I’m pretty stoked to share today’s project with you—it’s a Cranberry Orange Conditioner Bar that I’ve been working on for months. Satiny cranberry seed oil, ultra-conditioning BTMS-50, shine-ifying hydrolyzed silk, and beautiful sweet orange essential oil come together to create a gorgeous solid hair conditioner bar that’ll leave your hair super soft and combable, and it’ll last forever (well, maybe not forever, but many months). It makes a beautiful gift and pairs perfectly with my White Chocolate Peppermint Shampoo Bar!
Want to watch this project instead of reading it?
The initial inspiration for this particular formula was a sample formulation from Dow for a “Zen Conditioner Bar” that I found on UL Prospector. The thing about this formulation that really caught my eye was the inclusion of some water. Including water in something that’s supposed to be straight-up solid seemed a bit counterintuitive at first, but I tried it and it is awesome. I noticed zero difference in the hardness of the final bar (I still managed to create several versions that were so hard they felt like running an eraser through my hair, ha). The inclusion of some water gives us a solvent for the water-soluble powders (the dye, silk, and panthenol), blooms the water-soluble dye, and also conveniently eliminates the funny ripply/wavy top water-free conditioner bars develop as they set up. Hooray!
The original sample formulation used BTMS-25, which is what I started with (I’ll probably share that version next year!), but I decided I wanted to switch to BTMS-50 as it’s an ingredient I use more often, so I figured you guys would be more likely to have it. Making the swap from 25 to 50 required several iterations (see the mention of hair erasers in the last paragraph, ha) as I worked to balance hardness and melting point to create something I loved. Ariane gifted me one of her solid conditioner bars back in May at the HSCG conference, and it is gorgeous! One of the things I love about her bar compared to the ones I’ve made in the past is how creamy it is, so I aimed to make this bar a wee bit softer for some extra creaminess (thanks for the inspiration, Ariane!). If you’d rather buy a conditioner bar than make one Ariane has them for sale in her shop 🙂
The heated phase of this conditioner bar is all of our oily things. BTMS-50 is both our conditioner and our emulsifier, bringing its wonderful ultra-slippy, hair-loving goodness to the party. Cetearyl alcohol provides structure to the bar as well as offering softening and slip to the hair. Mango butter and cranberry seed oil are our “fun fats”—I love mango butter’s ultra-lightweight feel, and cranberry seed oil is all kinds of velvety and adds a lovely fruity/tangy note to the finished conditioner bar.
Our secondary phase is a bit funny—I was originally referring to it as the “cool down” phase as it isn’t directly heated, but it does get a lot more heat exposure than a cool down phase usually would, so I re-named it. It could also be the water phase, but it’s got our essential oil in it. Anywho, name fiddling aside, this phase contains a titch of water-soluble dye (for colour, of course) and some hydrolyzed silk to add shine and bounce to the hair. Panthenol (vitamin B5) helps soften hair and reduce static. Some orange essential oil rounds out our scent blend (it combines beautifully with the natural scent of cranberry seed oil), and Optiphen™ Plus keeps the whole lot preserved.
In a bit of awesomeness inspired by the sample formulation, the secondary phase includes a small amount of distilled water. Now, because this secondary/water/not-quite-cool-down phase was going to be added to a bunch of hot oily things, it needed to be close to the same temperature so it would combine with the melted fats rather than just seize up into a solid blob thanks to the temperature differential. To achieve this I heat some distilled water alongside the fats, and then quickly weigh the correct amount into the secondary phase before combining everything and pouring the bar. I’ve made at least 7 conditioner bars this way in the last 6 months and they’ve all come together beautifully and been stable for months in the shower.
When it comes to drying times, I find two to three days (48–72 hours) is about the sweet spot for the amount of water lost vs. the time required to lose it. My bars typically lost about 0.6–0.7% of their weight in the first 24 hours, ~1.2% in 72 hours, and 2% in 192 hours (8 days). Two to three days gets us in the 1% range, and I’ve found bars used after 48–72 hours of ageing don’t feel any different than ones aged for weeks once they get into the shower.
The finished Cranberry Orange Conditioner Bar is a cherry orange, smells great, and glides over the hair beautifully, leaving it silky and conditioned. I’m a huge fan of this new & improved conditioner bar formulation, and I hope you will be as well!
Want to watch this project instead of reading it?
Cranberry Orange Conditioner Bar
0.005g | 0.01% orange water soluble dye
1.00g | 2% hydrolyzed silk
0.75g | 1.5% panthenol powder (vitamin B5)
0.50g | 0.99% orange essential oil or fragrance of choice
0.50g | 1% Optiphen™ Plus (USA / Canada)
2.25g | 4.5% distilled water
Preheat your oven to 200°F/93°C. You’ll need three heat-resistant beakers or glass measuring cups for this project.
Weigh the heated phase ingredients into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup or beaker. Pour some distilled water (I used about 40mL for a 50g [1.76oz] batch) into a second beaker or heat resistant glass measuring cup. The amount of water isn’t really important as we’ll be weighing it out later once it’s hot—just make sure you have enough water in there that it’s not all going to evaporate in the oven while you heat it up.
Place both beakers on a baking tray and pop that in your preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until the oil mixture has melted through and the water is nice and hot.
While the heated phase is heating up/melting, weigh the secondary phase ingredients into that third beaker. Chances are good that your scale cannot weigh out the 0.01% for the dye—mine certainly can’t! Watch the video to see the teensy speck of dye I used and the end colour I got. I recommend wearing gloves while weighing out the dye as it is very potent and will stain your skin. At this point, it’s also a good idea to get your mould ready and clear out a spot in your freezer (or on your porch if it happens to be below freezing out!) that is large enough for the filled mould to rest flat.
Once the heated phase is melted/hot, we’re ready to combine everything. We want to move quickly at this point, so be sure you know exactly what you need to do and you have everything at hand before you remove the tray from the oven. REMEMBER! The things that were in the oven will be hot. Make sure you are wearing oven mitts whenever you touch them!
Remove the heated phase from the oven. Weigh the correct amount of pre-heated distilled water into the secondary phase and whisk to combine. Once that mixture is uniform, add it to the melted BTMS/oils mixture and stir to combine. Once that is uniform, pour it into your mould and freeze until solid (at least half an hour). When the bar is solid, gently unmould it and leave it to dry for at least two days before using it.
To use, simply glide the bar over wet hair after shampooing, leave it in for a minute or two (I usually shave my legs in that time), and rinse clean. That’s it! I recommend storing the bar somewhere it can drain and dry out between uses; I have a wire rack in my shower that works beautifully.
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this conditioner contains water and will frequently be in contact with water, you must include a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth. This is non-optional. Even with a preservative, this project may eventually spoil as our kitchens are not sterile laboratories, so in the event that 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 50g, which is a good-sized conditioner bar that will likely last a single person close to a year.
- To learn more about the ingredients used in this recipe, 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.
- I don’t recommend swapping out the BTMS-50 or cetearyl alcohol. If you do, you will be in re-development territory as the biggest challenge in conditioner bar development is balancing the melting point/hardness of the bar, and those two ingredients are 60% of the formulation and have a huge impact on the melting point/hardness.
- You could try a different soft butter instead of mango butter.
- You could use a different liquid oil instead of cranberry seed oil, but the whole theme here is cranberry orange so it does defeat the point a bit 🙂
- For the dye:
- You can eliminate it and round up the essential oil
- You could use a lake dye or mica instead. If you use a mica you’ll likely want to use more (I’d start with 0.5% and remove the extra % from the cranberry seed oil) and you’ll need to stir the liquid conditioner until it’s gained a bit of viscosity before pouring it so the mica doesn’t settle out as the bar hardens.
- You can use a different hydrolyzed protein, like quinoa or rice bran, instead of the silk. This change will make the formula vegan.
- If you’re like to use a different preservative, please review this page. I selected Optiphen Plus because of its high heat tolerance; keep that in mind when choosing alternatives.