I’ve been having a ton of fun making lip oil formulations this year, and today I’m finally sharing three of my favourite formulations starring a new-to-me ingredient that I’m low-key obsessed with. These are super easy to stir up (no heating required!) and are a lovely way to moisturize your lips and add a bit of shine. Let’s get started!
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What is a lip oil?
Lip oils are anhydrous lip moisturizers; I like to think of them as a serum for the lips 😘 Lip oils look a lot like lip glosses, but tend to feature more skincare ingredients for benefits like soothing and moisturizing rather than focussing on shine/gloss. Lip oils are often lighter and less tacky than lip glosses, which means they don’t usually stick around as long as a tacky lip gloss would. I’d say lip oils are sort of like a middle ground between lip balms and lip glosses: they’re treated more like lip balms in terms of what they’re used for (moisturizing dry lips), but have an application and look that’s closer to lip gloss (a liquid product in a wand or squeeze tube).
What are the key parts of a lip oil formulation?
There are two essential parts of a lip oil formulation: the oily part (generally a blend of carrier oils), and the part that thickens the oily part and boosts richness so the product feels substantial and effective. If you’ve ever tried putting straight oil on your lips you’ll know it’s not a terribly appealing sensation—it reminds me of having just eaten a slice of greasy pizza 😕
Once you’ve got those two parts sorted, you can also add all kinds of lip-safe, anhydrous goodies to your formulation. Ideas include Tocopherol (Vitamin E), oil-soluble formats of vitamin C like Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, botanical extracts, flavour and essential oils, Hilurlip®, and colourants.
The oily part
You can have a lot of fun with this part! I’ve really enjoyed choosing richer, heavier oils for lip oil formulations to give them some great moisturizing power. You can also have fun with oils that smell nice (like cranberry oil!) and colourful oils (like sea buckthorn fruit oil). I’ve seen esters like isoamyl laurate and isopropyl myristate in store-bought lip oils, and many feature unique, fancy oils like cherry kernel oil, rosehip oil, and hazelnut oil.
The richness & viscosity boosting part
There are lots of options for this part of the formulation, but only a few of them are available to small makers. You’ll often see two or more thickening/richness-boosting ingredients in a lip oil formulation. Here are some I’ve seen in commercially available lip oils:
- Polyglyceryl-2 Isostearate/Dimer Dilinoleate Copolymer (example)
- Oleic/Linoleic/Linolenic Polyglycerides (example)
- Pentaerythrityl Tetraisostearate (example)
- Capryloyl glycerin/sebacic acid copolymer (example)
- Polybutene (example)
- Versagel® ME 750 (INCI: Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, Ethylene/Propylene/Styrene Copolymer, Butylene/Ethylene/Styrene Copolymer) (example)
Out of these, the last two are the only ones I’ve found for sale at DIY supply shops. I’ve also used Polyamide-3 as the thickening/richness-boosting ingredient in a lip oil formulation, though I haven’t seen that in any of the ingredient lists I’ve looked at.
Today’s formulations will use polybutene to thicken them and add the lovely richness that makes a lip oil feel like a luxurious skincare product rather than excess salad dressing on your mouth. I’m absolutely in love with the cushiony, luxurious skin feel this ingredient brings to the table. Undiluted, polybutene reminds me of glossy honey, only it’s water-repellent, crystal clear, and oily instead of water-soluble. It’s really sticky on its own, but once it’s mixed with other anhydrous ingredients that tackiness drops off and it adds fabulous richness and staying power. I’m in love. Once I started working with it I noticed it everywhere. It’s in all kinds of high-end lip products, and I can understand why.
The polybutene I have is from TKB Trading, and so far that’s the only place I’ve found it for sale. If you’re looking elsewhere, be sure you’re getting cosmetic grade polybutene as it does have industrial applications.
My polybutene really thick and will pick up some bubbles as you stir these formulations together, but those bubbles will vanish it a day or so. That inability to suspend air bubbles also means polybutene won’t suspend micas, dyes, or pigments—I tried and ended up with tubes of crystal clear liquid with a layer of pink dust on the bottom of the tube. So, these formulations don’t include any added colour. If you want to incorporate colour I’d look at swapping some of the polybutene (~30–50%) for Versagel® ME 750, which is much better at suspending things. The inability of polybutene to suspend ingredients means you’ll also want to avoid unrefined oils that have a tendency to sediment/settle over time, as they’ll do that in your lip oil as well.
If you don’t have polybutene you could try Versagel® ME 750 instead. If you don’t have that, I’d recommend looking at ingredient lists for different lip oils for inspiration. Different ingredients are available in different countries, so you might be able to source something I haven’t had a chance to try!
Substitutions that might work
All of these substitutions will require some level of re-development. Good luck 🙂
- Ingredients you find used in commercially available lip oils (examples include Polyglyceryl-2 Isostearate/Dimer Dilinoleate Copolymer, Oleic/Linoleic/Linolenic Polyglycerides, Pentaerythrityl Tetraisostearate, and Capryloyl glycerin/sebacic acid copolymer).
- I’ve used Polyamide-3 to make lip oil in the past; it requires a compatible solvent (castor oil would be my top choice for lip oils). Check out this formulation for an idea of where to start.
- Sucragel is worth a try. You’ll need to make sure you blend everything together properly—you can’t simply stir everything together. I shared a cleansing gel formulation that uses it a few years ago; that could be a decent starting point.
- Brassica Campestris Aleurites Fordi Oil Copolymer might work, but it will colour the finished product.
- Lanolin could potentially work? Call this one a pretty heavy might.
- You’re basically looking for an ingredient that boosts richness and viscosity in anhydrous formulations and won’t settle out. Ideally it won’t opacify the mixture either. If you don’t have any of the ingredients I’ve discussed here you’ll need to start your own search (and research) based on what you can get.
Substitutions that won’t work
- True waxes and fatty thickeners. Not only will these ingredients opacify the formulation, but they also have a tendency to settle out/seperate if used at levels intended to boost viscosity without creating a product that is at least a soft solid. Butters also won’t work well for similar reasons.
- Water-soluble gelling ingredient like xanthan gum or hydroxyethylcellulose won’t work as these formulations are entirely oil based—a gum will remain a powder and sink to the bottom.
- Cyclopentasiloxane-based silicone gel: I don’t recommend this as it’s very lightweight and dries quickly, which is the opposite of what we want here.
How do we make these lip oils?
All three formulations are cold processed—simply stir everything together until you have a uniform mixture and you’re done! I love how the cold-processable nature of these formulations frees us up to use more delicate oils like hemp seed oil and rosehip oil. I’d typically be hesitant to use high concentrations of these oils in a lip balm formulation due to the heat required to melt the wax, but that’s not a worry with these formulations!
Since polybutene is really sticky, I recommend working with Disposable Mini Mixing Cups if you have them—they make for easy pouring and easy clean up! It’s also a good idea to keep some paper towels and a mister bottle of high-proof rubbing alcohol around to clean up messes.
Lip Oil #1: Refreshing Blackberry & Mint
This is the lightest and simplest of the three formulations, with a focus on rich blackberry oil and refreshing peppermint essential oil. The blackberry oil adds a fun green colour to the formulation, too!
Refreshing Blackberry & Mint Lip Oil
Lip Oil #2: Luxurious Rosehip & Squalane
Formulation #2 features luxurious rosehip oil and lightweight olive squalane, with added oil-soluble vitamin C (Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate) to help boost collagen synthesis. Hilurlip® adds some hyaluronic acid and peptides to hydrate and plump the lips.
Luxurious Rosehip & Squalane Lip Oil
5g | 50% polybutene (USA)
1g | 10% olive squalane (USA / Canada)
3.5g | 35% rosehip oil
0.1g | 1% Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate [Oil Soluble Vitamin C] (USA)
0.2g | 2% Vitamin E MT-50 (USA / Canada)
0.1g | 1% green apple flavour oil
0.1g | 1% Hilurlip®
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Lip Oil #3: Rich & Soothing Oat
This is the richest formulation; I’d say it’s starting to flirt with being more of a lip gloss than a lip oil, but it’s still got good skincare benefits. Rich oat oil and oat extract star, and the yellow colour inspired me to use a pineapple flavour oil. Yum!
Rich & Soothing Oat Lip Oil
- You can play with the carrier oil blends—have fun! I recommend avoiding unrefined oils that tend to sediment/settle out over time as those will settle out in the lip oil as well.
- If you don’t have any of the fancy ingredients—extracts, Hilurlip, etc.—simply replace them with more carrier oil.
- I recommend keeping the vitamin E to extend the shelf life of these formulations.
- You can use any lip-safe essential oil or flavour oil in these formulations.
- If you don’t have polybutene you’ll be in re-development territory; just far into re-development territory will depend on what you’re able to source as an alternative thickening/richness-boosting ingredient. I’ve written a lot more about potential options earlier in this post; please read all that, research what you’re able to get, and have fun!
What is the shelf life of these lip oils?
Because these formulations do not contain any water, they don’t require a broad-spectrum preservative (broad spectrum preservatives ward off microbial growth, and microbes require water to live—no water, no microbes!). I have used some more delicate/unstable oils, but I’ve included antioxidants to help extend their shelf life. Kept reasonably cool and dry, these lip oils should last at least a year before any of the oils go rancid. If you notice any of them start to smell like old nuts or crayons, that’s a sign that the oils have begun to oxidize; chuck it out and make a fresh batch if that happens.
How can I scale these formulations up or down?
How should I package these lip oils?
I recommend either a tube with a wand or a squeezey lip gloss tube. These formulations are liquid, so they won’t do well in a twist-up lip balm tube or a jar.
How should I use lip oil?
Use lip oil as you’d use a lip balm or a lip gloss. Apply it whenever your lips need a bit of a moisturizing boost; lip oils work beautifully when used alone or on top of a lip colour.
How can I continue to play with these formulations?
Here are some ideas:
- Try different carrier oils
- Experiment with different concentrations of polybutene
- Experiment with a blend of polybutene and Versagel® ME 750 to thicken & add richness
- Try different lip safe oil-soluble actives
- Use colourful carrier oils to colour the lip oils
Relevant links & further reading
- Polybutene in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Tocopherol (Vitamin E) in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Blackberry Seed Oil in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Rosehip Oil in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Olive Squalane in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Oat Oil in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- How long will ______ last? What is its shelf life? in the Humblebee & Me FAQ
- A Guide to Carrier Oil Substitutions
- Other lip formulations:
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The squeezy lip gloss tubes were gifted by YellowBee.
The polybutene, green apple flavour oil, and pineapple flavour oil were gifted by TKB Trading. Links to TKB Trading are affiliate links.
The blackberry seed oil and rosehip oil were gifted by Plant’s Power.
The squalane was gifted by Essential Wholesale.
The oat oil and oat extract were gifted by Bramble Berry.
The peppermint essential oil and oil soluble vitamin C were gifted by Simply Ingredients.
Links to Amazon are affiliate links.