How To Make Your Own Natural Cosmetics (Part 1)


This post is for Stephanie Maurer who left me a wonderful comment on my previous post – Living Holistically In A Modern World.

Making our own cosmetics is yet another way in which we can move towards a more natural, handmade lifestyle. Personally, I would never put anything on my skin If I couldn’t eat it. My skin is my body. It protects my inner organs. It is a natural filter of bodily waste and so I need it to perform at optimum level. Plus, I love the idea of tailoring my beauty products to my own specific needs whilst eliminating unnecessary amounts of preservatives and petro-chemicals. From a financial viewpoint, my husband loves that it saves us money!

I started making my own natural cosmetics in the 80’s. The very first thing I made successfully was lip balm. I remember we used to have beeswax candles in our home and one day when my mum was out, I melted one in a saucepan on top the stove and added olive oil in equal proportions. I wanted it to taste nice, so a little rummaging around in the kitchen cupboards and I hit the jackpot – a small brown bottle of Vanilla Extract and an equally small bottle of Lemon Oil. There was no real measuring involved, I basically just eyeballed everything. When it was all melted together, I poured it into a clean jar and waited for it to cool down and set. That was it for me. I was hooked! Been DIY-ing ever since.


Natural cosmetics have limited shelf lives. They can turn rancid and get moldy without the proper care and attention. This is the downside to DIY cosmetics. Store bought skin care can last for years without any outward sign of decay but don’t expect your natural handmade products to behave in the same way. For the sake of convenience and economics, it is great to have something that will last and last, but really, decay is a natural part of life. Accept it, don’t fear it. Bacterial growth of the kind we can see, is just natures way of saying “hey there, throw me away, my time is up”. To my mind, anything that won’t go off, is not natural. Your creations should be made in small batches and used frequently with most of them being kept in the fridge to increase longevity. To avoid spoilage from microbes, all containers must be thoroughly sanitized. Avoid dipping your fingers into finished products, use a tiny spatula, popsicle stick, toothpick or cotton wool bud instead. The basic guidelines are simply: treat your natural cosmetics with the same common sense that you treat your natural food.

Oil and water won’t mix without the help of an emulsifier. Not all plant and seed oils are created equal. Anhydrous (without water) formulations reduce the risk of contamination. More on this later.


Nature provides us with some wonderful preservatives and when measured correctly, can extend the life of your products and prevent anti-oxidation. 2 months is about the average expectancy, although some can stretch to 3 or 4. Remember, you can’t stop deterioration all together, the best we can do is slow it down.

Now, I should warn you, there is some controversy involved with using what is termed ‘natural’ preservatives. The word on the scientific grapevine insists that there are no proven all natural or organic preservatives, available to the home crafter. Grapefruit Seed Extract or GSE is not a preservative. Studies have shown the only preserving power this ingredient has derives from the preservative used to preserve the GSE. If you use this product, you are not preserving your lotions properly and gross things could grow on it. Despite the many claims, Vitamin E is not a preservative. It is a great anti-oxidant, meaning it will prolong the shelf life of your oils when added to blends but it will not keep nasty things from growing in your lotion.

So, I urge you to do some research of your own and to be responsible when deciding on a preservative. If you mix oil in water O/W or water in oil W/O you must use a preservative. Water is the basis for all life and thus contains all the ready elements for basic bacterial growth. Unpreserved and poorly preserved homemade lotions can lead to rashes, serious illnesses and even blindness.

Preservatives which I choose to use, include:

Bee Propolis
A mixture of beeswax and resins collected by the honeybee from plants, particularly flowers and leaf buds, it is used to line and seal the comb. The propolis is effective in protecting the hive offering both antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Benzoin (Styrax)
Benzoin Resin is a good old-fashioned, reliable, preservative and fixative. The Ancients used it primarily in their incense making due to its fixative qualities. It is also used in perfume making for the same reason. Benzoin has a distinct aroma, almost like a warm vanilla. Because it is easily absorbed through the skin, it should be diluted in plant alcohol before use in cosmetic recipes.

Citric Acid

A very important ingredient for use in natural body care and cosmetic recipes.  Since citric acid is present in almost every life form, it is consequently easily metabolized and eliminated from the body. Citric acid is often a base ingredient in bath bomb recipes, and is the agent responsible for the “fizzing” action. In the majority of body care recipes, it is used in small proportions, usually not making up more than 0.5% of the total solution. At room temperature, citric acid is a white powdered form. However, it may be dissolved and easily incorporated into your recipes by heating it in a liquid mixture to a temperature above 74 degrees Celcius.

While appearing to be a liquid, honey actually has a very low water content. It therefore can keep the growth of water-preferring bacteria at bay. There has been some scientific research indicating that honey creates what is known as a viscous barrier against bacteria and infection. This means that it creates a sticky barrier between itself and other ingredients in the product. This barrier traps bacteria and prevents it from penetrating through to the ingredients that may be liable to spoil with air and water-based bacteria. Honey creates this barrier by a process which involves Hydrogen Peroxide. This chemical is created from activity from the enzyme Glucose Oxidase, which is naturally present in honey. This reaction occurs more frequently in honey that has been kept out of direct sunlight. Therefore, if you are using honey as a preservative, you must ensure the honey used has spent as much of its lifespan away from direct light sources. One teaspoon to one tablespoon of honey can be added to most any natural cosmetic recipe to improve its shelf life.

Jojoba is often combined with those oils that are known for having a limited shelf life, such as almond oil, apricot kernel oil, and rosehip seed oil. Get in the habit of substituting a tablespoon of jojoba oil for the more fragile carrier oils

Rosemary Extract
Helps against aging processes, such as browning, thickening and wrinkling; and melanoma and other skin cancers are thought to be accelerated by the accumulation of peroxides in the skin tissues. These peroxides are produced by environmental factors such as heat and ultra-violet radiation from sunlight, a primary cause of sunburn and melanoma. In a study conducted to test photoprotectivity, it was discovered that Carnosic acid (found in Rosemary) did protect the skin from UV damage. [3] This evidence is further corroborated in expired US patents 5,358,752, which show in the examples complete elimination of peroxides as a result of UVB radiation. Rosemary also has a history of anti-bacterial and anti-microbial applications. One study found it to be effective against HIV-1 [4]. Via

Neem Oil
Neem is one of the most powerful oils on the market today. Today it is recognized as an all around oil. It is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial as well as anti-protozoan and a spermicide.

There are other anti-microbials on the market which are not quite as natural and some are known irritants and others are controversial. Now, I don’t use them. If I sold my formulations, then yes, I would have to use them in order for my products to reach the regulated standards. I’m going to list some of the more popular ones and you can make up your own mind on whether you wish to include them in your formulations:

Grapefruit Seed ExtractGrapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) is a citrus seed based anti-microbial used as a preservative in skin care products. GSE is made with the extracts of citrus seeds and pulp. It is blended with vegetable glycerin to make it non-irritating to the skin and mucous membranes when used in formulations. GSE is even safe enough to use as a disinfectant for drinking water when necessary.Our Grapefruit Seed Extract is professional strength. It is 60% GSE in 40% vegetable glycerin. It is not the usual 33% found elsewhere. Please be sure to take that into consideration when using a recipe that simply calls for “GSE”. GSE has a shelf life of 7-9 years. It is said to be anti-microbial, anti-septic, anti-bacterial, astringent and does also have some antioxidant activity.Use GSE at .5 to 1% to preserve most formulations, or use at 2% to create anti-bacterial creams, salves, rinses and soaps. Please note that adding 2% GSE to your products does not mean that you can market or label the product as an “anti-bacterial” product.

Wear gloves while handling Grapefruit Seed Extract. GSE can be irritating to the skin in its undiluted form.

INCI Nomenclature: Grapefruit (Citrus Grandis) Extract (and) Glycerin

Germaben II

Germaben II is a convenient, ready-to-use broad spectrum anti-microbial preservative for personal care products such as shampoos, conditioners, lotions, creams, body sprays and other formulations. It is highly effective against gram positive and gram negative bacteria, yeasts and molds and does not need any additional preservatives. It is a clear, viscous liquid with mild odor. It is soluble in both oil/water emulsions and aqueous formulations up to a level of 1.0%. At 1%, Germaben II provides 0.30% Germall II, 0.11% methylparaben, 0.03% propylparaben, and 0.56% propylene glycol. Germaben II should be added slowly to your product under gentle agitation before the addition of fragrance oil.

Recommended usage rates are provided only as guidelines for proper preservation. All new formulations should be challenge tested to ensure preservative efficacy.

INCI Nomenclature: Propylene Glycol (and) Diazolidinyl Urea (and) Methylparaben (and) Propylparaben

Germaben II-E

Germaben II-E was developed to protect formulations that contain ingredients that inactivate parabens. It is a liquid preservative system that contains 20% Germall II, 10% methylparaben, 10% propylparaben, and 60% propylene glycol. It is used to preserve water-in-oil and oil-in-water emulsions but should not be used in aqueous formulations. It is readily soluble at 1.0% and should be added to the emulsified product under gentle agitation before the addition of fragrance. Germaben II-E is a complete preservative effective against gram positive and gram negative bacteria, yeasts and molds. It is compatible with almost all cosmetic ingredients including surfactants and proteins.Recommended usage rates are provided only as a guideline for proper preservation. All new formulations should be challenge tested to ensure preservative efficacy.

INCI Nomenclature: Propylene Glycol (and) Diazolidinyl Urea (and) Methylparaben (and) Propylparaben

Liquid Germall Plus

Liquid Germall Plus is a broad spectrum, water soluble preservative for oil-in-water and water-in-oil emulsions and water soluble formulations. It is highly effective against gram positive and gram negative bacteria, yeasts, molds and commonly found organisms. It is compatible with most cosmetic ingredients and has no known inactivators. Liquid Germall Plus is effective at low concentrations of 0.1 – 0.5% (the higher % should be used in conjunction with high protein and complex formulations). It remains active through a pH range of 3-8. It should be added during the water phase or to the emulsified portion of the formulation at a temperpature of 120F or less. Liquid Germall Plus has a safe toxicology profile and has been evaluated as safe for both rinse-off and leave-on formulations. It is a good choice preservative for shampoos, conditioners, lotions, creams, body washes, body sprays and other such formulas.

Recommended usage levels are meant only as a guide for proper preservation of your product. All new formulations should be challenge tested to ensure that your preservative is working properly.

INCI Nomenclature: Propylene Glycol (and) Diazolidinyl Urea (and) Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate

LiquaPar Oil

LiquaPar Oil is a clear, liquid blend of isopropyl, isobutyl and n-butyl esters of para hydroxybenzoic acid. It is a very stable and effective preservative against gram positive and gram negative bacteria, yeast and mold. LiquaPar Oil is readily incorporated into various types of formulations, including anhydrous products, without heating. It is a good choice for salt scrubs and bath oils where no water is present but may be inadvertently introduced to the container during regular use. The recommended usage rate is 0.3 – 0.6% however, in complex formulations, 0.1% Germall II may be required for adequate preservation.

Recommended usage rates are meant as guidelines only. All new formulations should be challenge tested to ensure proper preservation.

INCI Nomenclature: Isopropylparaben (and) Isobutylparaben (and) Butylparaben

via fromnaturewithlove


In his book: Preservatives for Cosmetics, David C. Steinberg, writes that some essential oils have demonstrated antimicrobial properties.
Oils such as: caraway, cinnamon, clove, cumin, eucalyptus, lavender, lemon, oregano, rose, rosemary, sage, sandalwood and thyme. There are many, many others, which we will look into in greater detail as this tutorial continues. However, please note that the percentage required to adequately protect a product from microbial growth generally exceeds the recommendations for safe amounts of essential oils to use in skin care products. Myself, I am very free with my use of EO’s. I have been using them for years and have never had any adverse reaction. In my Oil Serum blends, I rely solely on essential oils to act as preservative. I always self test. A little dab on the wrist and a 24 hour wait. Of course there is science involved here, but one must not all together abandon common sense.


Oils extracted from plants and seeds form much of the basis of any natural skin care product. To get the best possible result, you will need to get to know your oils, how they work, what they mix best with, their shelf life, their major constituents and healing/health/beauty benefits. Not all oils are created equal, some are better economical performers whilst others are fragile but contain a greater percentage of a desired component such as, for example, Ferulic Acid which can help in the fight against wrinkles. Moreover, one must consider the cost effectiveness of oils as the price range varies drastically with quality and availability.


Oils are volatile and best kept away from direct sunlight and heat. Extreme temperatures, wrong storage, and inherent fragility can cause oxidation in your oils. Once they turn rancid, that’s it I’m afraid. You’ll have no choice but to throw them out and start again from scratch with a fresh supply. The work around, is finding oils with stabilising qualities, that when mixed with other oils, can either enhance shelf life of an oil or at the very least make certain that you reach the suppliers use by date.

One of the very best online resources I have found, not only about plant oils, comes from the marvelous and very gifted Susan Barclay-Nichols of swiftcraftymonkey blog fame. Susan explores lotion crafting from a scientific background and her knowledge, for me, has been indispensable. I am so grateful that she shares her precious knowledge with us all. She also has some terrific recipes.

Here is what she has to say on the topic of rancidity:

Why do oils go rancid and what the heck does “rancid” mean?
Oils are really triglycerides, which is to say they are long chains of carbons and hydrogens connected to a glycerol backbone (check out the link on wikipedia for some great pictures!) In saturated fats, the carbons are SINGLE bonded, which are pretty hard to break, so they stay stable for long periods of time (coconut, palm, and animal fats). In unsaturated fats, the ones we use in our creations, there are double bonds along the chain, and it’s easier for these bonds to break and allow oxidation. The more double bonds, the more oxidation can occur, and the faster the oils can go rancid. (Rancidity means the triglyceride is oxidized and goes off!) This is why some of the oils have shorter shelf lives than others (consider grapeseed oil vs. squalane – the “ane” in squalane indicates it has only single bonds, so its bonds are less easily broken and the oil isn’t oxidized as quickly – or fractionated coconut oil). Here’s a great article from on oils and rancidity!
So what can we do? This is where the anti-oxidants come into use in our creations.
The anti-oxidant is what its name implies – it keeps the oils from going rancid by preventing oxidation. Oils will eventually go rancid; our goal is to put that date off into the distant future.

Vitamin E 
is a very powerful anti-oxidant. It is readily available, and easy to use. You add it at 0.5% to 1% of your total weight. You can get various kinds of Vitamin E – Covi-ox T-50 (meaning it is 50% Vitamin E, 50% other things) or MTS-50 Anti-oxidant blend (again, 50% Vitamin E) are the most common. The higher the percentage of Vitamin E, the less you have to use (and the more it costs!) Try to get at least the 50% Vitamin E.
BHT is a food grade anti-oxidant that is becoming easier to find. I have not used this product, but I understand it is very effective. (Link to the Herbarie…)
Rosemary extract can be a very effective anti-oxidant, but again, I’ve never used it so I can’t comment on its efficacy. (Link to the Herbarie…)
In my humble opinion, Vitamin E really is your best choice for anti-oxidizing properties. It’s not that expensive, it’s easy to find, and it adds some nice skin-loving qualities to your lotions and creations. Why would you choose another anti-oxidant? Cost: BHT is about 1/4 the price of Vitamin E (although rosemary extract is almost double the price of Vitamin E), so if you are making giant batches, BHT is probably more cost effective. But considering how wonderful Vitamin E is as both an anti-oxidant and a skin loving ingredient, it seems the best choice.


There are different ways by which our oils can become rancid, most of them involving oxygen. I know we need it to live, but it’s such a nuisance!

The double bonds of the fatty acid react chemically with oxygen. This turns the fatty acid molecules into other molecules that smell awful! This can be a result of photo-oxidation or auto-oxidation.

The double bond interacts with a singlet oxygen (1O2), which is produced by the light. It is highly reactive with unsaturated lipids. The process is even quicker when you introduce sensitizers like chlorophyll and various other organic substances (like blood, bile, and riboflavin, but those shouldn’t be issues for lotion makers – I hope!) This is why we try to keep our oils away from strong light – bright light can produce more oxygen in the bottle, which can increase the process of photo-oxidation. This is a much faster process than auto-oxidation. Various carotenoids in our oils can slow this process – derivatives of lycopene, like lutein, violaxanthin, and neoxanthin, as well as beta-carotene – and many oils contain these ingredients. These are natural anti-oxidants found in our oils, and most of them contain at least a few to fight rancidity!

Even in the absence of air, we find oxygen. Oh oxygen, you are so necessary but so annoying! Through the breaking of the double bonds, the oxygens helps the the fatty acids break down into hydrocarbons (the H-C-H chains you see, which can be methane – 1 carbon, 4 hydrogens – or ethane – 2 carbons, 6 hydrogens), ketones, aldehydes, epoxides, and alcohols, some of which are smelly ingredients! This process is a slow one when anti-oxidants are found in the oils. When the anti-oxidants are gone, it’s a really fast process and takes very little time at all if the oil is heated as well. (Which gives you a good reason to get some Vitamin E into your oils when you get them from the supplier!)
Metal ions in the water at low levels can promote auto-oxidation. This is why we use chelating agents (also called sequestering agents) like citric acid and EDTA to bind the metals so they won’t be a nuisance in our lotions. (And why we use distilled water that should not contain these metals!) The main culprit is iron, and the process can be speeded up by exposure to light.

Hydrolysis is a chemical reaction in which a molecule is cleaved into two parts by the addition of a water molecule (“hydro” is water, “lysis” is splitting”). The fatty acids are split away from the glycerol backbone, and the water is split into H (hydrogen) or OH (hydroxide) ions. When this happens, our lovely fatty acid molecules are morphed into a new molecule and we have rancidity.

Interestingly enough, this process – the hydrolysis, not the rancidity part – is saponification or soap making. Saponification is the hydrolysis of a fat and an aqueous base like sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. Glycerol (or glycerine) is formed as the fatty acids are removed from the triglyceride form and converted into salts! So hydrolysis can be a benefit for soap makers and a bane to lotion makers!


Yes, our little beastie friends can cause rancidity in our lotions! (Which is why you must ALWAYS use a preservative!) Microorganisms use their little enzymes (usually lipases) to break down the chemical structure in the fat. Which, again, results in rancidity. Wow, when you consider how many ways a lotion can go wrong – between rancidity and flocculation and separation and so on – it’s a wonder we can make them at all. Fortunately, we have anti-oxidants ready and waiting to stave off rancidity as long as possible!

Every oil will eventually go rancid. Some take longer than others – compare grapeseed oil with fractionated coconut oil – but they will all get that horrible smell and have to be thrown out with great vigour. By adding an anti-oxidant, you can push that rancidity date backwards, which why we refer to it as retarding rancidity rather than stopping rancidity.

We can figure out the theoretical shelf life of our oils – our suppliers generally give us something like “6 to 12 months upon opening” – but there are so many variables in rancidity, it is really hard to come up with a hard answer without doing all kinds of exciting and interesting chemistry involving large machines that I don’t own yet but one day will! (And that shelf life doesn’t include how long the oil has been at your suppliers after being decanted from that giant metal bin!)

Oils can be oxidized by light (photo-oxidation) and by heat (heat speeds up chemical reactions), which is why you always see suggestions to keep your oils in a cool, dark place. So let’s say you leave your olive oil on a shelf in a window that gets an unexpected amount of sun on a lovely spring-like April day because you had to run to work (I have never done this!). How much of an impact will 6 hours of direct sunlight have on that oil? Will it speed it up by a day, two days, a week, a month, or create instant rancidity? We have no idea: There are simply too many variable.s.

Refrigeration and freezing are good ideas for oils or butters you aren’t using right now. Chemical processes, like rancidity, generally slow down when the temperature is reduced (and speed up when when the temperature is increased). So you can retard rancidity to the point where it’s negligible with freezing, and consider the best before date to be the date you take it out of the freezer (if you put it in right after buying it). In the fridge, I don’t know. Again, without a lot of special equipment and a fantastic lab filled with beakers and Ehrlenmeyer flasks and test tubes, I couldn’t give you an exact number.

Remember to heat the oils so you can make them uncloudy (the cloudiness is called the titer point and you can read more about it here) before using!

Adding an anti-oxidant will ensure you get to that expected shelf life, but I really wouldn’t count on it to go further. If you’re using a clear bottle, are you guaranteed that the end user won’t leave it in a sunny car or on a beside table that gets a lot of sunlight? Are you assured she doesn’t have the room temperature at 75˚F or 22˚C, which would increase the general warmth of the lotion? And what about those products that end up in steamy, warm bathrooms with lots of humidity?

There are some lotions that seem to repel rancidity for ages. I have a lotion I made three years ago – it’s an experiment – and it still doesn’t smell rancid. But that doesn’t mean that rancidity hasn’t set in. Rancidity is happening every single day. There’s a threshold where we can smell it, but it’s there long before my nose notices it. (I don’t use that lotion because pretty much every ingredient is well past its shelf life date, but I keep it around and observe it for changes.)

There are just too many variables to determine the shelf life of a product, but we can make a guess by sticking to the shelf life of our oils and other ingredients. And by using anti-oxidants, we’re assured we can at least get to that date. As for longer than the suggested shelf life, I really wouldn’t count on it as we simply can’t figure out how much more life we can get out of an oil using anti-oxidants!

Wow! OK, so already, a lot of information. I know its a lot to take in all at once and may seem daunting but hang in there, we’ll soon get to the good part – recipes. This background information is what will save you countless hours, effort and money. Lets proceed to the next step which will help us when it comes to choosing oils for our formulations:
Since Susan has already done all of the work, I can easily post her PDF Comparison Chart for us to mull over. Thanks Susan!



These oils are more on the pricey side but they have wonderful qualities that can take your formulations from mundane to stratospheric! This is not a complete list (I wish it were). There are far more exotic carrier oils to choose from than those shown here. At the end of this post I will give some links to trusted suppliers that I use myself.

A few things to note…

Essential fatty acids – these are fatty acids required by the body for growth and function that we cannot manufacture ourselves. They are are prized for their ability to replenish lipids (oils) that are found naturally within the skin layers.
Gamma-linolenic acid or GLA – an essential fatty acid (sometimes called “Vitamin F”) that is not produced by the body, but is needed for healthy skin. The body uses it to manufacture prostaglandins, which are hormone like substances that balance and regular cellular activity.
Vitamin A – improves skin’s texture, firmness, and smoothness. Essential for the generation and function of skin cells.

Cost scale – these prices will be higher for cold pressed or organic oils.

$ = $1 to $5 for 1 oz or 30 grams

$$ = $6 to 8 for 1 oz or 30 grams

$$$ – $8 to 12 for 1 oz or 30 grams

$$$$ – $13 for 1 oz or 30 grams

Aloe vera oil ($): An oil based extract from the aloe vera plant in a soybean or sunflower oil base. Antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and wound healing. Contains allantoin, which is an FDA approved barrier for wind and cold chapped skin. This is a great way to get the awesome-ness of aloe vera in an anhydrous lotion bar, serum, or manicure scrub. Recommended usage: 1 to 50%

Borage oil ($$): INCI: Borago officinalis (Borage) Seed Oil. A very rich source of GLA (between 22 and 27%), it is known to restore moisture and smooth dry, damaged, or aging skin. Shelf life: 9 to 10 months

Calendula ($): INCI: Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil (and) Calendula officinalis (Flower) Extract. Regenerative and anti-inflammatory, a great treatment for burned, irritated, inflamed, or chapped skin. Effective for aging skin. Shelf life: 12 to 14 months

Camellia seed ($): INCI: Camellia sinensis Seed Oil. Camellia Seed Oil is very high in oleic acid, and has great anti-oxidant properties. It has been used in Japan for centuries to moisturize and condition the skin, hair and nails. Contains Vitamins A, B, and E, and is great for hair and hand care products. It is described as non-greasy, and is absorbed quickly. Usage rate: 1 to 100%. Shelf life: 6 to 12 months

Carrot tissue oil ($): INCI: Helianthus annus (and) beta carotene. Effective for prematurely aging and dry, itchy skin. Rich in beta-carotene, Vitamin A, and other nutrients. Generally infused in sunflower oil. It may have an earthy scent. Shelf life: 12 months

Comfrey oil ($ to $$): INCI: Symphytum officinale. Comfrey oil and salve are used treatment of dry skin and chapped lips. As a note, some people have concerns about this oil on open wounds – it can sting – so use only in products that are not going to be used on open cuts or scrapes. (I’d suggest doing more research before you include comfrey oil in your products as it contains an ingredient – can’t remember the name at the moment – which Health Canada doesn’t like very much).

Cranberry oil ($$ to $$$): INCI Name: Vaccinium Macrocarpon (Cranberry) Seed Oil. Cranberry seed oil is rich in antioxidants, omega 3 & 6 and Vitamin E., and can be a barrier on the skin. It contains a variety of minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper, and selenium.

Evening primrose ($): Contains about 10% gamma linoleic acid, and high levels of linoleic acids. Eases inflammation, has superb moisturizing qualities, and treats dry skin. Great for aging skin.

Neem oil ($): INCI: Punica granatum seed oil. An effective anti-fungal and antiseptic oil. Rich in fatty acids and glycerides. This oil smells very funky – a bit garlicky! Usage rate: up to 10%

Pumpkin seed oil ($): INCI Name: Cucurbita pepo (Pumpkin) Seed Oil. High in linoleic acid, omega 3 and 6 fatty oils. Also contains potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, iron, copper, manganese, selenium & zinc as well as vitamins A, D, B1, B2, & B6.

Rosehip oil ($): INCI: Rosa canina (rosehip) fruit oil. Rosehip oil is very high in essential fatty acids, retinoic acid (a derivative of retinol or Vitamin A), and Vitamin C. It contains high levels of GLA, which has uses in treating eczema and psoriasis. It may treat stretch marks, wrinkles, and soften scars. It may diminish broken capillaries, but may aggravate acne or blemished skin.

Sea Buckthorn oil ($$$): INCI: Hippophae rhamnoides Oil. Used for acne, dermatitus, irritated, dry, itching skin. Great source of vitamins A, C, and E, and contains essential fatty acids and phytosterols. Rich source of various B vitamins. A good oil for hair care products or facial serums. Usage rate: up to 10%

Shea oil ($): INCI Name: Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter) Seed Oil. Anti-inflammatory and soothing, shea oil contains phytosterols which soothe skin. Great in lotions and shaving products. Especially good for sun care products for dry, irritated, or chapped skin. Shelf life: up to 2 years, very stable

Squalane ($ to $$):

This is steam distilled from olive oil (squalene comes from sharks…) It is soft, silky, and non-greasy. It is absorbed into the skin very quickly, and resembles human sebum so you skin can “breathe” (allows your skin to function normally). Helpful for acne, dry scaly skin, and rashes (shaving or diaper rashes, for instance). Anti-bacterial and protects from environmental factors such as sun, cold, and pollution. Can be used alone as a moisturizer or in other lotions or serums at 2 to 10%.

So how do you use these oils? I’ll give you a few examples…

Outdoor bar – aloe vera (chapping and soothing), calendula (anti-inflammatory), and evening primrose (inflammation and dry skin), on top of the other non-exotic oils. I used them at a total of 10% (4% aloe, 3% calendula, 3% evening primrose) for their qualities.

Hair care – sea buckthorn and camellia oils are my choice in my intense conditioner at a total of 10% (6% camellia and 4% sea buckthorn) because both are great moisturizers and emollients. You could use shea oil (a bit heavy, but really nice) or jojoba here (more like a wax, but good for your scalp).

Moisturizer – for a moisturizer for my acne-prone, irritated, slightly dry and aging skin I wanted to include ingredients with high GLA (evening primrose), good emolliency that would allow the normal functions of my skin (squalane), and anti-inflammatory properties (calendula). I didn’t include aloe oil as I was using aloe vera juice, but I would include it here for its great properties if I weren’t including the liquid. (As a note, it would seem neem oil would be a great inclusion for a moisturizer, but I couldn’t get past the smell!)

Serum – if you wanted to make an anhydrous (oil-based, no water) serum for your skin, you’d want to pick a really lovely carrier oil – I’d suggest jojoba, fractionated coconut oil, or olive oil, or a combination of all three – at about 80% and add about 20% exotic oils to the mixture. If you were looking for anti-aging ingredients, you might consider rosehip oil (or for acne prone skin, evening primrose oil), sea buckthorn, carrot, and squalane in your mixture. If you were looking to soothe really dry or chapped skin, aloe oil, calendula, and shea oil. You’d only want to make a bit, as you only put a few drops on your skin with a serum! (If you wanted to be really decadent, you could use squalane as your base, then add your exotic oils on top of that.)


Now that we know more about oils and their behaviour and how best to care for them, we can move on and start to explore the world of butters and wax. These elements will give your formulations body and solidity, all crucial elements in the creation of Bath Melts, Lotion Bars, Salves, Creams and Lotions. Butters are extracted from seeds such as the Mango, Avocado, Shea, and Cocoa. Wax, in natural terms, refers to Beeswax which is taken from the hive of bees. Lanolin, is another animal based wax which is natural. Other natural waxes include plant based such as Candelilla and Carnuba. There are also synthetic waxes to choose from, such as Paraffin.


BUTTERS – butters are rated from 1 to 10 for hardness. 10 is very hard.

Aloe butter: Hardness 4. Melts easily at room temperature, good for salves. Aids in rapid hydration of dry skin caused by eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, sun burn, wind burn, and general chapping.

Avocado butter: A very rich, moisturizing treatment, but it can be a little heavy or greasy. Use in small amounts. Again, you might want to use a secondary butter to harden a lotion bar.

Cocoa butter: Hardness 10. A very good butter for trapping in moisture as it stays on the skin as a barrier. This is good as a primary oil in a lotion bar.

Mango butter: Hardness 8. A very creamy butter, doesn’t go grainy after melting. It is less greasy than other butters and very emollient.

Olive butter: Olive butter offers the goodness of olive oil, which includes high level of phytosterols and humectant qualities.

Shea butter: Hardness 7. Shea butter penetrates deep into skin and returns elasticity. It has high levels of Vitamins A and E, as well as phytosterols, fatty esters, and phenolic acids. May help repair skin damage. It softens and heals cracked and aged skin. If you are allergic to latex, please avoid shea butter.

So how do you choose a butter? If you have skin that is wind chapped and red, you might choose aloe butter. If you need serious moisturizing, then shea or mango butter may be perfect for you. If you want a humectant with lots of phytosterols, you might be a fan of olive butter.


It seems there are dozens of waxes to choose from for personal care type products, which it makes it both confusing and exciting for formulators! Waxes give structure to our products, keep them firm – in the case of lip balms or lotion bars – and help our products be flexible but not brittle. There are two main groups of waxes, which can be sub-divided into further categories. Natural waxes include hydrocarbon, mineral, vegetable, and animal waxes. Synthetic waxes include polymer waxes, usually called synthetic wax (wow, that was helpful, eh?) I’m not going into synthetic waxes here as they are not readily available to the home crafter and I haven’t used them enough to make any suggestions.

You’ll notice a lot of these waxes are listed by their solubility in castor oil. This is because castor oil is one of the main oils used in making lipsticks and other lip colouring products. (More about castor oil tomorrow). If the wax isn’t friendly with castor oil, it’s less likely to be used or used in far smaller quantities than an oil that plays nice with castor oil!

Hydrocarbon waxes include paraffin and microcrystalline waxes.

Paraffin wax: This is what a lot of us think when we hear the word “wax”. It’s a hydrocarbon blend with a melting point of 45 to 70C. It is translucent with little odour or taste, which makes it perfect for lip products. It is quite inflexible with an oily feel and has poor solubility in castor oil.

Microcrystalline wax: These are long chained saturated hydrocarbons (mostly linear) derived from mineral oil that melts between 60C and 120C. Their small crystal size prevents sweating of your product. They have limited solubility in castor oil.

Mineral waxes include waxes from bituminous products, meaning they come from coal derivatives. These include ozokerite and ceresine (some sites have ceresine listed as coming from vegetables – this is not true).

Ozokerite wax: A naturally occurring white wax with a high melting point – 58C to 100C – used to prevent softness in products. It can also help with emulsification if you want to include some water based ingredient into your lipstick or anhydrous product.

Ceresine wax (also called refined ozokerite): A white wax derived from ozokerite with a melting point of 50 to 90C (it depends on the purity and manufacturer). It can be used interchangeably with ozokerite.

Vegetable waxes are probably the most popular of the waxes because of their vegan friendly profile and availability from local suppliers.

Candelilla wax: Produced from the Euphorbia cerifera and Euphorbia antisiphlitica trees found in Mexico. It is composed of hydrocarbons and esters, meaning it confers some moisturizing properties. It’s melting point is high at 70C, and it confers strength to stick products. It offers a nice gloss, which is always a bonus in lip products. A good substiute for carnauba wax.

Carnauba wax: Produced from the Copernica prunifera tree (Tree of Life, a Brazilian palm tree). It is composed of 85% (or so) esters, so it offers some great moisturizing qualities. Its high melting point of 85C offers great rigidity to a lipstick and it will contract as it cools, making it easier to remove your product from a mould.

Japan wax: Produced from the berries of the sumac tree, it is a brittle glyceride wax with a melting point between 50 to 56C. Because of the fatty odour and oily feel it is usually used in pencils, not lipsticks.

Rice wax: This is the hydrogenation of crude rice oil. The melting point is high at 75C, so it sounds suitable for making a hard lipstick or bar, but it has an unpleasant odour. I’m not really sure why I’m mentioning here…

Sugar cane wax: A by-product of sugar production that offers a very hard lipstick or bar. It’s not used very frequently.

Animal waxes are waxes derived from animal products, primarily beeswax and lanolin.

Beeswax: Composed of 70% fatty esters and 10 to 13% hydrocarbons, beeswax offers flexibility and plasticity to a lipstick or lotion bar. It generally has a pleasant odour, which is a plus for a product you’re going to use on your lips. Its melting point is 50 to 55C, so it is generally combined with another wax to offer a higher melting point for warm days in your pocket. Too much beeswax can lead to poor stability and drag in a lipstick. it plays very well with castor oil – it is partially soluble in it, so it creates a viscous but tacky system that will keep the lip colour from seeping into fine lines in the lips or lip area. Include it in your lip sticks, but use another wax that will have a higher melting point and add more rigidity to your stick.

Lanolin: This isn’t really a wax, but is used this way in a lipstick. It offers emulsification and moisturization. A lot of people are convinced they are sensitive to this, so it isn’t used widely.

So there you have it – waxes! As a general rule, you wouldn’t use just one wax in a lipstick the way we do in a lip balm. Each brings something to the party. Let’s take a look at a possible “classic lipstick formulation” and why we use each ingredient…

2.5% carnauba wax – rigidity, high melting point

20% beeswax – solubility with castor oil, plasticity

10% ozokerite – high melting point, less softness

5% lanolin – moisturization and emulsification, if required

2% cetyl alcohol – conditioning and co-emulsification, if required

3% liquid paraffin (polyisobutene) – emollient

3% IPM – emollient and de-greaser

10% pigments – colouring, obviously

46% castor oil

0.5% Vitamin E

Let’s say you’re not a fan of animal products, what could we use instead? Beeswax and lanolin could be substituted by candelilla wax and more cetyl alcohol.

Or if you’re avoiding petroleum based products, you could use more carnauba and candelilla wax or beeswax and another wax instead of ozokerite and squalene or other light emollient for the liquid paraffin (mineral oil).

There are so many substitutions you can make with waxes – you really have to try them to see which one you prefer. via swiftcraftmonkey


Normally, oil and water don’t like to mix. Water is polar, oil is non-polar, so the oil just floats on top of the water, not mixing and being all oppositional to each other. If we add an emulsifier – an ingredient that is both hydrophilic and lipophilic (water loving and oil loving) — it will bring the two together in a stable mixture.
Why does this matter? Because bringing together water, oil, emulsifier, and other goodies makes a creamy concoction that will be your skin’s best friend. Learning how to emulsify is the key to making your first lotion.
We need three things to emulsify our lotion properly.
  • Chemical emulsification – choosing a good emulsifier will save you heartache in the end. If you want to learn more about emulsifiers, the HLB (hydrophilic-lipophilic balance chart) is a great place to start, but I generally choose emulsifying wax as it is a good all around emulsifier for basic lotions. (Polawax, emulsifying wax, and BTMS-50 are all-around emulsification systems, so they’re easy to use).
  • Heat emulsification – we have to heat our ingredients up to a place where they are happy to emulsify.
  • Mechanical emulsification – we have to blend our ingredients together using a hand or stand mixer or stick blender.
I like to make oil in water lotions, meaning the droplets of oil are suspended in a water base, so there is far more water in the recipe than oils. (Water in oil recipes are thicker, like cold cream, and require different emulsifiers to work well.)
WHAT DOES AN EMULSIFIER LOOK LIKE? The three emulsifiers I’ve mentioned above come in “pellet form”, so they need to be melted. Non-Polawax emulsifying wax can be in flake format as well. So they need to melt before they are useful. Other emulsifiers come in other forms – polysorbate 20 and 80 are liquid.

In PART 2 of How To Make Your Own Natural Cosmetics, we’ll be looking at some basic formulations and recipes to get you truly started on the path to handcrafting!