anxiously waiting for more. 😉 It’s nice to have the info in more than one place, so when I misplace my notes I know where to find it. I’m off to make some cream!

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  • Foluke malumi

    Very helpful. Thanks for sharing. I think I can attribute the too much sweating to the glycerin in my product. I think I should reduce it.

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  • Sarah

    hi, thanks for the article. have you heard of using lanolin as the humectant portion of a lotion? would it work as such?

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    • Andee

      I’ve never heard of lanolin being used as a humectant in lotions. That being said, lanolin is a wonderfully emollient ingredient that I love in lotions, creams, salves and more. I think the lanolin helps keep moisture close to our skin and since it can hold up to two times its own weight in water, that becomes very helpful in lotions. I would highly recommend any lotion recipe with a little lanolin and a humectant of your choice. It’s incredible!

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  • Elaine

    I’ve heard arrow root powder is a good thickner for lotion? I tried shea butter, a touch of vitamin E oil, and essential oils and still seems greasy.

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    • Denise

      Hi Elaine. Are you using any water in your lotion, or is it only the oils? Shea Butter has a pretty greasy feel. Mango Butter feels drier on the skin than Shea Butter, so you might like it better. To cut down on the greasy feeling in lotion, we like to use Dry Flo TS, which is a type of tapioca starch. I think Arrowroot Powder is possibly used for the same purpose, but the results may not be as desirable. If you are looking for a thicker lotion, Stearic Acid will give you the thickness you need. Give us a call (435) 755-0863 or email for more specific formulation help. Our technical support team is the best!

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