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.
I wrote a post all about curdling body wash!
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 (USA / Canada)
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
Cool down phase
0.70g | 0.5% Liquid Germall Plus™ (USA / Canada)
1.4g |1% fir essential oil
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.
I’ve has the separation thing happen to me so often. I found that using FO/EO Modifier from Wholesale Supply Plus makes the separation not happen also.
But I am so happy that someone can finally tell me why it happens. Thank you!
I’m not alone! Were you using HEC as well? What was your surfactant blend? You should try doing a with/without benzyl benzoate test and see if that was the issue for you as well. I so badly want to figure out why this happens! I will investigate the modifier as well. Hmmmm.
I used your recipe to the letter and my bodywas separated. I don’t understand why. I didn’t use any fo, I used hydrosol for fragrance. Any ideas why this happened? I think I will just use crothix next time.
Hmm, strange. Have you read this post on my assorted experiments/failures developing this body wash? Does anything in there sound familiar? I can’t recall if I tried it with a hydrosol… which one did you try?
The formulation with xanath gum in place of the HEC, is it clear as well?
So many people want things unscented. Could this be made fragrance free? TIA
Yes; pretty much anything can be made unscented (expecting products like tiger balm where the essential oils are the active ingredients). In this recipe simply replace the fragrance or essential oil with more water. Happy making!
For Canadians who might be wondering where to get the ingredient, Les ames fleurs sells it online!
Thank you so much! I’ve already updated the post with a link for everyone up here 🙂
Thank you Marie for your wonderful blog and all the fun info. Can’t wait to try making this.
Thanks so much, Elisabeth! Happy making 🙂
Would not heating the HEC and leaving it overnight to thicken work too?
This can vary with the precise hydroxyethylcellulose you have; try it and see 🙂
I’ve been eyeing the preneutralized carbomer for quite awhile now. It’s a carbomer that doesn’t need pH adjusting. Will that work here too? I don’t want to get a separate ingredient just for shower gels haha. Btw I admire how you spend time to isolate the variable for the blobbiness (is that a word:P) Thanks for another great recipe!
Hey! I assume you’re talking about Sepimax Zen? If so, it sounds like it should work well, even doing the lather amplifying of the HEC. Let me know if you try it and how it goes!
I was referring to the sodium carbomer/preneutralized carbomer sold by lotioncrafter https://lotioncrafter.com/products/sodium-carbomer-preneutralized-carbomer
I’m thinking of using it to create water-based eye gels but it would be amazing if it could double as surfactant geller
Good morning Marie’s Fan!
I have used this product whilst living in China as an eye gel! It provided some wickedly cushiony sensations! Did you experiment with using it as a surfactant geller?
Could you use some chamomile or spruce hydrosol or similar in place of some of the distilled water?
Definitely! Great idea 🙂 As long as there’s no danged benzyl benzoate, LOL (there shouldn’t be, it’s oil soluble). Let me know how it turns out!
I just wanted to let you know I’ve added 1 g of crothix to my batch of fir bodywash .
It immediately became thicker and the slippery feel of the hec disappeared, which I found marvelous! The thickness was probably possible due to a small amount of slsa I added, which lowered the pH.
So I have used your recipe and tweeked it a bit, but hey thanks for your wonderful work!
Beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing the results of your experiments, and for DIYing with me! Happy making 🙂
do you think this could be thicken with salt?
It should work, but the HEC really does amplify the lather and is a pretty large part of the function of the body wash. It would be sad to lose it.
I’m sure you are right but alas i do not have any HEC. Maybe I should add it to my Santa list.
I definitely recommend it! Or, if somewhere you shop already carries it toss an ounce or so into your cart the next time you’re placing an order for other things 🙂
Hi Marie, I have to thank you because I believe you saved me from a huge headache I’ve had for the past few days:). Now, I made a similar recipe to this only it was supposed to be a face fash. Everything worked great until the very end when I added cedarwood EO and Cosgard, the preservative. The gel had a nice smell of roses (due to hydrosol) and lovely color. Noone seemed to know why HEC reacted until I found this post. Cosgard contains benzyl alcohol, so I assume it’s the same reaction as with benzyl benzoate (the gel smells far from roses now and the color is now a depressing shade of purple)? Can you recommend a few different preservative (ideally also ecocert)? Thanks a million!
Isn’t it neat that one can find the root of a problem when you do stuff at home? And it sucks that your wash turned colour! Personally, I am a huge fan of Liquid Germall Plus due to its stability with various ingredients, and it’s ability to tolerate a large scale of phs.
I’m really interested in making a liquid bubble bath. Will this formula work as bubble bath?
Yes! I made sooooo much of this stuff while I was working on the benzyl benzoate thing and it makes a pretty dang awesome bubble bath 🙂
Hi Marie! I’m so happy the question about buble bath was here, that is what I am trying to do with this recipes, I only have one dilemma, how would I go about making these batches larger to fill up keuka bottles for bubble bath? TIA
I’ve got a whole post on this 🙂
Hello Marie, I love making your products! They are wonderful! My question is, I want to make the Christmas Tree Body Wash, but I do not have the Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside. I do have SurfPro CC-6(PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides). Can I use it instead and if so how much should I use in your recipe? I looked at the recommended usage & was wondering if I should use the maximum amt. of 5%?
Have you checked out this link? Don’t forget to always look at the encyclopedia if you are planning to make swaps!
Pls Marie if I want to add papain powder, Kojic Acid, and lactic acid to get a brightening body wash at what phase do I need to add them? TIA
Check out this post in my FAQ 🙂
Hi Marie, I tried this recipe with all the same except I used lavender essential oil and it separated. On looking into the essential oil it did not list benzoyl benzoate but another article i found states that many essential oils contain another benzyl ingredient. I tried it again without any ess oil and it did not separate. However I’m wondering about my HEC. I got it from Windy Point and it is not white but a very cream colour. The amount you used (2%) thickened very rapidly to very thick with low heat and it appears like not all dissolved. Much thicker than your video. The bubbles did not clear and it even looks like there is small particles in suspension or very tiny bubbles throughout. I did not use any colourant. When I used it I did not get much foaming. Is it possible my HEC is not the same? I need some facial cleansing gel and will try using less than called for. any ideas?
Hi I tried this with decyl glucoside and capb with hec, I didn’t add any eo/fo but could see little seperation as some part of bodywash remains watery rather than gel. What could be the issue does aloe juice causes the seperation I added a little aloe juice too
I’d pretty sure it’s the surfactant change; you can read this for more information 🙂
Hi Marie, thank you for the wonderful formulation. My product separated as well. I’m trying to figure out what caused it. I used orange 5-fold essential oil and according to GCMS provided by distributor, it does not contain benzyl Benzoate. I also used mica for colorant. I heated the beaker got only 10 minutes, because it already started to thicken. What it a mistake on my side to remove it from heat so soon? I can definitely omit the mica but I want to keep essential oil. Can blending help? Thank you for your help and for your wonderful website and blog. Eira
Hmmm. Perhaps a read through this post will spark some ideas?
Hi Marie! just wondering if there is anything on preventing the gel from turning cloudy/white? It seems when I try some of my fragrances the whole thing just goes white. Would an emulsifier be needed in this case?
It sounds like you may need more solubilizer for the fragrances you are using—the Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside in this is the solubilizer. You can learn more here. You could also use less fragrance 🙂 Happy making!
Hi Marie, thank you for this article! I’m having the same problem. I opt out the Geranium FO in my shampoo formula and it turns out better! However it still split. After reading your post https://www.humblebeeandme.com/the-tale-of-the-curdling-body-wash/, I noticed that perhaps my decyl and coco glucoside causing the split? Do you recommend to switch these two with capryl glucoside?
I just finished making this. Its great, but mine has nearly no bubbles. It does feel soapy and nice ?? My CCG in called “plantasol”from The Herbarie. Maybe I could just use it as a facial cleanser? I used fir essential oil.
I know that this post is a few years old, but is there a list somewhere of which EOs contain benzyl benzoate? I have Googled and not been able to find a comprehensive list. I used lemongrass which doesn’t have it listed and mine separated. The ones I can easily find are rosewood, ylang-ylang, benzoin and cinnamon. Nothing that resembles citrus. My preservative is marked as not containing it as an allergen.
There isn’t; you’ll have to check the data sheets for each essential oil and fragrance oil you’re considering using. You might enjoy the post I shared yesterday; it has lots of helpful information on using essential oils safely ❤️ Happy making!
I love this formula and I’ve tried it out with the same ingredients listed. But before getting the chance to add any cool down ingredients my formula had gel blobs. Since it’s not the essential oils or the like, I thought perhaps it just wasn’t enough whisking but even after electric whisking it still seems to have the gel blobs…. only smaller. Shall I continue whisking? Shall I use it as dish soap and start again haha.
Hmmm. What’s the pH? Does anything in this post sound familiar?
I missed this somehow. Thank you I’ll try it again and let you know