This fragrant, bubbly body wash has quickly become an in-shower favourite for me. I love the consistency, I love the bubbles, and I love the crystal clarity of it if you choose a water soluble colourant. I’m calling it a body wash here, but it also makes a great hand wash if you want to make it a more multi-tasking product. Bubbles away!
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Our surfactant blend is a simple one I’ve become quite fond of recently (you might’ve noticed!). A combination of non-ionic Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside and amphoteric Cocamidopropyl Betaine is gentle and bubbly. We blend surfactants with different charges to create milder blends, so by combining two gentle surfactants with two different charges, we get a nice, gentle blend. The pH is skin friendly without any adjustment, and the Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside is such an effective solubilizer that we don’t need anything extra to get our essential oils to clearly disperse in the shower gel. Bam!
I’ve got a new star ingredient in here that I will admit was quite unexpected—the rather unsexy sounding “hydroxyethylcellulose”. The lovely folks at Essential Wholesale in Portland sent me a bag of this unassuming white powder and once I started playing with it, well… we can call it “love at first gel”. I’m not the world’s largest fan of gums, like xanthan and guar, especially as sole thickeners in things. I find them to be… snotty… in high concentrations. Not my favourite tactile sensation, to be honest. Hydroxyethylcellulose (or HEC) is not snotty. It creates crystal clear, carbomer-like gels that are downright fantastic. So, that’s job #1 it’s playing here.
Job #2—it boosts the performance of surfactants. It stabilizes and enhances lather to an astounding, delightful, glee-inducing degree. I compared it to earlier versions made with xanthan gum and the improvement is astonishing—even at 2%. Not only is the end product much nicer, texture-wise, but the lather is overwhelmingly better. If you like working with surfactants and gels, I highly recommend getting some HEC! I’ve tried it in some body gels as well and I’ve been really impressed with the skin feel and the clarity of the product.
The surfactants and the HEC are (to me, at least) the most exciting parts of this project. We’ve also got some moisturizing glycerine our scent. There is a funny fragrance thing, though. After developing the base recipe back in October I started playing with scenting it different ways in November and… things did not perform as expected. Various scented versions would split and curdle on me—there’d be a big gelatinous blob floating in a pool of watery liquid. When shaken the blob would break up into a bunch of little blobby bits floating in thin liquid. This was not the beautiful thick body wash I’d developed! What happened?!
It took the better part of a day to isolate the broader problem, and I’m thinking I might write an entire blog post about that at some point in time. In the end I narrowed it down to benzyl benzoate—a fragrant chemical present in many fragrance oils and a handful of essential oils. When it was present at even 0.1% the whole thing would curdle and split in under twenty minutes. In fragrances and essential oils without benzyl benzoate the body wash stayed its happy, gel-y self. So, of course, the essential oil I ended up using here is benzyl benzoate free. Berzoin resinoid, peru balsam essential oil, and fir balsam fragrance oil all contain benzyl benzoate, so they’re a no-go. That means we’re keeping it nice and simple today with some fresh fir needle essential oil. You can check the benzyl benzoate content of your essential oils/fragrances by checking the SDS (Safety Data Sheet) or CoA (Certificate of Analysis). Benzyl benzoate is one of the IFRA (International Fragrance Association) must-list potential allergens, so it should always be listed for you to find.
Colour-wise, you’ve got a couple options. You can leave it uncoloured, which is very easy. You can use a mica—the HEC will keep it suspended nicely, and the swirly shimmery-ness is very pretty! You can also use a combination of blue and yellow lake dyes to take advantage of the lovely clarity of the end product with a pretty clear green body wash. It’s up to you!
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Christmas Tree Body Wash
11.20g | 8% vegetable glycerine
2.80g | 2% hydroxyethylcellulose (USA / Canada)
16.80g | 12% Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside (USA / Canada)
8.40g | 6% Cocamidopropyl Betaine (USA / Canada)
98.56g | 70.4% distilled water
0.14g | 0.1% mix or blue and yellow lake dyes
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a small saucepan.
Weigh the glycerine and hydroxyethylcellulose into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Whisk to combine, breaking up any clumps of the HEC. Up next, weigh in the Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside and Cocamidopropyl Betaine; gently stir to combine. Add the distilled water and gently stir to combine. If you’re using lake dyes, now is the time to add them as well. Add very, very small amounts of blue and yellow lake dyes and gently stir to check the colour as they dissolve (don’t just blindly add the amount I’ve listed—go with your eyes). Once you’re happy with the colour weigh the entire lot (measuring cup + ingredients) and note that weight for use later.
Place the measuring cup in your prepared water bath to gently heat everything through, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened. Remove the measuring cup from the heat and leave it to cool to room temperature.
Once the mixture is cool, weight it and add enough distilled water to bring the weight back up to what it was before heating. Add the remaining cool down ingredients and gently stir to combine. The mixture will go a bit cloudy with the addition of the essential oils, but will clear up in a day or so.
Now it’s time to package your body wash! I used a 120mL/4fl oz “tottle” (tube/bottle hybrid sort of thing).
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this hand wash contains water, you must include a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth. This is non-optional. Even with a preservative this project is likely to 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 recipe, you will get a different final product than I did.
- As I’ve provided this recipe 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 recipe will make 140g.
- You can try using xanthan gum or carageenan instead of HEC, but I really don’t recommend it. Instead, I would recommend thickening the batch with Crothix at the end. You will not need to heat anything if you use Crothix instead of HEC.
- You can use Coco Glucoside (USA / Canada) instead of Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, but you will need to adjust the pH of the end product as the pH of coco glucoside is much higher. You may also want to consider including a solubilizer to keep the EO/FO dispersed as Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside is a much better solubilizer than Coco Glucoside.
- You can use a different essential oil blend or a fragrance oil instead of what I used—just make sure it doesn’t contain any benzyl benzoate!
- You can use mica instead of the lake dyes. You’ll likely want to use more mica than lake dye as micas are less potent; remove any additional amount of mica from the distilled water.
The hydroxyethylcellulose was gifted by Essential Wholesale.