So, you’ve finally made your very first lotion. Exciting stuff! If you’re anything like me, you’re now dreaming up all the different ways you’d love to customize the formulation. Could it be thicker? Can you add some colour? What about some scent? However, as a new lotion formulator, you aren’t sure what you can and can’t do without making the whole thing curdle, split, and die a sad, separated death.

20 quick & easy ways to customize lotions

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Thankfully, it’s ridiculously easy to start customizing your lotion formulas—if you know where to start. So, in this blog post I’m going to share twenty quick, easy, and inexpensive ways to personalize your emulsions so you can start creating bespoke skincare. Trying out these ideas will teach you so much about formulation—what you like, what you don’t, and which changes create which results. Once you’ve worked your way through this list—or even just half of it—you’ll be well on your way to formulating your very own emulsions from scratch.

Rules for experimenting

One

Reduce potential waste by starting small: 100g (or 3.5oz) is usually a good batch size for experimental emulsions.

Two

So you know exactly what you did, take lots of notes. Err on the side of too many notes rather than too few. And don’t just write down what you did—write down what you think of the finished product. And label that finished product so you can tie it back to your notes later!

Three

So you know what change worked (or didn’t): if a change is new, isolate it. If you alter five things straight off the bat and the formulation flops—or you just flat out hate it—you won’t know why.

Four

This rule is mostly specific to emulsions, but to ensure it remains stable, keep the phase sizes the same to start with. I’ll share some resources on how to change that up later in the post, though 😉

The formulation

The formulation we’ll be working from today is a lightly modified version of my Easy Natural Lotion for Beginners.

All I’ve done is switched up the preservative to Liquid Germall™ Plus as it has a much broader effective pH range, meaning we don’t have to be quite as concerned about the final pH of our experimental emulsions. This does mean the lotion isn’t natural anymore, but it makes it a lot easier to experiment with.

The tips

One

This a super simple way to introduce some all-natural scent to the formulation: use a hydrosol instead of some of the water. I like to swap 20–30% of the distilled water for a hydrosol of choice, and then carry on as usual.

Two

For an easy way to add some skin-soothing benefits and boost label appeal: trade 20% of the distilled water in the formulation for aloe vera juice—this is a thin, watery ingredient—do not use a thick green gel from the drug store! Now, aloe is lovely, but it is electrolyte rich and that can thin your emulsion, so start around 20% and if that works well you can use more next time.

Three

This change makes a lot of people nervous, but try a different emulsifying wax! I’ve found Emulsifying Wax NF, Olivem1000, Ritamulse SCG, Polawax, Montanov 68, BTMS-25, and BTMS-50 are generally pretty interchangeable on a one-for-one basis in most formulations. You’ll likely notice the change, but the emulsion shouldn’t fail. I also wrote a whole blog post on this.

Four

I get asked about this next swap all the time, and it’s a really easy and fun one: try a different liquid oil, or blend of liquid oils, instead of whatever the formulation calls for. Just make sure the total percentage of liquid oils stays the same and the consistency of the emulsion shouldn’t change much. I’d also recommened sticking to cheaper

Spring 2024: Formula Botanica is offering a free formulation masterclass where you can learn even more about formulation! You can sign up here 🙂 I highly recommend it, especially if you're wanting to see how Formula Botanica works.

Five

If you’re looking for an easy way to to get some herb-y goodness into your emulsion, try using an herb-infused carrier oil instead of some—or all—of the oil in your formulation. You can purchase infused oils or make your own using thoroughly dried herbs, a carrier oil, and some time.

Six

For a lighter, faster-absorbing lotion, try a trick that the pros use all the time: use a liquid ester like isopropyl myristate (IPM), coco caprylate, or Medium Chain Triglycerides instead of some or all of the liquid oil.

Seven

If you’d like an ever-so-slightly thicker, richer emulsion, try using a soft butter like shea or mango instead of a liquid oil.

Eight

For even more of a viscosity boost, try a brittle butter like cocoa butter or kokum butter.

Nine

You can also try a blend of butters and oils—I tend to prefer more oils than butters in my emulsions, but experiment and see what you think!

Ten

If you’re looking for even more of a viscosity boost, swap 2–3% of the oil or butter in the formulation for a fatty thickener like cetyl alcohol (for silky thickening), stearic acid (for creamier thickening), and cetearyl alcohol (for both slip and creaminess).

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Eleven

Or, if there’s already a fatty thickener in the formulation, swap it for a different fatty thickener to change up the skin feel of the finished emulsion.

Twelve

You can also try a blend of fatty thickeners—I’m a big fan of combining silky cetyl alcohol with rich and creamy stearic acid for the best of both worlds.

Thirteen

This next one is of my favourites: try a different humectant. This formulation calls for sodium lactate, so you could try propanediol or glycerin instead. Just be sure to keep in mind that if you’re switching to a humectant that is electrolyte rich—like sodium lactate is—that can impact the viscosity of your formulation.

Fourteen

I’ve also had lots of fun using more (or less) humectant that a formulation calls for. One of my favourite formulations uses 30% glycerine—an amount I thought was bonkers until I saw La Roche Posay do it, tried it myself, and loved it. Simply reduce the distilled water in the formulation to keep everything adding up to 100%.

Fifteen

And one more humectant-y idea: try a blend of two or more humectants instead of just one.

Spring 2024: Formula Botanica is offering a free formulation masterclass where you can learn even more about formulation! You can sign up here 🙂 I highly recommend it, especially if you're wanting to see how Formula Botanica works.

Sixteen

For a different sort of viscosity boost, swap 0.1–0.5% of the water in your emulsion for a gum or gelling ingredient, reducing the water to make room. I’m loving soft xanthan gum these days, but other options include regular xanthan gum, guar gum, and hydroxyethylcellulose.

Seventeen

If the formulation already has a gum or gelling ingredient, try using more or less of it.

Eighteen

You can also try blending different gums or gelling ingredients, or using a pre-blended ingredient like Solagum or EcoGel.

Nineteen

To easily add some colour to your DIY, incorporate 0.5% of a coloured mica into the cool down phase, recucing the distilled water to make room for it. There are other ways to add colour to emulsions, but micas are really easy and there are tons of options!

Twenty

And lastly—phew!—this change is where you can really start to fundamentally change the structure of your emulsions and make decisions about richness and viscosity from the ground up. Check out this blog post to learn all about phase sizes; it was a bit much to include in this list!

 

Spring 2024: Formula Botanica is offering a free formulation masterclass where you can learn even more about formulation! You can sign up here 🙂 I highly recommend it, especially if you're wanting to see how Formula Botanica works.