If you’ve been wanting to dive into making your very own easy natural lotion, start here! This post is the first in a series on how to create your very own lotions. Today I’ll teach you how to make a basic lotion, and in upcoming posts I’ll teach you how to customize it (and any other lotion, really!) in all kinds of different ways (thicker, thinner, richer, lighter, and more!). Every instalment in this series will have both a blog post and a video to ensure I’m sharing as much information as possible; please make sure you go through both parts of each instalment to get the full benefit of this free series ❤️ Let’s dive in!

How to Make Easy Natural Lotion

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What is lotion?

Lotion is a type of skincare product that is designed to moisturize and hydrate the skin; I’d say they’re one of the most common skincare products out there. They are emulsified products, containing both oil and water. Lotions can vary in richness and viscosity (thicker, richer lotions are often called “creams”). They can contain a variety of actives and other ingredients to perform jobs above and beyond moisturizing—jobs like soothing, brightening, and even adding a bit of sparkle.

The finished Easy Natural Lotion.

The Phases

If you’re a baker, you’ll be familiar with the idea of phases—most cake recipes, for instance, will have a “wet” (eggs, milk, oil, etc.) and “dry” (flour, baking powder, salt, etc.) phase. Skincare formulations are also divided into phases; in a hot-processed emulsion three phases are standard: heated water, heated oil, cool down. The size of each phase is calculated by adding up the percentages of all the ingredients in that phase.

Heated Water Phase

The heated water phase is where we put all the water soluble ingredients that aren’t heat sensitive. In this formulation it’s distilled water and our humectant. Other ingredients that end up in the heated water phase include hydrosols, heat-stable actives like panthenol (Vitamin B5), and water-soluble dyes.

Heated Oil Phase

This phase is where we include oil soluble ingredients that aren’t heat sensitive. In this formulation it’s our carrier oil and emulsifier. Other ingredients that go in the heated oil phase include butters (like shea butter and cocoa butter), fatty thickeners (like cetyl alcohol and stearic acid), and esters (like C12-15 alkyl benzoate and isoamyl laurate).

Cool Down Phase

This is the phase where add all the ingredients in the formulation that are heat sensitive; in this formulation it’s our preservative. We’ve hit cool down phase time when the temperature is below 40°C (104°F). If you don’t have a thermometer, no worries—40°C is about the temperature of a hot tub or hot bath, so if the outside of your beaker/measuring cup feels cooler than that (I usually aim for “only slightly warm” or cooler), you’re good to go.

Ingredients that usually go in the cool down phase include preservatives, essential oils, fragrance oils, extracts, and many actives. We generally want to keep the cool down phase to 10% or less as adding too much to the emulsion after it has been formed can compromise stability.

Fall 2022: Want to learn more about natural lotion formulation? Formula Botanica is currently offering a free formulation masterclass that will teach you about using natural actives and more! You can sign up here 🙂

The Ingredients for this Easy Natural Lotion

Distilled water

Distilled water forms the bulk of this formulation (and most other lotion formulations!). It functions as a solvent, a diluent, and a hydrator. A high percentage of water is why emulsified lotions feel so much lighter than anhydrous formulations like body butters and body oils.

We choose distilled water for formulating as it’s one fewer variable in our formulations. Distilled water has been distilled, removing the minerals or metal ions that you typically find in tap or well water, so it’s just water. Learn more about the different waters used in formulating by clicking here! I buy my distilled water at the grocery store in 4L jugs for $2–3CAD.

Substitutions

If you cannot get distilled water, tap water is generally fine if you have no other options (assuming your tap water is pretty boring; well water can be too “interesting” to be a great choice for formulating). You can also distill your own water.

Learn more: The ingredient overview in 2021’s “Super Simple Natural Lotion”

Sodium lactate

Sodium Lactate performs two roles in this formulation. Firstly, it’s a fabulous, non-sticky humectant that helps moisturize the skin (it has over twice the water-holding capacity of glycerin!) and prevent the lotion from drying out if you accidentally leave the lid/cap off. Secondly, it helps keep the pH of this emulsion where we want it to be without the need for adjusting. I’ve found that using sodium lactate in this formulation results in a final pH that is reliably in the 5.25–5.5 range. I’m using a 60% solution of sodium lactate; this is the most common format of liquid sodium lactate I’ve found for cosmetics. At 5% usage rate, this equals 3% pure sodium lactate in the formulation. If yours is a different concentration you’ll need to adjust the amount you use to keep that final concentration the same; there are more details in the Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia entry on sodium lactate.

Substitutions

  • You’ll need a different humectant.
  • Vegetable glycerin will work, though the final pH tends to be a bit more acidic (closer to 5).
  • Propanediol 1,3 and propylene glycol will also work. I suspect the pH would be similar to what it is with glycerin, but I haven’t checked.

Ritamulse SCG

Ritamulse SCG (also sold as Emulsimulse and ECOMulse) is our all-natural emulsifying wax. I love Ritamulse SCG for its fabulous (silky, powdery) skin feel; I think it makes nicer-feeling lotions than many other emulsifying waxes, and it’s far less prone to soaping than popular natural alternatives like Olivem1000 and Montanov 68.

The amount of Ritamulse SCG required for this formulation (and any emulsion formulation) is determined by the amount of oil in the formulation. I go into more detail on how to calculate that in this post & partner video, but a good rule of thumb is you’ll need 1% of Ritamulse SCG for every 3–5% oil (this includes liquid oils, butters, fatty thickeners, esters, and waxes). If you increase the amount of oil, you’ll need to increase the amount of emulsifier. If you decrease the amount of oil, decrease the emulsifier accordingly.

Watch to learn more: Ritamulse SCG Ingredient Deep-Dive

Substitutions

  • You’ll need a different complete, self-thickening emulsifying wax.
  • Olivem 1000 and Montanov 68 will work, though both soap much more than Ritamulse SCG does.
  • I don’t recommend PolyAquol-2W due to its sensitivity to electrolytes (sodium lactate contains electrolytes).
  • Plantasens® HE20 should work, though my experience with this emulsifier is quite limited.
  • Emulsifying Wax NF and Polawax will work, though they are not natural.
  • Montanov™ 202 and Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate can work, but you’ll need to use less and introduce a thickener. Read this post for guidelines on how to use a non-thickening emulsifier instead of a self-thickening one.

Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT aka Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride)

Medium Chain Triglycerides (also known as “MCT” and “Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride”) is our emollient; the ingredient that adds richness to the lotion. I chose it for this formulation because it’s lightweight, relatively inexpensive, and has a very long shelf life.

Another advantage of MCT; thanks to the popularity of “keto” diets, you can usually buy it at the grocery store now (though it’s usually a lot more expensive than buying it from a cosmetic supply shop)

Substitutions

Learn More: A Guide to Carrier Oil Substitutions

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Euxyl™ k 903

This is our natural preservative; it keeps the lotion from turning into a mouldy mess! This is essential because this formulation contains water. Euxyl™ k 903 is made of benzyl alcohol, benzoic acid, dehydroacetic acid, and tocopherol. I’ve found it to be a relatively easy-to-work with natural preservative—in fact, it might be my new favourite natural preservative! Unlike Geogard Ultra™ and Geogard® ECT, this preservative doesn’t cause the pH of our formulations to plummet quite as much. This reduces the chances you’ll need to upwards-adjust the pH, and also reduces the chances that the pH will become so acidic that the emulsion fails (Ritamulse SCG stops working around a pH of 4).

Substitutions

  • Broadly speaking, you’ll need another broad spectrum preservative. Please review this chart and this FAQ for more information.
    • I have found that Euxyl™ k 903 causes a noticeable viscosity drop in the emulsion, so if you use a different preservative you may end up with a thicker final product.
  • The easiest substitution I can recommend is Liquid Germall™ Plus, though this preservative is not natural. It works across a broad pH range, so it is a good choice if you cannot get ahold of any pH strips or a pH meter.
  • Optiphen Plus will also work, though it is not considered natural.
  • You could use Geogard Ultra™, but in my opinion using this preservative will pull this formulation out of “beginner” territory. This is because Geogard Ultra™ causes the pH to drop enough that the emulsion can fail. This can be worked around with the use of a base (like a 10% NaOH solution) to compensate, followed by testing and adjusting the pH if required, but I won’t be going into details on how to do that in this beginner formulation.
  • If you’d like to use use Geogard® ECT I’d encourage you to make my Super Simple Natural Lotion from 2021 instead; it uses Ritamulse SCG and Geogard® ECT.

Fall 2022: Want to learn more about natural lotion formulation? Formula Botanica is currently offering a free formulation masterclass that will teach you about using natural actives and more! You can sign up here 🙂

The Equipment

The equipment you’ll need to make this easy natural lotion is fairly simple and very versatile. Even if you’ve never formulated before, there’s a good chance you have most of it!

To learn more about each of these items (why you need them, what to consider when purchasing, and what I recommend), please read through these two blog posts:

Relevant links & further reading

The Formulation

Easy Natural Lotion for Beginners

Heated water phase
74g | 74% distilled water
5g | 5% sodium lactate (USA / Canada)

Heated oil phase
5g | 5% Ritamulse SCG (USA / Canada / UK / AU)
15g | 15% medium chain triglycerides (USA / Canada / UK / Aus / NZ)

Cool down phase
1g | 1% Euxyl™ k 903 (USA / EU)

Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a wide, flat-bottomed sauté pan.

Weigh the heated water phase into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup or glass beaker. Weigh the entire lot (measuring cup + ingredients) and note that weight for use later.

Weigh the heated oil phase into a second heat-resistant glass measuring cup.

Place both measuring cups in your prepared water bath to melt everything through.

After about 20–30 minutes the oil part should be completely melted and the water part should be thoroughly dissolved.

Remove the water bath from the heat and weigh the water phase. Add enough hot distilled water to the heated water phase to bring the weight back up to what it was before heating, and then pour the water part into the oil part. Stir with a flexible silicone spatula to incorporate.

Grab your immersion blender and begin blending the lotion, starting with short bursts so the still-very-liquid lotion doesn’t whirl up and spray everywhere.

  • Blend for about 1 minute
  • Hand stir constantly until you notice some thick bits coming up on the spatula (another minute or two)
  • Blend for another 20–30 seconds; the lotion should be noticeably thicker after this second blending.
  • Hand stir occasionally until the outside of the glass measuring cup is just warm to the touch (40°C or cooler, if you have a thermometer).

Now it’s time to incorporate our cool down phase. Because we only need 1g of our preservative, and it’s very potent (so we don’t want to accidentally use more), you’ll need to use an accurate scale—preferably one accurate to 0.01g. As these more accurate scales tend to have fairly low (100–200g) maximum weights, you likely won’t be able to put the entire batch of lotion on that scale without blowing it out. If that’s the case, grab a smaller dish or beaker. Weigh the cool down phase (the preservative) into that, add a scoop or two of lotion, and then stir to thoroughly incorporate. Once that lotion/preservative mixture is smooth and uniform, stir it into the master batch of lotion. Doing it this way minimizes the amount of cool down ingredients lost to the secondary container.

The last step before packaging the lotion is testing the pH to ensure it’s in a good range for our skin, our preservative, and our emulsifier. A range of 4.5–5.5 is good. 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. 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 5.25–5.5 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 the cool down phase has been incorporated, all that’s left to do is package up your easy natural lotion!

This emulsion is thin enough to be packaged in a pump-top bottle or soft squeeze tube. It’s a bit thin for a jar, though that will work in a pinch (just be careful not to spill!). This batch is approximately 100mL (3.3fl oz), so you’ll want to use a package that is that size or a bit bigger. I used a 120mL aluminum bottle with a black pump top from YellowBee (gifted) for mine.

Fall 2022: Want to learn more about natural lotion formulation? Formula Botanica is currently offering a free formulation masterclass that will teach you about using natural actives and more! You can sign up here 🙂

Further questions

How long will this easy natural lotion last?

This lotion should last at least a year, assuming you:

  • Use relatively fresh ingredients
  • Ensure the pH is suitable for the preservative
  • Keep things clean while you’re formulating
  • Don’t grossly contaminate the lotion as you’re storing it and using it (don’t spit in it, stir in a couple spoonfuls of soup, etc.)

How will I know if this easy natural lotion has spoiled?

Signs of microbial spoilage (which means the preservative has failed) include viscosity changes, colour changes, scent changes, and the appearance of mould. If you notice any of these signs, throw the lotion away!

Over time, the oil in the lotion will oxidize, and the lotion will start to smell like old crayons. This is inevitable (and not dangerous), but also a sign of spoilage. Throw out the lotion and make a fresh batch.

Why are there air bubbles in my lotion?

Simply put, there are air bubbles in your lotion because you put them there while you were blending up the lotion. You can avoid air bubbles with these two tips:

  1. Make sure the tool you are using to blend the lotion is designed for puréeing things, not incorporating air into things. If you’d use it in the kitchen to cream butter for cookies or to whip cream, do not use it to mix something unless the goal is to whip air into that something. This is why we use an immersion blender (a tool designed to purée) for lotions, but electric beaters (a tool designed to incorporate air) for making whipped body butters and other whipped formulations.
  2. Stop blending the lotion while it’s still too thin to support air bubbles. If the emulsion is still very fluid, it won’t be able to support any air bubbles—they’ll just float right out. Continuing to vigorously stir the lotion when it has thickened up will incorporate air into the lotion, and it’ll be able to stay there because the lotion has enough structure to support that air.

Testing the pH of this Easy Natural Lotion.

Do I really need to test the pH?

Ideally, yes. If you want to formulate with natural preservatives that have a limited effective range, testing the pH to ensure the preservative can perform its job is best practice. Please refer to this post to learn more about pH meters and strips.

However: I’ve made this lotion (and variations on it) many times, and if made as written, the pH reliably lands in the 5.25–5.5 range. If you don’t change anything, you can probably get away without pH testing.

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Why doesn’t this easy lotion formulation contain [some other ingredient]?

This formulation was designed to be as simple and easy as possible. Follow-up posts will include instructions on how to adjust this formulation to include more ingredients.

Why are you using a water bath? Can I use something else?

A water bath is a simple way to gently heat the heated phases without the risk of over-heating/burning anything. You’ll also know the phases are roughly the same temperature after 20 minutes or so because they’ve been in the same water bath. If you have a lab hot plate that has the ability to dial in very low temperatures (~70°C) and you’re using borosillicate beakers, you can put your beakers right on the hot plate set to ~70°C instead of using a water bath. I used a water bath because most newer formulators are more likely to have a stovetop and glass measuring cups than a lab plate and borosillicate beakers.

I’m not a big fan of using the microwave because you don’t have much control over how hot things get. A water bath cannot get hotter than the boiling temperature of water; microwaved oils definitely can!

How can I scale this formulation up or down?

If you’ve never made this formulation before, I recommend sticking with this 100g (3.5oz) batch size to start with.

If you’ve made it, love it, and need more, you can easily scale it up by following the instructions in this post: Formulating and DIYing with Spreadsheets.

I don’t recommend scaling this formulation down as it’s really difficult to adequately blend less than 100g (3.5oz) with an immersion blender. If you have a powerful small mixer that is designed to blend (rather than mix air into a mixture), you can scale it down to 50g (1.76oz) or more and use that mixer instead of an immersion blender.

How can I make this simple natural lotion thicker/thinner/richer/lighter/add scent, etc.?

This post is part 1 of an ongoing series; upcoming posts and videos will teach you how to make all of these changes (and more!) so you can create something that is truly yours ❤️ Stay tuned!

Gifting Disclosure

The aluminum pump-top bottle was gifted by YellowBee.
The Euxyl™ k 903 was gifted by Formulator Sample Shop.
The sodium lactate was gifted by Bramble Berry.
Links to Amazon are affiliate links.