If you’ve been looking for a soft, scoopy, foaming sugar scrub that won’t get too hard or melt into an oily mess… I’ve got good news for you 😄 This Christmas Spice Soft Foaming Sugar Scrub has a really fun, cake-batter-like gooey consistency. It’s perfectly scoopable, lathers beautifully, and smells fantastic. It’s easy and inexpensive to make (you can fill a 250mL jar for about $4), and you can easily customize it. Let’s get scrubby!
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How is this scrub different from an anhydrous self-emulsifying scrub?
I’ve made lots of anhydrous self-emulsifying scrubs over the years—the most recent one is my Passionfruit Coconut Body Scrub from the summer of 2020. Like all sugar scrubs, they’re around 50% sugar. The other 50% is a soft, creamy blend of oils, butters, fatty thickeners, and emulsifiers. This base suspends the sugar and adds richness. The emulsifiers allow the fatty base to self-emulsify with your bath water so the scrub rinses off your skin well and doesn’t turn your tub into a treacherous oil slick.
The big challenge with anhydrous self-emulsifying scrubs is the same one we encounter with anhydrous body butters: they’re susceptible to temperature swings. They melt if they get too hot, and seize up if they get too cold. This can make them tricky to gift (what if it gets left in a hot delivery truck?), and tricky to make (what if you live somewhere far hotter than the environment the formulation was developed in?).
This foaming sugar scrub is to an anhydrous self-emulsifying scrubs as an emulsified body butter is to an anhydrous body butter. It’s got an emulsified base and includes water, so it’s not anywhere near as susceptible to temperature swings (it will still freeze solid if you put it in the freezer, but it’ll cope with comfortable ambient temperature swings just fine).
Why does the scrub foam/lather?
The scrub lathers because it contains a couple foaming surfactants: Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLSa), Decyl Glucoside, and Coco Glucoside. Another big reason this scrub lathers is because it doesn’t contain a ton of oils and fats like anhydrous self-emulsifying scrubs do. I’m often asked about adding foaming surfactants to formulations like that, and unfortunately that just doesn’t work very well—fat suppresses lather, and those formulations contain a lot of fat.
Make sure you wear a well-fitted Dust mask (respirator) when working with Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLSa); you do NOT want to inhale it!
Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLSa) is a gentle, ECO-CERT anionic surfactant that creates rich, fluffy lather. Decyl Glucoside is a natural non-ionic surfactant; I chose it instead of a different glucoside partially for its dense, luxurious lather, and partly because it helps raise the pH of this otherwise quite acidic formulation as it’s quite basic.
The coco glucoside in this formulation is part of a compound/blended ingredient called Lamesoft® PO 65 (INCI: Coco Glucoside [and] Glyceryl Oleate). Coco glucoside is a foaming surfactant that will contribute to lather, but I’ve included this ingredient because it helps make the surfactant blend milder (the glyceryl oleate does that).
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Can I use salt instead of sugar?
No. Well… I mean, you can, but it will absolutely obliterate the lather. I tried, and versions with 3–4x as much surfactant as this sugary formulation barely lathered at all! You might’ve heard that making a soap that lathers in sea water is quite challenging? Well, this is pretty much the same problem.
What can I use instead of the gold bursting beads?
Since we’re just using it at 1%, you’ve got a lot of options. The general gist is that you want something that will add a bit of colour to the scrub, isn’t too hard to preserve, and won’t make a mess in the tub. Jojoba beads would be a good option; you could also try some ground up cranberry seeds or even apricot kernel powder. Coloured salt could work, too—the amount is small enough that it’s not going to tank the lather of the formulation. You could also just use an extra 1% sugar.
How can I customize this formulation?
You can start by swapping up the fragrance oil; you can pair it with different bursting bead alternatives for even more fun! An ocean scented fragrance oil + blue jojoba beads, or a forest scented fragrance oil + green jojoba beads. Just make sure whatever fragrance oil (or essential oil) you’re using is safe for use in rinse-off products at 0.3% abd bath safe (nothing really warming or cooling—remember, you [and all your most sensitive parts] will be soaking in a tub of the stuff!).
You can also introduce colour to the entire batch with a coloured mica or a water-soluble dye. I’d start with ~0.5% mica, reducing the water to make room for it and including it with the fragrance oil and preservative. You’ll need barely any dye; 0.01% is likely enough. Stir it into the water, reducing the water to make room for it.
Relevant links & further reading
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLSa) in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Lamesoft® PO 65 in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Decyl Glucoside in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Sodium Lactate in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Apricot Kernel Oil in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Ritamulse SCG (Emulsimulse, ECOMulse) in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Distilled water in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- How long will ______ last? What is its shelf life? in the Humblebee & Me FAQ
- Can I use a different preservative than the one you’ve used? in the Humblebee & Me FAQ
- Preservatives table
- pH meter in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- pH measurement in cosmetic lab: why we dilute samples? from Skin Chakra
- How to adjust the pH of your cosmetic products from Skin Chakra
- Why do you create a 10% dilution of a formulation before measuring the pH? in the Humblebee & Me FAQ
- Anhydrous self-emulsifying scrub formulations:
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Christmas Spice Soft Foaming Sugar Scrub
28g | 4% Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLSa) (USA / Canada)
28g | 4% Coco Glucoside (and) Glyceryl Oleate (Lamesoft® PO 65) (Canada / USA / NZ / EU / UK)
21g | 3% decyl glucoside (USA / Canada)
21g | 3% sodium lactate (USA / Canada)
31.5g | 4.5% apricot kernel oil (USA / Canada)
Put on your dust mask and weigh the first five ingredients in a bowl/jug that you can heat and that holds at least 1L (33.8fl oz). I used a 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup.
Stir to combine; you can be pretty vigorous here as there’s very little water in the mixture, so it won’t lather. Once it is smooth and creamy, you’re ready to proceed.
Stir in the Ritamulse SCG, and then gently add the water. Stir, slowly at first, to incorporate the water without kicking up too much lather. As the water incorporates you can stir a bit more enthusiastically.
When you’ve got a smooth mixture, cover it with cling film and heat it through in a water bath to melt the Ritamulse SCG. Give it a stir every now and then, smearing some of the mixture up the sides of the measuring cup to check for solid flakes. Ritamulse SCG melts pretty readily, so if the mixture is thoroughly warmed and you aren’t seeing and solid bits, we’re ready to move on!
Add the sugar to the creamy base about a third at a time, stirring between additions. It will definitely seem like there’s way too much sugar, at first, and then the mixture will thin a lot and it’ll seem way too thin. Don’t worry—it’ll work out!
Stir in the colourful bursting beads, the preservative, and the fragrance.
I like to test the pH now, before the scrub thickens up. To test and adjust the pH: create a 10% dilution by weighing 2g product and 18g distilled water into a small bowl or beaker and whisk to combine (wondering why we create a dilution to check the pH?). Check the pH with your pH meter (I have this one). Depending on the shape of your bowl/beaker you may need to tilt it in order to fully submerge the sensor on your pH meter. The pH should fall in the 5–5.5 range. If it is lower than 4.5 you’ll want to raise it; if it’s higher than 6, you’ll want to lower it. Please read this article from Skin Chakra to learn more about pH adjusting.
Once you know the pH is in a good place, cover the scrub and leave it to thicken for a few hours.
After a couple hours the scrub will have thickened up to a consistency that’s like cake batter—it’ll be fluid, scoopable, and kind of gooey in a really fun way.
The last step is optional—it gives the scrub a more opaque, creamy look. Simply whip it with a set of electric beaters until the base of the scrub turns bright white.
And now all that’s left is packaging! This 700g batch will fill about 500mL of space; I’m using two 250g jars from YellowBee (gifted), but you could also use four 125g (4 oz) jars.
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this scrub contains water, you must include a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth. This is non-optional. With good manufacturing practice and proper preservation, this formulation should last at least a year. As part of my development process I left a few jars of the scrub in my shower for about 5 months and they were fine—5 months isn’t any sort of limit, it’s just when I published this formulation. If you accidentally add a bunch of water to the scrub while using it, pour off the excess water before re-sealing the jar. Even with a preservative, this project may eventually spoil as our kitchens are not sterile laboratories, so in the event you notice any change in colour, scent, or texture, chuck it out and make a fresh batch.
As always, be aware that making substitutions will change the final product. While these swaps won’t break the formulation, you will get a different final product than I did.
- As I’ve provided this formulation in percentages as well as grams you can easily calculate it to any size using a simple spreadsheet as I’ve explained in this post. As written in grams, this formulation will make 700g, which is just over 500mL.
- To learn more about the ingredients used in this formulation, including why they’re included and what you can substitute them with, please visit the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia. It doesn’t have everything in it yet, but there’s lots of good information there! If I have not given a specific substitution suggestion in this list please look up the ingredient in the encyclopedia before asking.
- If you’d like to learn more about the surfactants used and compare them to ones you might already have so you can make substitutions, check out this page and read this FAQ.
- You could try finely powdered Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) or Sodium (C14-16) olefin sulfonate (Bio-Terge AS90) instead of Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLSa).
- You can use a different glucoside as an alternative to decyl glucoside, like Coco Glucoside or Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside. This may shift the pH of the final product enough that you need to adjust it.
- If you don’t have Lamesoft® PO 65 you could try replacing it with 2% additional decyl glucoside and 2% of a water-soluble re-fatting ingredient like Olivem 300 (not 1000!) or Cromollient SCE (Di-PPG-2 Myreth-10 Adipate).
- You could use Vegetable Glycerin or Propanediol 1,3 instead of sodium lactate, but this will impact the pH of the finished formulation.
- You can substitute another lightweight oil like sweet almond, grapeseed, or sunflower seed for the apricot kernel oil.
- You can use a different complete emulsifying wax instead of Ritamulse SCG; it doesn’t matter all that much what you use, though I’d avoid anything that’s sensitive to electrolytes due to the sodium lactate. Options include Emulsifying Wax NF, Olivem 1000, Polawax, and Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate. I haven’t tried this formulation with a cationic emulsifying wax like BTMS-50; the anionic surfactant in this formulation might conflict with it.
- Don’t replace the sugar with salt.
- You can use a different colourful exfoliant instead of bursting beads; jojoba beads would be a good choice.
- You can use a different fragrance oil; read this to learn more.
- If you’re like to use a different preservative, please review this FAQ and this chart. Liquid Germall™ Plus would be an easy option; use 0.5% and add another 1% distilled water.
- If you’d like to incorporate an essential oil, please read this and this.
The apricot kernel oil, Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLSa), Optiphen plus, and plastic jars were gifted by YellowBee.
The Lamesoft PO 65 and fragrance oil were gifted by Voyageur Soap & Candle.
The sugar and sodium lactate gifted by Bramble Berry.
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