Got a common-sounding question about ingredients, the metric system, or conversions? You should find your answer here 🙂

Ingredients (23)

Can I mix up a big batch of this face mask and use it later?

You can, as long as you keep it dry. That is, feel free to mix up the dry parts of the ingredients (clay, powders, botanicals) in a large batch, and store them in a sealing jar for later hydration in single-use sized batches. Simply note on the jar the number of teaspoons of powdered mix and water/aloe/witch hazel you’ll need to mix together for future reference.

If you have a coffee grinder you use for DIY projects you can also incorporate a few drops of carrier oils and/or essential oils. Simply place a few spoonfuls of the powdered mix into your grinder, add a few drops of your oil, and blend everything together. The powder should still look and feel dry. Blend that powder in with the rest of the batch and you’re good to go!

If the recipe calls for some liquid ingredients, you can either add those at the time of use, or you can see if you can find a powdered version and incorporate that into your dry version. You can purchase dried, powdered honey and aloe vera juice, and witch hazel is available as a powdered botanical extract. For things like Dead Sea mud, though, I’m afraid you’ll need to add those in the moment.

If a mask is almost entirely fresh, wet ingredients, I don’t recommend trying to make it in bulk for later use/hydration.

In the event you mix up far too much mask to use in one go, cover the leftovers tightly in clingfilm (press it right up against the surface of the paste), and store it in the fridge for up to three or four days. I’ve found masks sprout mould quite quickly, so it’s best to use them up quickly. To use, I’d recommend letting the chilled mask come to room temperature (or even submerging the dish it’s in in a hot water bath) before applying unless you enjoy cold goop on your face 😉

Wondering if you can just add a preservative to your wet mask mix? Unfortunately, clay masks are notoriously difficult to preserve, even for professionals, let alone at-home hobbyists with less-than-sterile making conditions. Face masks are positively loaded with delicious things for bacteria and fungus to munch on, and preservatives are not infallible. I really don’t recommend going the preservative route here.


Why do you use so many new/fancy/hard-to-get ingredients?

When I create projects and formulations to share on Humblebee & Me I am constantly trying to strike a balance between keeping things interesting and keeping things accessible. I launched Humblebee & Me in late 2011; when I started I was posting 7x a week, then 4x a week, and now I post 2x a week on both YouTube and here on the blog. As of early 2021, I have shared over 1300+ posts and 500+ videos featuring a wide variety of different formulations and projects using all kinds of ingredients.

To start with: there are a lot of ingredients out there that can be used in DIY cosmetics. Far, far more than we use in cooking. UL Prospector has listings for over 21.5k different ingredients for use in personal care products! As home crafters, we have access to a fairly small selection of those ingredients when you take into account allllll the things big manufacturers and brands can purchase. Some of these ingredients are simple, single things (like carrier oils or vegetable glycerin), and some are more complex ingredients made from blending multiple raw ingredients (things like emulsifying waxes, preservatives, and many actives).

Some ingredients are more accessible than others, and some countries have better availability than others. The most accessible ingredients tend to be carrier oils, butters, essential oils, waxes, some clays, some herbs, and food-type things like starches. The country with the best ingredient availability is the United States. Most countries that have good DIY ingredient availability will have easy access to some things that are impossible to source in other countries. Prices can also vary a lot from country to country.

As a Canadian, I don’t have easy access to everything Americans do—I’m very familiar with not being able to purchase things locally (or even nationally). I understand the headache of international shipping, currency conversions, and duty fees. I’m constantly replying to people asking me if I have projects using X ingredient with “no, I can’t get it in Canada”.

I try not to use too many exotic things all at once, but I also have them and want to play with them. I’m constantly learning, experimenting, and growing as a creator, and the projects I share reflect that. I try very consciously to balance sharing formulations with fancier ingredients (especially if the fancy ingredient is hard to substitute out) with simpler projects like clay masks, balms, body butters, soaps, and toners. You might be surprised to hear that those more accessible recipes are typically my least popular posts!

Also, I’ve said it before, but DIY is cost-effective, not cheap. Just like with cooking at home, there is an up-front investment for ingredients, but most of the things we use are pretty inexpensive per batch or per usage, especially when compared to high-end store-bought products.

I’m trying to keep things accessible and affordable, but I also want to keep things interesting. There’s only so much I can do with inexpensive, readily available ingredients—especially ones that are readily available globally. I’m trying, and I’m certainly conscious of it, but I publish twice a week and have been doing so (or more!) since 2011. I need to branch out to new ingredients to keep things interesting and to keep producing new content, and not everything is going to be cheap and available in your town, state, or country. If a particular formulation doesn’t speak to you, or the ingredients aren’t available, just wait a few days—I’ll share something else! I also have a very extensive catalogue of past projects for you to peruse (over ONE THOUSAND!), so if one lotion formula uses some ingredients you don’t have, there’s a good chance one of the other 60+ lotion formulas I’ve shared over the years will meet your needs 😊

You can find my simpler DIYs here.

I hope that provides some insight! Happy making 🙂


How do I know if an essential or fragrance oil contains a certain chemical compound?

All essential and fragrance oils are made up of complex blends of different chemical compounds—things like linalool, benzyl salicylate, geraniol, coumarin, and eugenol.

You may have seen some of these chemical compounds listed at the end of ingredient lists—that is because they are considered to be sensitizers by the IFRA (International Fragrance Association) and are required to be listed on ingredient lists if they are present in concentrations above 0.001% in leave-on products, and 0.01% in wash-off products. Each individual sensitizer also has a maximum allowable limit.

If you are a professional formulator you will need to be calculating the amounts of all sensitizers present in your products so you can declare them properly. If you’re allergic to a certain chemical compound you’ll want to be sure to avoid it! And, sometimes, a formula is sensitive to a certain chemical compound—my Christmas Tree Body Wash completely fails if any benzyl benzoate is added!

So—how do you determine if a certain chemical compound is present in the fragrance or essential oil you’re looking at? Look at the SDS (safety data sheet) or GCMS (Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry Analysis). Your supplier should have these documents. Essential oil composition varies from crop to crop, so while you can get a general idea of the composition of the oil from looking at a generic SDS for the essential oil, if you need exact levels to concentrate sensitizer levels you will want to be purchasing your essential oils from somewhere that can give you the precise breakdown of exactly what you are using.

Fragrance oils are much more predictable as they are manufactured, so if you are buying a Crafter’s Choice brand fragrance oil from a company that doesn’t supply the SDS you can easily fine it by googling the name of the fragrance and “SDS”.

I find Wholesale Supplies Plus is a great place to get SDS’ for fragrance oils. New Directions Aromatics provides fantastic documentation for everything they sell, and with their massive selection of essential oils it is a good source for SDS documentation for most essential oils.

These reports will not tell you everything that is in a fragrance or essential oils, but they will highlight sensitizers and list percentage ranges. GCMS reports will give even more information!



What’s up with hydrosols, distillates, and floral waters?

Generally speaking, the thing we want these ingredients to be are a product of distillation. When plant matter is distilled it creates two end products—essential oils and a hydrosol/distillate/hydrolat/floral water/aromatic water. The oil floats to the top and is separated off. The remaining water part seems to have many names, but generally speaking, this is what it should be.

Products sold with these names are not always products of distillation, though. It isn’t uncommon to purchase something with one of these names that is actually an essential oil that has been solubilized in water. These faux hydrosols are typically given away by their foam—if you shake one you’ll get some lather. This is because of the inclusion of a solubilizer, which is technically a surfactant. They can also be given away by an SDS (safety data sheet), which can reveal a solubilizer and essential oil as part of the ingredients of the product.

So, how much does it matter? This is somewhat up to you. They both smell nice and will contribute the scent of the plant in question, so in that sense they can be somewhat interchangeable. As a formulator you really should know what you’re working with, so if you think you’re working with a true hydrosol but it’s actually essential oil solubilized in water, then you don’t know exactly what you’re using (if you’re particularly concerned with keeping things natural the solubilizer may not meet your natural standards, either).

The aromatic chemical compound composition of a hydrosol is different from its partner essential oil, so if what you’re working with is actually an essential oil solubilized in water, that’s not quite the same experience as a true hydrosol. Learn more here.

If you’re getting a faux hydrosol you’re probably paying quite a premium for the essential oil. There is likely less than 1% essential oil in that “hydrosol”, and if that’s what you want to use then, you it’s worth investigating if purchasing the essential oil would be a more cost-effective option.

Something else you should be aware of: are the hydrosols you are purchasing preserved or not? If not, you may want to add a preservative when your hydrosols arrive, especially if you know you won’t use it terribly quickly. 0.3% Liquid Germall™ Plus will do the trick. If you manufacture huge batches of something and can drain a bottle of hydrosol the first time you open it you can probably skip adding your own preservative. I also always keep my hydrosols in the fridge.


Is this formulation vegan?

Probably. The vast majority of cosmetic ingredients are not derived from animal sources. If the vegan-ness of the cosmetics you use is important to you, it is essential that you research ingredients and know what is vegan and what isn’t. The Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia is a good place to start!

These are the most commonly used non-vegan cosmetic ingredients:

If you have doubts or further curiosities, please do your own research. I’ve written two massive articles to get you started: Part 1 & Part 2. A simple “is X vegan?” Google search will usually answer your question, though.

Looking for substitutions? Click the links above to view the Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia entries for each ingredient; those entries always include substitution information! Also, read this.


Are all emulsifying waxes (e-waxes) the same?

The short answer here is no—far from it.

Let’s start with a quick definition of emulsifying wax. It’s a waxy substance (usually white pellets, flakes, or beads) that is a carefully blended mix of fatty ingredients (examples include cetearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, and glyceryl stearate) and emulsifiers (like PEG-100 Stearate and Polysorbate 60) that will emulsify (and often, but not always thicken) a mixture of oil and water. The emulsifier emulsifies the formulation, while the fatty ingredient boosts viscosity for improved stability and adds emollience to the formulation.

Emulsifying waxes are included in the heated oil phase of our formulations as it needs to be melted to work. They are generally used at about 20–25% of your oil phase, but check with the retailer and/or manufacturer for usage guidelines.

Different emulsifying waxes have different strengths and weaknesses, so you will need to research each emulsifying wax you wish to work with to learn what it is suited for and what it brings to our formulations. I highly recommend the Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia as a starting point! Some examples of important tidbits you’ll need to know as a formulator:

  • Emulsions made with Glyceryl Stearate SE require some sort of gum or gelling agent to be stable.
  • Ritamulse SCG (Emulsimulse, ECOMulse) is anionic, so tread carefully if including cationic ingredients in formulations emulsified with this emulsifier. This emulsifying wax also has pH and oil phase size limits.
  • BTMS-50 and BTMS-25 are cationic, so tread carefully if including anionic ingredients in formulations emulsified with these emulsifiers.
  • Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate won’t thicken your formulations the same way many emulsifying waxes (like Emulsifying Wax NF or Olivem 1000) will; this gives you a great deal of added flexibility, but can also create stability issues depending on your formulations.

These are some the emulsifying waxes I work with (click each name to learn more!):

Make sure you’re always checking the INCI of whatever you’re buying! The brand/trade name of the e-wax may change depending on where you live or where you’re shopping, so the INCI is the thing you really need to pay attention to. There are loads of places to purchase emulsifying waxes around the world; check out my big list of places to shop to find one in your home country.

Buyer beware!

Some suppliers sell fatty thickeners like cetearyl alcohol with some variation of “emulsifying wax” in the name. In my humble opinion, this is infuriatingly misleading. Fatty thickeners won’t emulsify, but having the name “emulsifying wax” in the name makes you think it’ll work and just… argh. This is a recipe for frustration and disappointment. When shopping for emulsifying wax, make sure you read the full description and any reviews to ensure the product will actually emulsify formulations on its own.


What is the lynchpin ingredient in this formulation?

This is a question that rarely has an answer.

Think about food—let’s say a big pot of chili. What’s the star ingredient? Is it the meat? The beans? The tomatoes? The chipotle peppers? If you removed any of those ingredients they’d certainly be missed, but I’m not confident I’d call any of them the “star”.  The chipotles might be your favourite thing to put in chili for their wonderful smoky spice, so you might call them your signature ingredient, but if you took out the tomatoes you’d end up with a drastically different end product. They are both important.

Something similar is true in cosmetic formulation. The distilled water or preservative in a lotion certainly aren’t going to be the most exciting ingredients in the formulation, but without either of them, the formulation will fail.

Here are a few things to think through/consider:

  • The more of an ingredient that is present in a formulation, the more likely it is to be important
  • If an ingredient is key to the stability of the formulation (emulsifier, solubilizer, preservative), it’s important
  • If an ingredient is part of the core function of the product (a surfactant in a cleanser, for example), it’s important
  • If an ingredient is present below 1% it is less likely to be important, but that really depends on the ingredient. Some ingredients are very effective at low levels (preservatives, essential oils, some actives), while others might just be included for marketing purposes (carrier oils & butters used below 1% are usually just for show). For this category it’s really important you know your ingredients and understand usage rates.
  • Fragrance and/or essential oils are usually not the lynchpin of a formulation, though this can vary with the formulation, so make sure you understand why those ingredients are present. If it’s a perfume, for instance, those ingredients would really matter!
  • If you’re looking at re-creating a commercial product, the ingredient that’s being bragged about on the label is rarely all that important; it was chosen for the label because it sounds nice, not necessarily because it’s a key part of the formulation. An example would be an “argan oil hair serum” that is mostly cyclomethicone. If you start your re-creation with argan oil you’re starting miles away from the original—there’s likely less than 5% argan oil in the commercial product because the slip and lightweight feel you’re familiar with comes entirely from the cyclomethicone.


Let’s chat about benzoin.

Benzoin gum/essential oil comes from Styrax Benzoin. I often use what is sold as “Benzoin Essential Oil” or “Benzoin Resinoid” in products for it’s wonderful, warm, vanilla-like scent. The resinoid I get is sold by New Directions Aromatics, and its production technique is listed as “Solvent Extraction with benzyl benzoate”. You can also purchase benzoin gum, which is solid, but so far I’ve yet to include that in a formulation.

To use benzoin as I do, start by looking for something sold in a bottle, with a consistency described as thick and viscous, but still pourable. It should also be oil-soluble (check the MSDS sheet).

When it arrives, the first thing you’ll want to do is take a whiff—mmmm! Then, pry out the little plastic orifice reducer/dropper and get rid of it—you’ll never get any benzoin out through that thing.

To use your benzoin, put the sealed bottle in a mug of just-boiled water for about 10 minutes before trying to pour it out—this will make your life far easier.

Pre 2018, I often measured benzoin in “blobs” rather than “drops”. This is because benzoin is far too thick to form anything close to a drop… it’s more of a blob. Imagine pouring loose taffy for an idea of what I mean 🙂 It is a fairly mild “essential oil”, though, so a little bit extra won’t result in an overwhelmingly fragrant final product. There’s a bit of a margin of error there. Post 2018, I’m doing everything in weights, which is much better and more accurate 🙂


Why don’t you recommend using citrus essential oils in many body recipes?

Many citrus essential oils are inherently photosensitizing. That is, if you apply them to your skin at a high enough percentage, they greatly enhance the effect of the sun on your skin, meaning you are very likely to get a burn.

According to Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals (2nd Edition) by Robert Tisserand & Rodney Young, the following citrus essential oils are not phototoxic:

  • Bergamot oil (FCF)
  • Lemon oil (steam distilled)
  • Lemon leaf oil
  • Lime oil (steam distilled)
  • Mandarin oil
  • Orange oil (sweet)
  • Orange leaf oil
  • Satsuma oil (expressed)
  • Tangelo oil
  • Tangerine oil
  • Yuzu oil (expressed or steam distilled)

In addition to oils that are not photosensitizing due to naturally low levels of photosensitizing compounds, this list also features essential oils have been treated to remove their photosensitizing compounds (FCF Bergamot), and steam distilled citrus essential oils, as the heat from steam distillation (as opposed to cold pressed or expressed) destroys the photosensitizing compounds.

Photosensitizing essential oils are safe to use if recommended maximum usage rates are observed:

“Skin should not be exposed to sunlight or UV lamp irradiation for 12–18 hours, if any of the following are used at levels higher than those indicated. However, there is no risk of phototoxicity if the maximum levels are observed: angelica root (0.8%), bergamot (0.4%), cumin (0.4%), grapefruit (expressed) (4.0%), laurel leaf absolute 2.0%, lemon (expressed) (2.0%), lime (expressed) (0.7%), mandarin leaf (0.17%), orange (bitter, expressed) (1.25%), rue (0.15%), taget oil or absolute (0.01%).” – Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals (2nd Edition) by Robert Tisserand & Rodney Young

It is very important that you are calculating these maximum usage rates by weight, using an accurate scale (I’d recommend accurate to at least 0.01g). If you prefer to go by drops, I would recommend shying away from photosensitizing essential oils as you cannot ensure you are using them safely. Charts that give usage percentages based on drops in teaspoons of oil are not accurate enough for this sort of thing.

Litsea cubeba, lemon myrtle, and lemongrass essential oils are also good alternatives.


What exfoliants can I use in my formulations?

As with so many things, it depends!

When it comes to exfoliants, there is a lot to choose from! Here are a few:

  • Salt (varying types & crystal sizes)
  • Sugar (varying types & crystal sizes)
  • Clays (varying types & particle sizes)
  • Jojoba beads
  • Pumice
  • Coffee grounds
  • Poppyseeds
  • Ground-up shells (apricot, walnut, etc.)
  • Cornmeal

One of the first things you’ll want to consider is how abrasive the exfoliant is and where you intend on using it. Your face will have very different exfoliating needs than your feet! For this reason, I do not recommend using scrubs designed for the body on the face (too harsh!) or vice-versa (that would be too gentle).

You’ll also want to consider the solubility of your exfoliant. Is it water-soluble (sugar, table salt, Epsom salt, etc.), oil-soluble (jojoba beads), or insoluble (clays, apricot/walnut shells, pumice, poppy seeds, coffee grounds, etc.)? Insoluble exfoliants typically do well in any kind of formulation, but water and oil-soluble ones can dissolve if your formulation contains enough of the appropriate solvent. If you’re making a scrub that contains large amounts of water, I don’t recommend using salt or sugar as your exfoliant—they will start to dissolve into the water in the formulation (to some degree, at least—grain size and the amount of solvent vs. exfoliant also factors in), and you will not get a scrubby end product. If you are working with jojoba beads you need to take care not to melt them.

Something to consider with insoluble exfoliants is the mess factor. Exfoliants like coffee grounds and poppy seeds won’t dissolve in bathwater and tend to remain in the tub after draining, leaving you to wash/rinse the tub after each use (also—will your exfoliant clog your drain?). You may also find high concentrations of insoluble exfoliants in bath products can be uncomfortable to sit on after they sink to the bottom of the tub.

When it comes to using salt instead of sugar; remember that salt can really sting on cuts and scrapes, while sugar doesn’t. It’s a personal preference, but if you are prone to scraping knees or cutting yourself while shaving, salt might not be the best choice for you!

You can also blend exfoliants; I’ve done this in the past with formulations like this one where the poppyseeds are blended with sugar. The sugar ends up being the primary exfoliant while the poppyseeds are more of a decorative element. I made this decision because the sugar will dissolve into the bathwater and wash down the drain nicely, while the poppy seeds can make a bit of a mess. More poppyseeds = more mess!

Another consideration if your formulation contains water: preservation. Some exfoliants, like coffee grounds or clays, can pose a preservation challenge, so you’ll need to be aware and test your preservation system to ensure it works with your overall formulation.

In the end, though, the best way to find out if it works is to try it yourself!


What grade (or type) of carrier oils do we use when formulating?

Generally speaking, you want to purchase and use cosmetic grade carrier oils in your formulations. Cosmetic grade carrier oils are processed with the end goal of creating cosmetics/skincare, and while they are technically a lower grade than food grade, it’s not just a matter of the oil being a lower grade (or lesser quality). Different oils may be processed differently—nut oils, for instance, are often roasted for use in food oil but aren’t in cosmetic grade oils. This creates a more pronounced flavour and scent that is desirable in cooking, but less desirable in cosmetics. Cosmetic grade carrier oils are almost always less expensive than their food-grade counterparts.

When it comes to some of the more common oils, it can be easier to purchase food-grade, and that can be ok. I have used food-grade olive oil (pomace grade, not extra virgin!), canola oil, tallow, and lard almost exclusively in my years as a maker.

If you already have a food-grade version of a carrier oil on hand I wouldn’t go out and purchase a separate cosmetic-grade bottle of that oil unless the cooking grade oil was very expensive. Do not use a beautiful extra virgin olive oil to make soap with (well, you can, but in my opinion, it would be a massive waste)!


Is there one place I can buy everything?

Generally no, unless you only need a handful of very simple things.

This hobby uses hundreds (if not thousands!) of ingredients, and no one shop stocks everything. I’ve noticed a few different sub-classes of DIYing—different suppliers tend to focus on different ones.

Here are the the sub-categories/classes I’ve noticed and the types of ingredients associated with them:

  • Soap/bath treat making
    • NaOH and KOH
    • Large amounts of soaping oils, baking soda, salts, etc.
    • Colours, fragrances, and essential oils
    • Surfactants
    • Clays
  • Herbal/crunchy
    • Lots of herbs
    • Plant-derived oils, waxes, and butters
    • Essential oils
    • Tinctures & extracts
    • Hydrosols
    • Clays
    • Possibly some functional ingredients, like preservatives or emulsifying waxes
  • Skin care
    • Emulsifiers
    • Actives
    • Preservatives
    • A variety of carrier oils, butters, etc. (often more expensive ones than you’d use in soap)
    • Surfactants
    • Hydrosols
    • Clays
    • Fragrances and essential oils
  • Makeup
    • Pigments
    • Micas
    • Base powders (titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, sericite mica, silica, etc.)
    • Niche thickeners, silicones, slip agents, etc.

Generally speaking, most suppliers will either deep-dive in one or two (Mountain Rose Herbs and the “herbal/crunchy” pairing, for instance) or dabble across a few. Ingredients like beeswax, shea butter, and olive oil are generally very easy to source, but more niche ingredients like surfactants, skin care actives, and pigments can be harder to source from the same supplier.

If you’re looking for a supplier (or three), check out my big list of places to shop around the world.


Is purchasing ingredients on Amazon a good idea?

The short version

It depends, but it’s not my preferred place to shop. I recommend purchasing your ingredients from a shop that specializes in selling DIY skincare ingredients as they have fresher inventory, better documentation, far better selection, higher quality ingredients, and the prices are almost always better! You can find a big list of such shops here.

In some cases Amazon can be ok—depending on what you’re purchasing and who you’re purchasing it from.

The long version

Amazon can be an ok place to purchase some ingredients, with a few caveats:

You will usually pay a price premium, though this heavily depends on where you live—and the product is unlikely to be better quality.

Some reputable DIY suppliers (like TKB Trading and Making Cosmetics) have Amazon storefronts; if you want to shop on Amazon you will get great products by shopping a reputable supplier’s Amazon storefront, but you’ll pay higher prices than you would on the supplier’s website. I assume this is due to fees imposed by Amazon. The below points do not apply if you’re shopping the Amazon storefront of a reputable supplier.

Stick to simpler ingredients. I’d feel reasonably confident purchasing basic, widely-available, single-INCI ingredients like BeeswaxShea ButterCocoa Butter, and Coconut Oil, white sugar, and cornstarch on Amazon. There are hundreds of different brands selling these ingredients on Amazon, so be sure to read the reviews for the product (both positive and negative) and google the brand before choosing who to purchase from. I’d also be wary of products that use computer-generated imagery of the products rather than actual product photos. If they’re just showing a smooth beige-ish CGI brick I’d look for a company that shares photos of actual product (hopefully the one they sell and not just a stock photo) instead.

Avoid more niche, specialty ingredients. I would not purchase emulsifiers, preservatives, surfactants, or actives on Amazon unless you are shopping the storefront of a trusted supplier (like TKB Trading and Making Cosmetics). Every single person who has had a bad experience making my Simple Sulfate-Free Shampoo Bar used a cheap SLSa from Amazon and the bars never got hard 🙁 I’ve seen preservatives for sale for more than twice the price a reputable supplier sells them for, and with wildly incorrect INCIs and product descriptions to boot.

Watch for grade differences. Make sure you aren’t buying craft or industrial grade ingredients; we want cosmetic grade. Some of the ingredients used in skincare are also available as food grade. This grade is certainly safe for use on the skin, but some oils can be processed differently for food vs. cosmetics; e.g. nut oils are often toasted for food to enhance their flavour (and scent), but they aren’t for cosmetic grade versions of the same oils.

Check product descriptions for red flags. Are usage rates in drops? Are they advertising miracles or making drug claims? Unfortunately, a lot of the red flags in a product description aren’t obvious to newer makers. I often see completely synthetic preservatives marketed as being natural on Amazon—that’s something a new maker wouldn’t necessarily know is inaccurate, but it’s a big red flag.

Don’t purchase your essential oils from Amazon. Fake and adulterated essential oils are very common, and Amazon sellers do not supply the documentation we need to work with essential oils safely. Dr. Robert Pappas of Essential Oil University frequently runs chemical analysis of essential oils sold on Amazon and finds they’ve been adulterated with ingredients like mineral oil (click for an example), isopropyl myristate (click for example), and synthetic fragrant compounds (click for an example).

Don’t buy ingredients for products you mean to sell. Their documentation from Amazon sellers usually isn’t good enough if you intend to sell. Additionally, the higher costs will eat into your profit margins.

I would not purchase ingredients that can be unethically sourced, like micas, from Amazon.



Is _________ natural?

This is a pretty hard question to answer as, chances are, if you’re asking me, there’s no straight answer. I’ve yet to have anyone ask me if coconut oil or beeswax is natural! The ingredients this typically pertains to is stuff with more “chemically” sounding names—surfactants, emulsifiers, that sort of thing.

Generally speaking, I really don’t like this question. Knowing if something is “natural” or something tells you absolutely nothing about the ingredient. Arsenic and botulism are perfectly natural; knowing that doesn’t mean I’d put it in my skin care concoctions!

Better questions are “is this ingredient safe to use in the recommended amounts?”, or even “is this ingredient responsibly sourced and environmentally sustainable?”. Please do that research yourself. Cosmetics Info is a great database; the EWG’s Skin Deep Database is not. I’ve written a post on how to evaluate sources to help prevent you falling into the fear-mongering wormhole that can be the internet.

Remember: the dose makes the poison. Water and oxygen are dangerous in high enough quantities, so if you are reading about how X ingredient makes rats sick when they eat 10x their body weight of it… is that relevant for an ingredient you’ll be applying topically at 0.5%? Likely not. The dosage is WAY lower, the use method is entirely different, and also—you are not a rat.

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you decide something is “natural”, and whether you’ll use it. Generally speaking, you can make an argument for most things being natural as everything is made from something that occurs naturally on our planet—you just might be a bit particular about how much intervention is required to produce an end product. Even plastic is made from dead dinosaurs and really old plants (to put it very simply), and that sounds pretty natural when you put it that way.

However, if you decide not to use something purely based off of your determination of its “natural-ness”, I can’t promise to offer much in the way of useful alternative ingredients. You may simply be out of luck for that recipe, or even entire categories of recipes.

Here’s some more reading:

Happy making!


Does this formulation contain X ingredient?

You can review the entire ingredient list for any formulation I’ve ever shared (that’s kind of the point, ha—I can’t share a formula if I don’t tell you what is in it!) in the blog post for that formulation. I recommend starting by reading that ingredient list to see if the ingredient you’re looking for (or looking to avoid) is listed.

Some of the ingredients I use are referred to by trade names; things like Liquid Germall™ Plus , Ritamulse SCG, Sepimax ZEN, and Lipomoist™ 2036. Those ingredients will have their own ingredient lists, also known as the INCI. To get that information, look them up in the Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia or google the name of the ingredient and INCI, eg. “Sepimax ZEN INCI”.

Most ingredients that are part of broader ingredient categories (sulphates, parabens, glycols, alcohols, acids) will straight up have those words in the name of the ingredient (sodium coco sulphate, methylparaben, propylene glycol, etc.). It isn’t hard to see if those ingredients are in a formulation if you read the ingredient list and look up the INCI names.

That said, some of those broader category terms can be misleading—acids and alcohols in particular—so it is important to research your ingredients and know what they are and what they do in a formulation. If you are looking to avoid volatile alcohols like isopropyl alcohol in your products as you find it drying, there is no need to avoid cetyl alcohol or cetearyl alcohol as they are not volatile alcohols (they are fatty alcohols that are emollients—the opposite of drying to the skin!).


Different solubilizer type things

We use solubilizers to solubilize small amounts of oil or oil soluble ingredients (like essential or fragrance oils) into mostly watery concoctions (like toners or hand washes), and to add water-soluble properties to anhydrous products (like a cleansing oil or bath bomb). There are lots of options, and they all have different strengths and weaknesses that help determine why you might use one over the other.

I get a lot of questions about solubilizer swaps/alternatives, so I thought I’d make a chart of the ones I use, along with usage notes to help you understand why I might’ve selected one over another so you can make your own substitution decisions.

General notes

  • These are just the solubilizers I’ve worked with personally! There are many more. I’ll add more as I get ‘em!
  • You’ll need to experiment with your specific solubilizer and your specific oil/essential oil/fragrance oil blend to find the precise ratio of solubilizer:solubilized to keep everything solubilized and clear as this varies with the solubilizer, what you’re solubilizing, and the rest of your formula. Check with your supplier for specific usage rates/ratios. You will typically need much more solubilizer than whatever you’re solubilizing.
  • In a skin care project where a solubilizer is required to solubilize essential oils I really don’t recommend eliminating the solubilizer in favour of shaking the end product before each use; this doesn’t allow for thorough distribution of the essential oils and can lead to sensitization due to high essential oil dosing.
Ingredient INCIContains water?HLBUsage notes
Polysorbate 80No15Polysorbate 80 is really useful for solubilizing small amounts of oils into otherwise mostly watery things, like toners or body mists. I’ll also use it in 100% oil based products (like cleansing balms or oils) or products that need very low water levels (like bath bombs). In a cleansing balm or oil it functions as a cleansing/rinse-off-boosting ingredient because one end of the molecule loves oil while the other end loves water; the oil loving end grabs oil soluble things from the skin and the water soluble end grabs into the water you’re washing with for easier wash off. Polysorbate 80 tends to be sticky in leave-on products, so be sure to experiment with your formula to see if the amount you’re using works with the skin feel you want. I tend to prefer to use polysorbate 80 in wash-off products for this reason.
Polysorbate 20No16.7Polysorbate 20 is used to solubilize small amounts of essential or fragrance oils into otherwise mostly watery things, like toners or body mists. In a pinch you can try swapping polysorbate 80 and 20 around, but I really would recommend having both as they do have different strengths and are quite inexpensive. Polysorbate 20 tends to be sticky in leave-on products, so be sure to experiment with your formula to see if the amount you’re using works with the skin feel you want. I tend to prefer to use polysorbate 20 in non-skin-things (room sprays, hair mists, etc.) for this reason. An alternative for polysorbate 20 is to use the hydrosol version of the essential oil you’re looking to incorporate, if one exists.
Caprylyl/Capryl GlucosideYes~15C/C glucoside is primarily a surfactant, but it has great solubilizing properties. For this reason I tend to use it in a lot of liquid foaming products (hand washes, body washes, etc.) as it will both contribute to the lather of the product and solubilize any added essential or fragrance oils. It contains water, so it is not a good solubilizer choice for 100% oil based products (like cleansing balms or oils) or products that need very low water levels (like bath bombs). It is quite unique among the solubilizes I’ve used due to primarily being a surfactant, so if you need to substitute it out you will need to determine if it is functioning primarily as a surfactant or solubilizer. The alternative I typically suggest is coco glucoside for the cleansing/lathering with added polysorbate 20 and/or 80 to solubilize whatever the c/c was solubilizing. You’ll also need to pH adjust if you use coco glucoside as it has a much higher pH than c/c glucoside.
Olive Oil PEG-7 Esters (Olivem300)No11Olivem 300 can also be called water soluble olive oil, though that’s not entirely accurate. It does have some solubilizing powers, but isn’t a very strong solubilizer. I tend to include it in anhydrous products that I would like to have some self-emulsifying abilities (like a body oil that would self-emulsify with water when applied to damp skin, or a bath oil), or in watery products that I’d like to add some richness to (like a toner). In general the leave-on feel is far superior to that of the polysorbates, which can be quite sticky. I’ve used it in cleansing balms, cleansing oils, and bath bombs as well.
PEG-50 Shea Butter (Water soluble shea butter)No14–16Water soluble shea butter is similar to Olivem 300; it has some solubilizing properties, but I mostly use it to add richness to watery products and self-emulsifying properties to products that add water at the time of use (cleansing oils, bath oils, body oils to be applied to damp skin). In general the leave-on feel is far superior to that of the polysorbates, which can be quite sticky. I don’t use this too often as I’ve only found it for sale in the USA.
Sulfated Castor Oil (Turkey Red Oil)NoTurkey Red oil is castor oil that has been treated with sulphuric acid, and it’s one of the oldest surfactants around. I’ve found it to be useful for solubilizing essential and carrier oils into watery things, but I don’t use it much anymore. It has the potential to be very irritating (especially in larger amounts), and I’ve found it to go rancid quickly. It is also quite heavy and sticky. If you have it I would recommend using it up in projects like self-emulsifying (“blooming”) bath oils and bath bombs where it will be heavily diluted in bath water. If you don’t have it, I wouldn’t recommend purchasing it.


Why don’t you only use ingredients that are easily available globally?

Mostly because that’s an impossible standard. Sadly enough, clean water isn’t even in the “easily available globally” category! I have a decent idea of ingredient availability in Canada and the USA as those are the countries I shop from, but it is impossible for me to keep abreast of the full inventory of every supplier on the planet (especially ones who do not operate in English) and then only use ingredients that are available globally.

I try not to use too many weird/hard to get ingredients, but I also like to play with new ingredients and learn new things. I publish two new recipes every week, and there’s only so much I can make with coconut oil and beeswax. If your ingredient availability is limited to more crunchy ingredients I’d recommend checking out this section of my website—there are still tons of recipes there for you to make!


What’s the point of DIY if you’re using all these chemicals?

I love to create, but I especially love to create products that are safe, effective, and enjoyable to use.

This question is like asking “what’s the point in baking and cooking if you’re going to make chocolate chip cookies?”, as if the entire point of cooking your own food is to only make health food, and that one might as well give up if they aren’t exclusively making kale salads and muesli. There is joy in creation, and that is reason enough (also, homemade chocolate chip cookies are delicious!).

When I first started making things I started with more “natural”, Pinterest-approved ingredients. Things like cold processed soap, coconut oil, baking soda, and apple cider vinegar. I was really excited to be making things like deodorant, shampoo, and body scrubs, but over time I had to admit that those things just… don’t work that well. The pH of cold processed soap and baking soda are both far too high for skin and hair. Coconut oil is really oily and greasy, and clogs pores for many—there are other oils that are better suited to many jobs than coconut oil. Apple cider vinegar smells pretty bad and none of those magical properties I read about ever surfaced.

I’ve written more about my shift from “all natural” to what some people call “natural-plus” here and here; please give those posts a read. There’s plenty of room to still include natural ingredients in products—extracts, plant derived oils, hydrosols, and more can often make up the bulk of our products. The function typically comes from more processed ingredients, though those ingredients are still usually derived from natural sources like coconut.

If you want to make things more “natural” or “crunchy”, please be careful with the recipes you select. Many are impossible to preserve, lack critical ingredients like emulsifiers, contain excessive levels of essential oils, or completely disregard the physiology of skin and hair. Just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it is biologically appropriate for your body. You absolutely can hurt yourself with “natural” DIYs. If something claims to be a cure-all, end-all, all-natural, wonder product, walk away.

A sub-question I get is typically in the vein of “why are you using all the toxic chemicals the companies do?”. The basis of this question assumes that the vast majority of products available for purchase are manufactured with toxic chemicals. While it’s true that many of the ingredients in your skin care products would make terrible snacks, this doesn’t mean they are dangerous when used properly. Remember: the dose makes the poison, and even water can be lethal in large enough amounts, or if used improperly (inhaling water = bad). Toxicity depends on dose. When researching ingredient safety, discussion of the usage and dosage is essential. If the source you are consulting is stating something is dangerous with no dosage or usage information, that is not a good source. If the source you are consulting states that something is uniformly good or evil, it is not a good source (also, the EWG is awful: source, source, source, source). If you’re wondering about safe usage amounts, please refer to supplier data sheets. The Cosmetics Info Database is also a good place to look up ingredients and learn more.

I’ve written more about research red flags & vetting sources here. In short, the world of store bought skin care is not positively riddled with horrific things that are definitely going to kill you, and anybody who is trying to scare you is typically looking to profit from your fear.


Why isn’t X ingredient in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia?

If it’s an ingredient I work with (and still work with—there are some oldies from 2012 that I’ve since moved away from), I probably just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

If it’s an ingredient you’ve never seen used on Humblebee & Me, that alone is probably why—if I’ve never worked with an ingredient and have never shared a formulation using it, there is unlikely to be (or ever be) a Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia entry for it. There are thousands of cosmetics ingredients out there, and I’m just one person—I can’t own ’em all and write about ’em all!

If you’re looking for Encyclopedia-like information about an ingredient that isn’t in my Encyclopedia, I recommend reading through these two posts:


What ingredients should I purchase when getting started?

Good question! There are a lot of different ingredients you can purchase, and trying to decide can be overwhelming.

If you haven’t already signed up for my free DIY Skin Care for Beginners e-course I’d really recommend it. It features a short and easily accessible list of ingredients that are used for all six projects. That’s a great place to start!

What you’ll need is, of course, going to be heavily influenced by what you want to make. If you are intending on focussing on soap and body butter your list will look very different than if you want to create water-based serums and shampoo bars.

I highly recommend looking up the ingredients you are considering purchasing in the Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia to learn more about them, including why they are used in formulas and recommended starter purchasing amounts.

Looking for somewhere to shop? I highly recommend shopping online/at specialty retailers—I have compiled a list of them located all over the world here. If you’re lucky enough to have a physical specialty DIY/soap supply retailer in your city, amazing! Otherwise you will almost always find the best prices and selection and online. Health food shops may have some of the things you’re looking for, but they are almost always much more expensive.

My Recommended Starter Shopping List

With this list you’ll be able to create body butters, lip balms, simple lotions, cleansing balms and oils, and more.

Other ingredients to consider


I wrote an entire post of the equipment I use all the time; give it a read here.


On using finished products in your formulations/modifying store-bought products

Please don’t use store-bought cosmetic products as ingredients in your formulations; aloe vera gel is probably the most common ingredient I’m asked about doing this with. This is quite an expensive way of getting ingredients, and these finished products are not designed to be used as ingredients in a secondary formulation. They may contain ingredients that could conflict with the rest of your formulation, resulting in failure.

Similarly, please do not try to modify store bought cosmetic products you’ve purchased; you risk compromising the preservative system and the entire formulation.


Where do you buy your ingredients and packaging for all your DIY projects?

Most of my ingredients and packaging come from New Directions Aromatics, Windy Point Soap Making Supplies, Voyageur Soap & Candle, and YellowBee—all of those suppliers are Canadian, so if you’re not, you may not want to deal with cross-border shipping. For cosmetics, I use TKB Trading and deal with the cross border shipping (ouch). I also have a handy-dandy Where to Buy Ingredients (and packaging) page that’s full of links to places you can purchase ingredients and packaging all over the world.

For packaging—If you’re in the USA, SKS Bottle has some great stuff (curse that cross border shipping, I’d order from them all the time if I could), TKB Trading has great makeup packaging, and Amazon has pretty much everything.

If you see any packaging that looks very unique/old, I likely picked it up at an op-shop, antique shop, or received it as a gift. In any of those cases, I’m afraid I can’t be of any help finding another 🙂 I always recommend checking local odds-and-sods shops for containers, though—you can find some fantastic ones!


Can I get an organic version of _______?

If it’s a plant or animal based ingredient, you probably can. This generally means things like oils, butters, essential oils, herbal extracts, herbs, starches, honey (though a bit dubious as who is following the bees and monitoring their diet?!), beef tallow, etc. When I say “organic” here I’m talking about a version of the plant/animal that has been raised from non-GMO seeds without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or antibiotics.

If it’s one of these things, you definitely cannot:

  • Clay
  • Mica
  • Oxide
  • Salt
  • Epsom salts
  • Baking soda
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Zinc oxide
  • Water
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Potassium hydroxide
  • Etc.

These are all inorganic compounds. Chemistry-wise this means these compounds contain no carbon, which means they are not of an organic origin—”organic” here having nothing to do with how the plant or animal was raised, but being a classification of matter that is unchangeable. All plants and animals are organic in this sense.

Because compounds like salt are naturally occurring, inorganic compounds, there is no such thing as an organic version. Salt isn’t raised using pesticides, but it’s still inherently inorganic.


Measurements (19)

How much does this recipe make?

Simply add up the weights/volumes of all the ingredients to get a total. You can then divide that amount by the size of your container. For example, if a lip balm recipe contains a total of 30g of ingredients, that will make 30g of lip balm. Lip balm containers typically hold 4.5g of lip balm, so 30/4.5= 6.66, meaning you will fill just under 7 lip balm tubes with that recipe. That same 30g recipe would fill one 30g/1oz tin.

A lotion recipe that uses 100g of ingredients will amount to just under 125mL/half a cup of lotion.

You can also look at the size of the package I recommend; that’ll give you a pretty good idea.

For recipes are written in percents the final yield is entirely up to you.

For recipes written in parts the final yield is also entirely up to you.


How can I weigh out 0.46 grams (and other similarly small/precise amounts)?

You need a scale that is precise enough to do so—there’s no way around it. For an amount like 0.46 grams, you would need a scale accurate to 0.01g.

If your scale is only accurate to 1g, you will not be able to weigh out amounts less than 1g, or between grams. Since your scale can only register whole grams, that is all you can reliably measure.

For that reason, I highly recommend investing in a scale accurate to at least 0.1g, if not 0.01g. I only use my 1g increment scale for making 1kg+ batches of soap; all my cosmetic formulating is done with a 0.1g and 0.01 scale.

That said—the amount of precision required in a formulation varies with the formulation, the batch size, and the ingredients. If a preservative is called for at 0.1g, and water is called for at 89.1g, that 0.1g is a lot more important for the preservative than the water! You could round the water down to 89g and it likely wouldn’t have any noticeable impact on the end product, but that wouldn’t be the case with the preservative.

It’s pretty common for spreadsheets and percentages to crank out some pretty long, ultra-precise numbers (3.94329g, anyone?). For our purposes, you can feel pretty comfortable rounding to one or two decimal points. For ingredients that are incredibly potent and only ever used at amounts well below 0.1% (water-soluble pigments, pH adjusting ingredients, some actives), it can be a good idea to pre-dilute those ingredients to create a stock, and use that in formulations (I do this with hyaluronic acid).

You can learn more about considerations when purchasing scales here.


Why did you use X amount of ingredient A, B, and/or C in this formulation?

The answer to this question is a gigantic quagmire of “it depends”.

Generally speaking, it’s experimentation, taking notes, learning, and trying over and over again. Think of it a bit like cooking without a recipe—how do you know how much onion to use? How do you know which flavours will work together? Experience, experimentation, and time 🙂

For individual formulations I’ve shared, please start by reading the entire blog post. If there’s a very particular reason I’ve used something at a specific rate, it will likely be discussed/explained in the post.

You’ll also want to look at the maximum and recommended usage rates for the individual ingredients. Give this post a read to learn more about that. For ingredients like emulsifiers and preservatives, the “why” for the amount is usually “that’s the amount required to get the job done.” Though the “the” can still be a bit subjective—it might be better to say “that’s an amount that gets the job done.” Imagine you’re seasoning a sauce to taste; there’s a lot of space in the “not enough salt” and “too much salt” realm, but there’s also some space in the “that works, mmm tasty” realm as well. It could be that 0.5% preservative is enough if the formulation is in a squeeze bottle, but not if the formulation is in a tub. It depends.

Then there’s the entire context of the formulation—both what it is and what else is in there. For example, one lotion might have more or less of a thickener than another, and there could be dozens of reasons for that: desired skin feel, the emulsifier used, desired end consistency, compensating/countering other ingredients used in the formulation, etc. For some cooking/baking metaphors:

  • You’d use more sugar in a cake than in a loaf of bread. Why? Because cake is sweeter than bread, and sugar is what makes it sweet.
    • But, you’d use less sugar in a cake recipe that included other sweet ingredients, like bananas, vs. a recipe that didn’t.
  • You’d use more water/broth in a soup than in a sandwich. Why? Because soup is wetter/more liquid than a sandwich, and water/broth is the thing that makes food more liquid.
    • But, you’d use more broth in a soup recipe that contained a lot of dry ingredients, like pasta and lentils, than one that contained a lot of fresh ingredients, like tomatoes and squash.

And of course, there’s also personal preference. A formulator with sensitive skin or specific allergies will make different decisions than a formulator who doesn’t. If you live somewhere very hot you’ll need to create products with higher melting points than someone who lives somewhere significantly cooler.


What should I consider when purchasing a scale?

Basic considerations

  • Digital is best
  • Make sure your scale has a tare/zero function for easy weighing
  • Don’t buy anything that measures in increments larger than 1g/0.03oz (the more precise, the better!)
  • I have scales that measure down to 0.1g and 0.01g, and those are awesome for things like cosmetics/making two tubes of lip balm to test out a recipe. I highly recommend having at least one scale that can weigh down to 0.01g—this allows you to make tiny batches of things, which is definitely the way to go if you want to make a lot of batches of things.
  • Where does the scale top out/what’s its maximum weight? My earlier 0.01g scales topped out at 200g, which made them useless for making larger batches of anything (remember, that maximum weight includes the weight of the container you’re weighing into), but fantastic for smaller projects. The scale I soap with tops out around 5kg/11lbs and is something like this.
  • How big is the scale, physically? If you’re soaping you’ll need a scale that can handle your soaping pot and can still be read with a massive pot on top of them (the scales I’ve linked to below cannot).
  • If you plan on doing both big batches of things and teensy batches of things, you might want two or three scales with varying maximum weights and levels of precision. You can purchase scales that have both a high maximum weight and are very precise, but scales like that tend to be very expensive.
  • I highly recommend investing in scales that plugs in to the wall (vs. batteries) and don’t have an auto shut-off function (or that function can be disabled). Having your scale shut off in the middle of weighing something out is infuriating!

Scales I’ve owned & use(d)

I’ve used these scales a lot over the years, and they’re pretty darn good inexpensive scales:

I’ve also got a couple of scales that are a bit more expensive, but I have found them to last longer:

  • 0.1g x 700g: My Weigh iBALANCE 700 (USACanada)
  • 0.01g x 200g: Jennings JSR-200 (USA / Canada)
  • 0.01g x 500g: Jennings TB 500 (USA / Canada) [this is the scale I use 99% of the time]
  • 0.001g x 60g: My Weigh GemPro 300 (Canada)

I have several kitchen scales I’ve picked up at department stores—ones with maximum weights in the 3–5kg range and precise to 1g. I don’t have any particular product recommendations for this sort of scale—none that I’ve had have really impressed or disappointed me.

What scale do I use most?

As of 2022, the scale I use for 99% of my formulating, and the scale you’ve almost certainly seen in my videos, is the Jennings TB 500 (USA / Canada). It weighs down to 0.01g and has a maximum weight of 500g (just over 1lb). This works brilliantly for my batch sizes, which rarely exceed 100g (3.5oz).

Want a video talk-through/show & tell?

Check out this all-about-scales live stream I did in May 2020.

Wondering how to use a scale?

I made a quick how-to video 🙂


How do percentages work?

The word “percent” means “per one hundred”—so, if there was 100 of a thing, what portion of that 100 would be X? If X = 2%, then we know 2/100 are X—or 4/200, 6/300, etc. All of those ratios are 2%.

When you make a formulation, it is always 100%. If you combine four ingredients in equal parts, they are each present at 25% (100 ÷ 4 = 25). If you add a fifth ingredient in an equal amount you do not have 125%. It’s still 100%, but you now have five ingredients present at 20% each instead of 25% (100 ÷ 5 = 20).

We formulate in percentages because it creates universal formulas with easily recognizable proportions. 10% is 10%, regardless of batch size, while 20g or 3 tbsp is fairly meaningless without the full context of the rest of the formula. A common recommendation for personal finance is that you don’t spend more than 30% of your income on rent/housing expenses; this is presented as a percentage rather than a dollar value so it is relevant regardless of income level. We want that same kind of scalability with formulas—if somebody told you they spent 70% of their income on rent you’d know that was too much regardless of how much money they earn. With formulas, if you see it calls for 10% preservative when the maximum recommended rate is 1%, you know that’s way too much, regardless of batch size. You wouldn’t be able to know that immediately if the recipe just called for 3g.

Maximum usage rates are always part of the entire formula. For instance, if an essential oil cannot be used above 0.3%, that is 0.3% of the entire formula, not 0.3% of a certain phase or a certain selection of ingredients.

If you wish to include a new ingredient you will first need to make room for it by removing an equal amount of something else to keep the recipe in balance. I’ve discussed that here. For instance, if you wanted to add another carrier oil to a lotion recipe you would need to remove an equal amount from a carrier oil already present in the recipe. If you don’t, you’ll throw off the balance of the recipe and there might not be enough emulsifier for the newly larger oil phase, meaning the emulsion may fail.

I recommend watching this video to learn more about formulating with spreadsheets and percentages.


Why do you create a 10% dilution of a formulation before measuring the pH?

Skin Chakra has a detailed post all about this; I highly recommend reading it.

In that post she demonstrates that the pH of diluted samples does not start to drift towards the pH of the diluent (distilled water) until the dilution dips below 10%.

That diluting a formulation by 90% wouldn’t meaningfully alter the pH rather defies logic, so I did a similar experiment. I created 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, and 50% dilution testing solutions of a formulation. I also tested the formulation at 100% concentration as it was thin enough to do so.

I took multiple readings for each solution, averaged them, and plotted them on a graph.

The difference between the 10% dilution and the pure product was less than 0.1 pH point. Creating a 10% dilution of your formulation does not meaningfully alter the pH reading you’ll get. You could test any level of dilution above 10% if you were so inclined and get nearly identical results; 10% simply wastes the least amount of product.

Still skeptical? Try it yourself!


How do I use SoapCalc?

I know SoapCalc can be intimidating with all the fields and buttons, so I made a video to walk you through how to use it. It’s simple, I promise!


Let’s talk about mini measuring spoons.

Mini measuring spoons are a super useful thing to have; they’re totally necessary when you’re making cosmetics or otherwise dealing with tiny amounts of potent ingredients. They’re also very cute 😉

From right to left; Fox Run's 4-spoon set, NorPro's 5-spoon set, and plastic gram-based scoops (1g, 0.5g, 0.1g, and 0.05g).

From right to left; Fox Run’s 4-spoon set, NorPro’s 5-spoon set, and plastic gram-based scoops (1g, 0.5g, 0.1g, and 0.05g).

You can buy mini measuring spoons based around two different measurement systems:

  • Most are extensions of the teaspoon system and come in amounts like 1/8 tsp, 1/16 tsp, 1/32tsp, and 1/64 tsp. These spoons are usually labelled with cutesy names like “tad”, “dash”, “nip”, “smidgen”, and “drop”. The dash in one spoon set may be different from the dash in another as those are obviously not real measurements. See the chart below for more details.
  • In the DIY world, you’ll often find plastic scoops that use gram measurements; that is, the weight of water each spoon would hold. Those will be labelled with amounts like 0.5g, 0.1g, and 0.05g (or cc; 1g = 1mL = 1cc when we’re talking about water). Most of the powders we work with are significantly lighter than water, so a 0.1g spoon will not weigh 0.1g of pigment or mica. These spoons are the ones you will often see labelled as a “scoop”, “big scoop”, “mini scoop”, etc. in recipes.

The teaspoon based mini measuring spoons are available from kitchen shops and Amazon quite easily, while I’ve only found the gram/cc based mini measuring spoons from online DIY suppliers.

So—what to buy?

These are the sets I’ve tried, and what the cute names translate to in terms of teaspoon measurements, as that is what I use for my recipes. I wrote Make it Up using the Fox Run set, but I ordered the NorPro set to check that one out as well, and it works! I’d recommend choosing the Fox Run or Chef Elite sets as my top picks as each spoon is half the size of the one before it. The 5-piece NorPro set would be my second choice (see the note below the table on 1/8 vs 1/12 tsp). Above all, I definitely recommend choosing a set that is metal—they are much more durable than the plastic gram-based scoops, and they won’t stain.

 Volume 1/4 tsp 1/8 tsp 1/12 tsp 1/16 tsp 1/32 tsp 1/64 tsp
 Weight of water
0.95–1.1g 0.45–0.6g 0.40–0.57g 0.25–0.35g 0.15–0.20g 0.05–0.08g
Fox Run (USA / Canada)
N/A Dash N/A Pinch Smidgen Nip
Chef Elite (USA) Tad Dash N/A Pinch Smidgen Nip
NorPro (USA / Canada)
Tad N/A Dash Pinch Smidgen Drop
Libertyware (USA / Canada) Tad N/A Dash Pinch Smidgen Drop
3-Spoon Set (USA / Canada) N/A Dash Pinch Smidgen N/A N/A
RSVP Mini Measuring Spoons N/A Dash N/A Pinch Smidgen N/A
Gram-based plastic scoops (USA / Canada) N/A N/A Large scoop/ 0.5g/ 0.5cc 2x Medium scoop / 0.2g/ 0.2cc Medium scoop/ 0.1g/ 0.1cc Small scoop/ 0.05g/ 0.05cc

You’ll notice the gram-based set of mini measuring spoons isn’t a perfect match if you compare it to the chart below (for example, 1/64 tsp should be 0.08g, but the gram spoon is just 0.05g), but I have both sets and I’ve checked, and the measurements are equivalent, even if they seem like they shouldn’t be.

1/8 tsp vs. 1/12 tsp: These are two different sizes you’ll encounter that are often labelled as a dash, and even though they are technically different, they are so, so close to one another. I did about ten measurements of each, and the two spoons have a massive amount of overlap when you account for measuring error. 1/8 tsp is technically 0.6g, 1/12 tsp technically 0.42g—that’s a pretty small difference, especially when we are talking pigments and not narcotics. Using water, I measured 1/8 tsp between 0.46–0.6g, and 1/12 tsp between 0.39–0.55g, and for our purposes, that’s pretty darn insignificant. For example, I weighed out 1/8 tsp and 1/12 tsp of sericite mica; 1/8 tsp = ~0.30g, 1/12 tsp = ~0.25g.

So, if you get a set that has a 1/12 tsp instead of a 1/8 tsp:

  • You can use the 1/12 tsp for 1/8 tsp measurements and measure a wee bit generously, and use a 1/4 tsp measure for any multiples
  • You can use two of the 1/16 tsp measures for 1/8 tsp instead
  • You can purchase a separate 1/8 tsp measuring spoon
  • Or, you can just not worry about it as it’s a fairly insignificant difference

How can I check the set I already have?

The best way to do this is by weight, and using the metric system, thanks to the easy 1g of water = 1mL of water conversion. You’ll be dealing with tiny amounts (so you’ll need a scale accurate to 0.01g), and thanks to the miniscus, you’ll get some irksome variation. Wahoo! On the plus side, the measurements are pretty small, so even though you’ll get some variation, it’s generally not enough to worry about.

Using a pipette, fill each spoon, taking care to avoid forming a miniscus (you don’t want an arched bubble top across the top of the spoon), and weigh those contents. You’ll probably get some variation as you won’t be able to get all the water out of the measuring spoon, and it’s easy to get an extra drop or two into the spoon thanks to surface tension. Repeat the measure and weigh thing a few times per spoon so you can get some sort of average. As long as you’re roughly around the numbers in the left-hand column, you’re fine.

Teaspoon volume The weight it should hold
Approximate weight you’ll probably measure
1/8 tsp 0.6g (0.6mL) 0.45–0.6g
1/12 tsp 0.42g (0.42mL) 0.40–0.57g
1/16 tsp 0.3g (0.3mL) 0.25–0.35g
1/32 tsp 0.15g (0.15mL) 0.15–0.20g
1/64 tsp 0.08g (0.08mL) 0.05–0.08g












How do I measure 3/128 tsp?

3/128 tsp = 1.5/64 tsp. So, it’s basically one and half of your 1/64 tsp measure. You won’t be able to do this super-precisely, but the amounts are so, so tiny that if you’re off by a few particles, it won’t make or break a recipe 🙂

You will definitely need a 1/64 tsp measuring spoon for this! Read this post for more information on tiny measuring spoons 🙂


What is a gram/mL/etc.?

This is the awesome metric system! Check out my awesome two part guide here and here.


Why do you use the metric system?

Well, for the same reason I speak English, really—it’s what I was raised with. It’s also what the majority of the world uses, and is used by scientists globally. It also makes a lot more sense than the Imperial system—both logically, and in terms of the scale of the measurements. I talk about this in more detail here.


Can you convert your recipe into cups/tbsp/tsp/stones/pounds/etc.?

Sorry, but I have published over 800 recipes on this website as of mid-2016 and I would rather write more recipes than go back and do all those conversions.

Also, when you ask me to convert an entire recipe into volume measurements for you, what you’re asking me to do is to go get out all the ingredients, weigh them out, transfer them to a volume measurement, note down that measurement for that ingredient—and then do that for every single ingredient in the recipe. I’m sorry, but I really don’t want to do that! You are basically asking me to re-develop the entire recipe. Not only is it a ton of work, but the results aren’t going to be terribly accurate, especially when we’re dealing with something solid, like chunks of beeswax or cocoa butter (USA / Canada). If my chunks are a different size than yours, our measurements are not going to be the same.

In the end, I’d really recommend getting a scale (~$15) and going by weight, it’s awesome! Less dishes, too 🙂 Here’s my guide on what to look for when buying a scale, and here’s a quick how-to video to get you started working in weights!


How can I convert your recipes into cups/tbsp/tsp/oz/stones/etc.?

Hmm. Well… you know how much you weigh, so how many cups are you? That’s kind of the same question.

Some things will convert fairly easily (5g of water = 5mL of water, 1L of water = 4 cups of water, etc.), but weight to volume conversions are not generally very accurate. Try looking online for conversion charts. Just remember that all ingredients have different densities (that old “pound of feathers vs. pound of lead” thing), making weight the more accurate way to measure most ingredients.

When you email me and ask me to convert an entire recipe into volume measurements for you, what you’re asking me to do is to go get out all the ingredients, weigh them out, transfer them to a volume measurement, note down that measurement for that ingredient—and then do that for every single ingredient in the recipe. I’m sorry, but I really don’t want to do that! You are basically asking me to re-develop the entire recipe, and I’d rather develop new ones. Not only is it a ton of work, but the results aren’t going to be terribly accurate, especially when we’re dealing with something solid, like chunks of beeswax or cocoa butter (USA / Canada). If my chunks are a different size than yours, our measurements are not going to be the same.

In the end, I’d really recommend getting a scale (~$15) and going by weight, it’s awesome! Less dishes, too 🙂 Here’s my guide on what to look for when buying a scale, and here’s a quick how-to video to get you started working in weights!


How can I convert your recipes from grams to ounces and pounds?

Online converters are awesome. My favourite is typing something like “5g in oz” into Google—it’ll bring up a great little converter widget for you.


How much is a smidgen/dash/pinch/nip and how do I measure them?

I have a handy set of wee measuring spoons for just this purpose. I highly recommend grabbing a set, especially if you’re interested in making cosmetics as the precision is wonderful for developing recipes and achieving that perfect skin tone in your mineral makeup again.

In the set of spoons I have, this is what the cute names (dash, pinch, etc.) translate to:

  • 1 dash = 1/8th teaspoon
  • 1 pinch = 1/16th teaspoon
  • 1 smidgen = 1/32nd teaspoon
  • 1 nip = 1/64th teaspoon

These conversions are not universal! Different sets may use different measurements and different cutesy names, so I would recommend just grabbing the same set I have, or doing your research to be sure you know what each of your wee spoons is scooping 🙂


How do I use your recipes that are written in percents?

Using percents to measure with requires a bit of math, but the bonus is you can choose to make exactly as much of something as you want. Basically you start with the final amount you want to make, and then divide that number by 100. That gives you what 1% is. Then, multiply that up to get the amounts of each ingredient. I usually choose 100g because that means 1%=1g, so the math is super easy (and 100g is a good amount of lotion to make, it’s just under half a cup). So if I needed 20% of something, that would be 20g. If I wanted to make 50g of something, 1% would be 0.5g, so 20% = 10g.

For yields: 100g is a really nice starting point for lotions, 30–50g is good for balms and body butters as you generally use less of them. I typically stick to 20g or less for batches of lip balm (that will still be approximately 4–5 tubes of lip balm).

If you want a much easier way to do these calculations, use a spreadsheet! I have an entire blog post and video on exactly this.

For soap, just use SoapCalc—it has a column that lets you enter the amounts in as percents, and then change the batch size elsewhere. It’s awesome and does all the math for you 🙂 I recommend starting with a 500g batch.


How do I use your recipes that are written in parts?

Parts are basically the opposite of percents, and is based on ratios. You begin by deciding what you want “one part” to be—it can really be anything, just keep it consistent. I like to work in weight, but you can use volume as well if the components of the recipe are all liquids. Before you decide what you want “one part” to be, add up the number of “parts” in a recipe to see how many there are so you don’t accidentally make 2 kilos of lip balm.

So, say a recipe has 50 different “parts”. If you decide 1 part = 1g, you will end up with 50g total product. If the recipe calls for 5 parts beeswax, that’s 5g of beeswax. If it calls for 15 parts of olive oil (pomace) (USA / Canada), that’s 15g. Got it? Yay!


How do I use a scale?

I’ve made a quick video to walk you through how to use a scale—it’s really easy and means far less dishes when you’re done!

Here’s the items used in the video:


Personal & Website (27)

Are your formulations all natural?

Some are, some aren’t—I’ve shared over 1250 formulations since 2011! I am confident that the ingredients I use are safe, regardless of their “natural-ness”.

You can learn more about the ingredients I use in the Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia. For ingredients where the natural-ness might not be clear, I usually note it.

I would encourage you to read these posts and articles. The first two in particular do a good job of explaining how fuzzy the term “natural” is, and how all-natural isn’t the be-all and end-all for everything and everyone.

If you want to use 100% natural things that’s totally ok! You do you. However, please be aware that there is a lot of bad information and fear-mongering about conventional cosmetic ingredients in the all-natural space. I’d encourage you to choose all-natural because you love it, not because you’re worried about the safety of conventional ingredients. When you’re doing your research, please make sure your sources are solid.

If you don’t agree with the ingredients I use in a certain formulation, just look for another one. I’ve shared a lot of free formulations!


What type of education do you have for DIY/formulating?

I hold two diplomas from Formula Botanica: their Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation (completed late 2018) and their Diploma in Organic Haircare Formulation (completed mid-2020). Even though I’d been formulating for years before taking these courses I still learned a lot from both of them, and I would enthusiastically recommend the Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation to anybody looking to jump start their formulation skills—especially if you’re hoping to start a business selling skincare!

I have learned much of what I know about formulating DIY skincare and cosmetics through years of doing, trial-and-error, obsessive experimentation, and extensive research. My university degree is in graphic design (a Bachelor of Design Honours from York University & Sheridan College, graduated summa cum laude). If you peruse the older posts on this blog you can definitely see how much I’ve learned over the years!

Here are some of my favourite resources for learning more:




How can I learn from you?

Good question!

To start with; please know that I am just one person. I do all of the formulating, writing, photography, filming, graphic design, and website maintenance—in addition to communications/customer service, and I can only do so much. As such, I prioritize public content that can help lots of people and my Patreon over private messages and emails.

The vast majority of the teaching I do is self-serve, meaning it’s up to you to read through the articles, watch the videos, and refer to the relevant FAQ posts and Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia entries. I work really hard to fill Humblebee & Me with freely accessible resources so you can do your own research and teach yourself. You are more than welcome to put any follow-up questions in comments, but I’m not always great at getting back to those as it’s just me doing everything. I try my best, though.

As of early 2024, I offer a couple self-serve paid learning products:

As all these products are self-serve (and therefore there is no graded coursework), there is no sort of certification offered for completion.

If you would like personal, one-on-one help, I offer that in two different ways:

  • You can book 60-minute one-on-one sessions with me here.
  • I also offer a limited number of lower cost one-on-one sessions through my Patreon. My top-tier Patrons receive a 30-minute monthly 1-on-1 call with me to discuss whatever they want, including formulation assistance. If you’re interested in that, you can learn more at This tier is capped at 15 people and is usually full, but keep an eye out—a spot could free up at any time. There is no waiting list, but if I notice a spot has opened up I announce it to my patrons first, so you might consider becoming a lower-tier patron for the time being if you’re interested in one of these limited one-on-one spots.
  • Depending on your needs and the confidentiality of your project, Patreon “Office Hours” may also work for you. My “The Monthly Collection + Office Hours” tier patrons are invited to two “office hours” sessions each month. This is a great way to get formulation help in a group setting if you need 5–10 minutes of assistance once or twice a month. Each session runs approximately 45–60 minutes and typically has 6–10 people in attendance.

If you’re looking for more in-depth, hands-on help than I can offer, I recommend taking a course from a company set up to offer support—a company with a sizeable staff to answer questions and offer hands-on help. I was very happy with the course I took from Formula Botanica; you can read my review here.

If you’d like to start a business

Depending on what sort of support you’re looking for, I may be able to help.

Please know that I do not sell handmade skincare, so I cannot help you with large batch manufacturing, specific legal & regulatory requirements, and most other ins-and-outs of starting and running a handmade skincare business.

My background and areas of expertise are in formulation and graphic/web design. So, if you’re looking for formulation coaching or help with graphic design & branding, please book a 60-minute one-on-one.

If you’re in the very early stages and looking for full education and support on everything from learning to formulate to operating a business, I recommend enrolling with Formula Botanica. You can read my review of their Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation here. Formula Botanica is far better equipped than I am to teach you how to start your own skincare business!

Happy making!


What photography/videography equipment do you use?

My workhorse camera is my Nikon D750. I use it for about 95% of my photography, and I used to film with it as well (from ~2016–early 2019). The other 5% of my photography is done with my iPhone 7 and sometimes my older Nikon D5000.

Lens-wise, I shoot most of my stills with my Nikon AF-S FX Micro-NIKKOR 2177 60mm f/2.8. Because it’s a macro lens it allows me to get all up close & personal with my creations! I also use (and love!) my Sigma 35mm F1.4 ART and my Sigma 85mm f/1.4 ART, but photos using those lenses are more likely to appear on my Instagram account as they’re typically landscapes or portraits.

As of spring 2019, I film everything with a Canon EOS 80D. I used to film with my Nikon D750, but I got this Canon camera when my YouTube channel turned three as it has facial-tracking autofocus, which makes filming significantly easier than it was with the Nikon D750. For lenses, I use a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens to film the talking parts of my videos and a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens to film the making parts.

My tripod is a Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 055—it has a boom arm that allows me to film overhead shots. I also use a Manfrotto MHXPRO-BHQ2 XPRO Ball Head as the tripod itself doesn’t attach directly to a camera.

For lighting, I have two large continuous lighting softboxes from StrobePro. The precise model I have has been discontinued, but they still have plenty of similar options.

I edit everything with Adobe Premiere Pro CC.

My white backdrop is just a white wall 🙂


Is there a humectant tipping point where they dry out the skin?

What are humectants?

Humectants hold water and attract water to them. Examples include vegetable glycerine, propylene glycol, propanediol 1,3, sodium lactate, sodium PCA, hyaluronic acid, panthenol, urea, and more. Different humectants have varying levels of strength and other strengths and weaknesses. Humectants are applied to the skin as part of complete skincare products that typically include other ingredients like water, emollients, and actives. Like many cosmetic ingredients, they should not be applied undiluted to the skin. For most people, they are not a stand-alone solution to dry skin, but they are usually part of a dry skin solution. Generally, you’ll want to pair humectant-rich products with more emollient/occlusive products to further slow water loss.

What do humectants do in our products?

One of the biggest functions humectants play in our products (as opposed to in skincare) is they keep ’em from drying out too fast. They slow evaporation of the water in the formula—both in storage and on application. They can also help boost preservative function, depending on concentration (this varies by humectant—propylene glycol has 3–4x the antimicrobial effects that glycerine has).

The skin, water, and humectants

While the outer layers of the skin will happily absorb lots of water (think of your hands going all wrinkly in the bath), the skin doesn’t do a great job of holding onto that water, especially in dry environments as the outermost layers of the skin maintain equilibrium with ambient humidity. This means if you live somewhere with low ambient humidity, your skin is not going to stay super hydrated on its own (regardless of how much water you drink—more on that in the next paragraph). Excess water (including the water in our lotions/serums/etc.) evaporates off the skin pretty quickly, temporarily increasing transepidermal water loss (TEWL). Humectants can help slow this loss. According to Harry’s Cosmeticology, “there is no factual foundation for the idea that humectants attract water our of the air and deliver it to the skin.”

The human vascular system stops at the dermis—one full layer beneath the epidermis (the top layer of the skin)—meaning the body’s ability to deliver water to the epidermis isn’t great as the “train lines” stop well before reaching the stratum corneum (the top layer of the epidermis). Applying humectants to the skin can help draw up moisture from the dermis, which is generally a good thing—assuming you aren’t hugely dehydrated + the skin barrier (also known as the acid mantle) is functioning well, keeping transepidermal water loss (TEWL) to a minimum. If the barrier is damaged it is possible that the water pulled up from the dermis by humectants will evaporate quickly, leaving the skin just as dry as it was before (if not drier). This water loss can be slowed by ensuring moisturizers also include emollients (like liquid oils and butters) and occlusives (like petrolatum).

Can high concentrations of humectants steal moisture from the skin, making it drier?

  • This could be problematic if you applied pure humectants with no water, but that’s not really done. Humectants are usually applied as part of a product that contains its own water (hyaluronic acid serums usually contain 1% or less hyaluronic acid—there will be plenty of water in the formulation!). The humectants in the formulation will help slow the evaporation/loss of that water, both in the bottle/tube and once applied to the skin.
  • Unless you are severely dehydrated (in which case I’d say you have bigger problems than dry skin!), the vascular system continuously delivers water to the dermis. Having that water pulled up into the outer layers of the skin by humectants is not depriving any part of your body of water.
  • While humectants can slow the evaporation of water from the skin, you’ll still want to pair them with something that contains oil to further slow evaporation. An emollient lotion or oil serum will help, as will occlusives like petrolatum (Vaseline/petroleum jelly).
  • If the humectant is on your skin it’s not “stealing” water from the skin for itself—it’s keeping it around for longer, in direct contact with the skin.

Further reading


Do you sell anything you make?

Nope. I did have a small store for about two years, but I really didn’t enjoy selling products, so I shut it down.

I might try something again at some point in time, but right now that’s a pretty weak “maybe”.


Do you accept guest blog posts?

No, absolutely not. Do not email me to ask. Definitely do not email me multiple times to ask.


I want to make something, can you write me a recipe?

I likely can, but this would be a paid job where you would be hiring me as a formulator. This typically starts around $1000USD per formula, though that can fluctuate depending on the details of the product. Feel free to get in touch if you’re interested!

You are also welcome to submit a recipe request 🙂


Why are your formulations presented both on YouTube and the blog?

Let’s start with a bit of history: Humblebee & Me started as just a blog/website back in 2011, while the YouTube channel didn’t come into existence until mid-2016, roughly around the time Humblebee & Me became my full-time job. Now that there’s both a blog (written) and a video channel (audio/visual), I think they complement each other nicely. One is more for telling (written) while the other is more for showing (video).

There is a lot more content on the blog/website. This is partially because the blog pre-dates the YouTube channel by several years, and partially because some things are simply communicated better in writing. I find writing is the best format for sharing the formulations (I do mention amounts and ingredients in the videos, but I’m not forcing you to copy everything down as I go and hope you heard me correctly). In writing, you see the name of the ingredient, removing any spelling concerns. I also link to places to buy the ingredient, which is not a thing I can do in a video. Written content is also better for quick check-ins (how much almond oil was it?), and for translating for anyone who does not speak English as a first language.

Writing is also the best way to share reference material, like what you’ll find in the Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia. Imagine if encyclopedias and dictionaries were only available in audiobook or video format! The tedium of listening to someone read out all the definitions surrounding the one you care about… listening to someone read through all of the references for each article that you were probably just going to skim over anyways… yikes. There’s a reason dictionaries have not caught on as audiobooks!

Please also consider that writing can be easily updated, while videos are forever. I like to include information about sourcing, substitutions, etc. in written encyclopedia entries as it allows me to keep that information up-to-date far more easily in videos. Imagine that I mention a preferred substitution for an emulsifier in all my videos, and after 100 videos that preferred substitution ingredient was discontinued and became globally unavailable. Unless I delete, re-shoot, re-upload, and re-release each one of those 100 videos, that old (and now useless) information is baked in there forever. If I’ve simply asked you to refer to the encyclopedia entry for that ingredient, I can keep that encyclopedia entry up-to-date and I can link to more information about that suggested substitution, including places to purchase it. I can also link to sources, include an up-to-date list of other formulations that use the ingredient, usage rates, and all kinds of other useful information that is difficult (or tedious) to include in a video.

The website is also a far better place to organize and cross-link content. YouTube is a really frustrating place to archive content. It’s mostly organized in chronological order, and while I can group videos into playlists, the search + organization functions are nowhere near as powerful as they are on my website. On the website, I’ve tagged every single formulation I’ve shared (over 1200 of them!) with all the ingredients they use, so you can easily find every single formulation I’ve ever shared using a single ingredient. You can’t do that on YouTube. I can link to the Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia entry for an ingredient when I mention it so you can click off for more information if you need it. I can create highly specific pages for different types of formulations and include links to further reading that is relevant to that type of formulation. I can’t do any of those things on YouTube.

And another point—the website is mine. I control it, and Google/Facebook/whatever cannot take it from me. I’m wary of investing too heavily in YouTube because it is controlled by a big, faceless corporation. They could get bought or shut down, or just shut me down, and if YouTube is all I have, I’ve completely lost my livelihood. It’s a bit like taking the time to create a beautiful garden at a home you rent—sure, you can invest all that effort, but if the landlord sells the house or decides not to renew your lease, you can’t take it with you.

I love videos for showing. You can see the emulsion forming, see the body butter reach trace, see how the makeup applies to the skin. I obviously aim to include enough information about the formulation that you can make it without having to read the blog post, but once we get into substitutions and the “whys” regarding ingredient selection, well—that gets to be a lot of content. I get a lot of comments from viewers telling me to “shut up, you talk too much” as it is—if I tried to include all that information in every video, they’d all be at least an hour long, and I’m sure I’d get told to “shut up” even more than I already do.

And, in conclusion, I’d like to remind you that my content is free. If you don’t like how it is presented, take a moment to reflect on the old maxim of “Fast, Cheap or Good? Pick Two.” Humblebee & Me is cheap (free!) and good, and I’d argue it’s pretty darn fast, too. All I’m asking you to do is read the content I’ve taken the time to research, organize, and publish.


Where do you get the labels you use on your projects?

I buy round Kraft labels from Amazon and write on them with a permanent marker. I’ll use a compass to trace out smaller circles as needed, and I use the leftover sticker bits from the spaces between the rows to make smaller square/rectangular labels.


I’d like to feature your projects on my blog—can I? How should I?

Yes! I would love to be featured on your website, assuming your website is G-rated and focusses on DIY, natural/handmade skincare, or other related topics.

To feature a project, you are welcome to use a single photo from the relevant post (please leave the watermark), add some of your own teaser copy, and then link to Humblebee & Me for the full formula and/or video.

So, something like this is awesome:

How to Make Lemon Basil Soap

Lemon Basil Soap

Love basil? Have a hankering for Italian? This cold-processed soap recipe from Humblebee & Me features fresh, home-grown basil to create a fun layered pattern. It’s great for novice soap makers. Grab the recipe here!

It is 100% not ok to re-print a formulation, large portions of the post (short credited quotes are fine, but do not re-publish extended passages), or list all of the ingredients and the required quantities. Similarly, it is also never ok to download my videos off YouTube and re-upload them anywhere—Facebook, Vimeo, Instagram, your website, etc.

Basically, if somebody could look at your website and make the project without visiting my website or YouTube channel, that’s not ok. The reason Humblebee & Me is free is that I am able to monetize visits to my website and YouTube channel; if people do not consume my content on my platforms, I do not earn any money.

Even with a credit link, features that remove the need to visit my platforms lead to next to no click-through, so people never find Humblebee & Me. I’ve tried this with a large blog before and they sent me 2 visitors in a year+ period, despite the post being very popular on their website. It’s simply not worth it for me—at that point, the formula might as well be outright stolen 😕


Do you have a formulation for X product and/or using X ingredient?

Maybe! As of early 2022 I’ve published nearly 1400 posts and over 450 videos, so there’s a decent chance I’ve done something similar to what you’re looking for or have worked with an ingredient you’re looking to learn more about.

For specific sorts of products

I highly recommend starting with a search. You can do so here. Please try different keywords (lotion instead of cream, etc.) if your first search doesn’t turn up what you’re looking for.

I’ve also categorized all the projects I’ve shared on Humblebee & Me. Use the “Formulations” drop-down in the main menu to navigate to big categories like “Body“, “Hair“, “Face“, “Makeup“, “Soap“, and more.  Those large categories also have sub-categories like “Facial Lotions & Creams“, “Hair Serums“, “Hand & Body Washes“, and many more. These sub-categories are listed in the main menu beneath their parent categories (on desktop devices).

For projects using specific ingredients

Look up the ingredient in the Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia. At the bottom of each entry, you’ll find a list of the 20 most recent projects I’ve shared using that ingredient.

For even more options, scroll to the very bottom of any page on Humblebee & Me and look for the “Tags” list in the footer. Click on the ingredient in question to bring up every single project I’ve ever used that ingredient in.


Do you do product reviews/placements of completed cosmetics/skincare products?


If you take a look around my website and YouTube channel you’ll quickly see my #1 “thing” is teaching people how to make their own skincare products and cosmetics. That’s my focus, and that’s why my readers and viewers visit Humblebee & Me. My readers & viewers want to learn how to make their own lip balms, lotions, etc. rather than buy them.


Why did I receive a comment reply notification email, but there’s no comment reply on the site?

As of March 2019 this is no longer an issue as I hired a developer to fix it!

This is a result of the best workaround I have for a bothersome little problem.

In order to insure I’ve replied to every single comment left on my blog, I’ve installed a WordPress plug-in that puts all comments that have not received a reply from me in a queue. No matter how old a post is or how old a comment is, if I have not replied to it, it sits in this queue until I reply.

Normally, this is a pretty awesome thing as it means everybody who asks me question or leaves a comment gets a reply from me—nothing can fall through the cracks (to date I’ve replied to over 12,000 comments—I take comment replies seriously!). There is, however, one case where this plug in is less than awesome.

That is the case in which a comment does not require a reply from me. This usually happens if a reader directs a comment at another reader—in situations like this, if I cannot answer the question, I will reply with a single period/full stop or a smiley face, and then promptly delete the comment. This fools the plug in into thinking I’ve replied (and removes the not-directed-at-me comment from my reply queue) without bogging down the comment thread with some useless interjection from me. This can also happen if I’ve already been going back and forth with a reader and they’ve replied with a “Thanks!” or something similarly brief that doesn’t require a follow-up remark from me.

In situations like this, if you’ve checked the “notify me of a reply” box, you will get an email, but when you check the website, there will be nothing there. Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about this. There is no way to mark a comment with “reply not needed” to remove it from the queue. If you find this to be a massive bother and would like to hire a developer to remedy this flaw in the plug-in, please get in touch! Otherwise, I hope you can appreciate that this plug-in is the thing that ensures you will always get an answer from me when you comment on my blog, and can accept these silly little emails as the small inconvenience they are rather than potentially never getting a reply to your queries.


Why am I getting two emails from you whenever you post something new?

At the beginning of May 2016 I switched my emails from the default, automated ones that WordPress sends out whenever a new post is published, to a service where I can properly build each email, meaning I can include more content and make much nicer looking emails. In order to do this I had to copy my existing email list over to the new email service, but one of the downsides of the old, automated list is that I can’t then remove those emails from it… so everybody will get two until they unsubscribe from the old ones. I cannot unsubscribe you from the old emails, you’ll have to do this yourself (unless you want to keep getting both emails, of course!).

Here’s how to tell them apart.

The New, Awesome Emails

They’ll come from me[at] look something like this:


The Old, Boring Emails

They’ll come from and look like this:


These are the emails that you should unsubscribe from. Scroll down to the bottom of any of these emails and you’ll see this (red box added for emphasis):


Click that “unsubscribe” link to remove yourself from the old, boring email list and now you’ll just get the new, shiny emails!

Hey, I’m only getting the old emails!

No worries, you can sign up for the new ones here!


Can you make me just one or two of these and sell it to me so I can see if I like the recipe?

No. Selling stuff legally is nowhere near as easy as just whipping up a batch, popping it in a container, and sending it off to a stranger in the post. Here’s a brief overview of things I have to do (or do differently) before considering selling things.

  • Submit my formulas to Health Canada and keep those up to date for every single product I sell; this is required by Health Canada and by my insurance.
  • Carefully test all products over the period of at least a year to ensure they are suitable for sale. I definitely do not do this for everything I share on the blog! If I did, this blog would definitely not be free, and it would be impossible to publish twice a week.
  • Source and test suitable packaging for every item that matches my brand standards and stands up to the intended use.
  • Design labels and have them professionally printed.
  • Track batch numbers of all my ingredients
  • Track batch numbers of all my products
  • I would purchase separate ingredients for everything I sell so I can guarantee there hasn’t been any cross-contamination (that’s a liability). As I do not sell anything, I would have to go out and purchase brand new bottles of every single ingredient to make you two of something… and that’s something you’ve told me you only want to buy from me once, and then you’re going to start making it yourself if you like it! That’s a pretty terrible investment for me.


What kind of recipes will not appear on Humblebee & Me?

Nothing that is medical—this includes sunscreen, skin lightening creams, foot fungus powders, and anything that is supposed to treat anything like psoriasis. I’m happy to create concoctions that you may find useful for conditions like psoriasis, but I am certainly not going to claim that I’m treating or curing it.

I also won’t be touching whitening/bleaching creams.

I’m also not going to make anything to go on anybody’s genitals, be it washes or lightening creams or whatever (yes, many people have asked!).

For further discussion, please read this post.


Can you re-send the emails from the free DIY Skincare for Beginners mini-course?

Thanks for signing up for my free DIY Skincare for Beginners mini-course! This FAQ deals with questions about missing emails from that course.

If you’re still getting the course emails, but you believe one/some of the earlier messages were not sent: If you’re still receiving course emails, that means you’re still in the workflow that delivers them. The system cannot send you email 4 without sending email 3, meaning you were definitely sent all the earlier emails. So, if you think you’ve missed an email, I highly recommend sorting your emails by “unread” and seeing if it is there—it almost always is 😊 You can also try searching by the word “Project” as that is in the subject of all of the course project/formulation emails.

Sometimes people don’t recognize the course emails as being part of the course, so they think they haven’t received it. In this case, I can see that people have opened most of the course emails, but still think the course wasn’t sent to them. To help you identify emails that are part of the course, the course have “DIY Skincare for Beginners mini-course” written at the top of every single email.

If you’ve lost some of the emails from the free course: Unfortunately, I cannot manually resend individual emails that are part of the DIY Skin Cafe for Beginners e-course. If you absolutely cannot find a missing message in your inbox you can sign up for the free version of the course again here. This will reset your progress through the free course and begin a complete re-send of the entire ten-message course on the same timeline, so you will have to wait for each email to arrive over the course of about 6 weeks.

If you’d like to get the whole course immediate, please sign up for the extended, paid version. You’ll get instant, ad-free access to the entire course, and the paid course is far more comprehensive than the free one. You can learn more and compare the two here.

Happy making!


I’ve tried signing up for your DIY Skin Care for Beginners course and it isn’t working.

If you’ve tried signing up for my DIY Skin Care for Beginners course and you aren’t getting course-specific emails (the welcome email should arrive within three hours—check your spam!), this is almost certainly because you are already on my mailing list and have already received the course.

The DIY Skin Care for Beginners course automatically goes out to all new subscribers to the Humblebee & Me mailing list. If you’ve been subscribed for a while you would’ve received the entire course back when you first signed up unless you opted out by clicking one of the opt-out links in the course emails. Attempting to sign up again with the same email address will not trigger a re-send of the course emails.

Here’s what I’d advise:

  1. Search your email account for the course emails. They will all be from “Humblebee & Me” and the subject lines for the individual projects all contain “Project #”, followed by the proper number (Project #1, Project #2, etc.)
  2. Sign up again with a different email address. If you use Gmail you can easily use your existing email address by modifying it with a “+”—click here to learn more.

Related FAQs


What’s the “description box” on YouTube?

YouTube is all about videos, but it’s impossible to put everything I want you to know about a formulation in a video! That’s where the description box comes in, and it’s something you’ll hear me mention a lot in my videos because there are always helpful links any other good information in the description box for my videos.

When you’re on YouTube, there’s a “SHOW MORE” link below each video, as seen below:

Click that link to expand out the full description box where you’ll find lots of helpful information and links. Out of all the links, the most important one is the one to the partner blog post for the formulation. The partner blog post will include the full written formulation, links to places to purchase all the ingredients, a list of formulation-specific substitutions, and a full written blog post which usually delves into more detail about ingredient choices and the formulation itself than the video tutorial is able to. Please make sure you’re always reading the blog post as well as watching the video—especially if you have questions!


Where did my comment go?

If you submitted a perfectly lovely comment (basically, one that wasn’t blatant spam or full of hate speech) and it vanished from the website within a day or two of submitting it, this is 100% due to some sort of behind the scenes website issue and my efforts to fix it.

Sometimes I’ll update something on the website (a theme or plug-in) and it’ll cause the entire website to blow up. Trust me, this does not make for a good day for me!

In the case of horrible website explosions, one of the tools in my un-exploding toolbelt is rolling back to an older version of the website. I keep daily backups of my website, and in the case of website breakage, I will usually roll back to the previous day’s back up to see if that fixes it. Unfortunately, that means any comments left since the backup was made will vanish (along with any posts I’ve written, comment replies I’ve left, updates I’ve made, etc.). I’m really sorry if this happens to you—it is absolutely not personal. Please re-submit your comment as best you can remember it and I will approve it and we can both shake our fists at website explosions.



I’m having issues accessing Patreon.

Using Patreon is pretty straightforward 🙂 You need to create an account, and then join a tier for my Patreon. Depending on the tier you join, you’ll be able to see different pieces of exclusive content at when you are logged into your Patreon account.

If you are certain that:

  1. You are logged into your Patreon account at AND
  2. You have joined a tier of my Patreon with that Patreon account AND
  3. Your pledge payment has cleared

… and you are still having issues accessing my Patreon content through, you will need to reach out to Patreon/check out their “help” section.

I do not run Patreon or have any sort of “behind the scenes” access. Think of Patreon like Facebook or YouTube. We both use those platforms, but I cannot help you log into your Facebook or YouTube account if you are having issues.


Why can’t I see my comment on your website?

All comments from new commenters must be approved by me before they pop up on the website, and this can take a couple days (or weeks) depending on how busy I am. Have no fear, it’s not lost!

The auto-moderator can also kick in if there’s a few links in your post, or if you’re posting from a new computer, or if you’ve used a word that looks spammy, so sometimes you may find a comment of yours vanishes even though you’ve commented many times before. No worries, if it’s not spam I’ll approve it ASAP 🙂

This is what you’ll see when you comment if your comment requires approval (red box added by me):



Why haven’t you replied to my email/tweet/comment/Facebook message/etc.?

It’s because there are tens of thousands of you guys and just one of me, and I can only do so much in a day.

I do work very hard to keep the FAQ and the Encyclopedia packed with useful information, so if you have a question please look in those places for your answer firstI cannot tell you how much time I spend replying to comments and emails with basically “I have an FAQ post on this” and a link to the relevant post. Save us both some time and check before asking 🙂 (As of 2019 I will not be replying to questions that are already answered in the FAQ—I simply don’t have the time.)

My overall philosophy for Humblebee & Me is to make as much of my time help as many people as possible. As such, I prioritize correspondence in this way:

  1. Comments on the blog and YouTube (Because everybody can read them and reap the benefits, though I don’t necessarily reply to comments in the order they were received). At any given time I usually have over 400 comments waiting for a reply, so you may never get a reply. If you need faster answers to your questions please consider becoming a Patron; I prioritize Patron questions.
  2. Facebook comments and posts
  3. Instagram comments
  4. Tweets
  5. Facebook private messages & emails (private correspondence is at the bottom as only one person benefits from it).

Regarding comments on platforms other than the blog (Instagram and Facebook, I’m looking at you!): they kind of stink. I get a notification the instant the happen, and then they can just vanish into the abyss if I don’t reply immediately (which is rarely possible). If you have a question about a formulation I’ve shared, please ask that question as a comment on the blog, not on another network.

YouTube comments are also dumb. The comments are organized by the date the parent comment was left, so if you reply to a comment that is a year old, that comment is starting its life out at the bottom of the ocean, and I am probably never going to see it. This makes back-and-forths difficult. Say you leave a comment on the 1st, I reply on the 5th, and you respond to my reply on the 7th. Between the 1st and the 7th there have probably been 150 new comments, so your reply on the 7th is 150 deep. How poorly designed is that!?

For blog comments: I do not reply to them in the order they’re received. I sort of jump into a pool of comments, grab a bunch, and reply to those. I tend to prioritize comments on newer posts as answering those promptly can head off multiples of the same question, and newer posts get more attention. I make time to reply to 10–20 comments a day. Depending on the time of year this can mean you hear from me in a few days, in a few weeks, or possibly never. If your comment is live on the site, it has not been lost or deleted. There’s no need to re-submit it multiple times: I will delete duplicates. As of 2019, I will not be replying to questions that are already answered in the post, encyclopedia, or FAQ—I simply don’t have the time.

Please know that I have received your email and I will try to reply if I can. As of 2020, that may never happen. I’m sorry, but there’s only one of me. If your question can be posted as a comment on a relevant blog post, I highly recommend that approach instead—you will hear back much faster 🙂 If you need a reply, please consider becoming a Patron; I prioritize Patron questions.

Here are some reasons you won’t get a reply:

  • Your question is answered in the FAQ or Encyclopedia
  • Your question is answered in the blog post you’re enquiring about
  • Your question is about troubleshooting a formulation that is not mine (either yours or somebody else’s)
  • Your question is about your business
  • And possibly, if your question is absolutely massive. If you write to me requesting personal, one-on-one, hands-on instruction; or asking me to develop a custom formulation just for you/your business, or asking me to explain everything I know about preservatives or emulsifiers or something to you, you won’t be getting a reply.
  • “Is this natural?” queries
  • “Do you have a recipe/formulation for X?” Please search for it. If I do, it’ll be here on Humblebee & Me, or in my book, Make it Up: The Essential Guide to DIY Makeup and Skin Care.


Do you ever teach workshops?

I do, and I love doing it! In the past, I’ve taught with Beakerhead, Windy Point Soap Making Supplies, and Market Collective here in Calgary, AB. I typically announce my workshops on my Facebook page, so I’d head over there and “like” me if you’re keen 🙂

If you’re in the area and you’d like to chat about running a workshop with me, please get in touch, I’d love to hear from you!


Safety (17)

I have read some terrible things about titanium dioxide and I don’t want to use it. Now what?

Titanium dioxide is a light, fluffy, lumpy, white powder (500g is approximately a cubic litre of the loose powder).

It appears in a lot of formulations because it is responsible for brightness and opacity; it’s a wonderfully versatile ingredient. In soap, it works beautifully to whiten and brighten bars. In cosmetics like foundations, blushes, and eye shadows it gives you a bright, opaque base to build other colours on top of—it is the canvas for your concealers, your tone eveners, and whatever else you like. It is the “white-out” of cosmetics.

When it comes to safety, I’m always glad when you’re doing your research into your ingredients! I’ve done lots, too, and I feel ok about using titanium dioxide.

For starters, the study that associates cancer with titanium dioxide was done in rats, and was with high-dose exposure to airborne ultra-fine titanium dioxide. These circumstances are not the ones we use titanium dioxide in at home! From the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety (bolding mine):

With such widespread use of titanium dioxide, it is important to understand that the IARC conclusions are based on very specific evidence. This evidence showed that high concentrations of pigment-grade (powdered) and ultrafine titanium dioxide dust caused respiratory tract cancer in rats exposed by inhalation and intratracheal instillation*. The series of biological events or steps that produce the rat lung cancers (e.g. particle deposition, impaired lung clearance, cell injury, fibrosis, mutations and ultimately cancer) have also been seen in people working in dusty environments. Therefore, the observations of cancer in animals were considered, by IARC, as relevant to people doing jobs with exposures to titanium dioxide dust. For example, titanium dioxide production workers may be exposed to high dust concentrations during packing, milling, site cleaning and maintenance, if there are insufficient dust control measures in place. However, it should be noted that the human studies conducted so far do not suggest an association between occupational exposure to titanium dioxide and an increased risk for cancer.

Here’s a few extra points:

  • As always, the dose (and application) makes the poison. Small amounts of titanium dioxide on your skin are not the same thing as large amounts of titanium dioxide in your lungs.
  • Micronized titanium dioxide is much more of a risk when it comes to trans-dermal concerns, and none of my formulations call for micronized titanium dioxide.
  • Many fine powders are hazardous if inhaled (clay, silica), and many more things are bad for you if they end up in your lungs (water!). This doesn’t mean they are unsafe in all applications.

In most cases, titanium dioxide cannot be easily replaced. Zinc oxide works in some applications (like soap), but not all—especially not cosmetics! Readers have tried it and reported awful results.


Is the EWG’s Skin Deep Database a good place to learn about ingredient safety?

Not really, no.

It’s easy to see the appeal of Skin Deep Database. Type in something and immediately learn if something is safe or not. Bam! No need for further research, you have your answer, right?

Unfortunately, this particular database is not known for accuracy among professionals. The EWG has railed against chemicals that quite literally do not exist. They readily provide ratings for ingredients with very little information about them—it isn’t hard to find many ingredients in their database with “limited” data or even “data: none” and a conclusive safety rating.

They also don’t keep abreast with recent research and update their ratings. Extensive research into parabens by multiple reputable bodies has found them to be safe when used as recommended, but if you ask the EWG they are basically cancer in a bottle with no safe usage rate. They’re also inconsistent—head over to SkinDeep and do a search for “petroleum jelly”. The first result, petrolatum (the INCI for petroleum jelly) gets a 4; a “moderate” hazard. The following products all score a 1 (safe), despite all being composed of 100% petrolatum! The chemical compounds are identical, so how is it that petrolatum is a risk, but when it’s called Vaseline it isn’t?!

This database also completely lacks nuance. There is no mention of usage rates or reasons in any of their ratings, and that sort of information is essential. The dose makes the poison. ALWAYS. If you evaluated the safety of water based on what it does when you get a lot of it in your lungs you wouldn’t touch the stuff. If the safety of chilli peppers was determined by rubbing them in our eyes, we wouldn’t have spicy food. It is impossible to state something is always safe or always toxic—there is so much more to it than that. How much was used? Where and how was it used? Is it a wash-off or leave-on product? What other ingredients are in the formula? Which part of the body is the product designed for? The SkinDeep database does not seem to care.

I’ve also compiled some further reading:

Alternative sources

If you’re looking for a good database, I recommend It does not have big red badges telling you something is dangerous, but it does provide solid information and plenty of linked sources so you can make your own decisions.

You can also look for CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) Safety Assessment reports on ingredients; simply google “CIR” and the ingredient name. You should get a hefty PDF document about that ingredient (or a class of ingredients that includes that ingredient) that will contain tons of information about the safe use of, and any concerns regarding, that ingredient.


Can I really test my makeup for heavy metals with aluminum foil?

You might’ve seen this “test” floating around the internet—smear your makeup on some aluminum foil, wipe with paper towel or tissue, and if there’s any black on the tissue, your makeup contains heavy metals. Comment sections on videos like this are full of people declaring they’ve just thrown out their entire collection of lipstick, and that’s really sad, because this “test” has no basis in reality.

Aluminum is a very reactive metal; I’m sure you’ve had aluminum foil turn black after being in contact with leftover food, but that doesn’t mean your lasagne is made of lead. We can probably say that something in the makeup is reacting with the aluminum foil, but to declare it to be heavy metals is a massive (and totally unfounded) assumption.

The pigments used in cosmetics must be cosmetic grade, and they are very carefully regulated. You can review the FDA requirements and regulations here. For cosmetic grade iron oxides, they are as follows:

  • Arsenic (as As), not more than 3 parts per million.
  • Lead (as Pb), not more than 10 parts per million.
  • Mercury (as Hg), not more than 3 parts per million.

For comparison, food grade iron oxides must meet the following standard:

  • Arsenic (as As), not more than 3 parts per million (ppm).
  • Lead (as Pb), not more than 5 ppm.
  • Mercury (as Hg), not more than 1 ppm.

Remember, these are maximum allowed values. Many suppliers will provide a Certificate of Analysis for their oxides showing what their specific product has tested at. You can review this one for brown iron oxide from TKB Trading and see that As = ≤2 ppm (less than or equal to 2 ppm), Pb = ≤5 ppm, and Hg = ≤1 ppm. All fall below the maximum allowable value and meet or exceed food grade requirements.

So, yes, there is likely a minuscule amount of heavy metals in your makeup (and food), but we’re talking parts per million—this is incredibly low. Even if the heavy metals in your lipstick did react with aluminum foil, you would not be able to see it with the naked eye.

Hopefully that helps put your mind at ease!


Why do you no longer recommend baking soda or other high pH cleansers?

Good question! Baking soda and other high pH cleansers like traditional soaps (castile, cold processed, hot processed, etc.) are frequently recommended on all kinds of natural/DIY skin care blogs, and on Pinterest you’re never more than five pins away from a baking soda scrub that promises to solve all of your skin problems—and these frequent recommendations are the entire reason I ever started using baking soda on my face—so I realize this is a bit of an odd stance to take in this “space”.

However, I’ve been doing lots of research, and it turns out that using basic (or high pH) substances (like soap and baking soda) on your skin (and especially your face) is really, really not good for your skin in the does-damage-over-time kind of way. Eek!

Our skin has a protective acid mantle that forms in the days and weeks after we are born (source, source). This acid mantle has a pH around 4.5–5.5 (it fluctuates with age, gender, and skin tone [source]), and that’s where our skin does best. Our acid mantle is a huge part of what keeps our skin effortlessly happy: “In the last decade it has been demonstrated that skin pH largely influences barrier homeostasis, stratum corneum integrity and cohesion, and antimicrobial defense mechanisms” (source). A healthy acid mantle means your skin naturally protects itself from gross stuff like bacteria, fungi, pollution, and drying out. When you repeatedly assault that acid mantle with products that have a drastically different pH, you start to destroy that natural protective layer and alter the pH of your skin (source).

When our acid mantle is unhappy, so is our skin. Your defenses are down and your skin is left open to inflammation, infection, dehydration, acne, general sensitivity, and a bunch of stuff that’s definitely on your oh dear heavens no to-don’t list for your skin.

Now, your skin will mostly correct its pH within 2–6 hours, so the odd exposure to a high pH substance isn’t the end of the world. However, “Small and sustained pH increases, like those caused by daily use of soap-based cleansers multiple times a day, adversely influence the barrier repair mechanism (source).” This fascinating study looked at two groups of subjects: one group washed with alkaline soap over four weeks, and the other washed with acidic syndet bars for four weeks. Both groups noticed a significant bump in skin pH directly after washing, but this was mostly resolved within two hours. However, over time, those using the acidic syndet maintained a stable or slightly declined pH, while those who used soap noticed an increase. “There are long-lasting effects with as few as two washing procedures of 1 minute each a day… according to a randomized open crossover trial, skin surface pH increases on the regular use of a conventional soap and decreases again after the change to an acidic cleanser (of pH 5.5) and vice versa… Hence there is amply evidence that there is both a short-term and a long-term effect on skin surface pH if a cleanser is used whose pH deviates from the pH of the skin surface to which it is applied. In keeping with this hypothesis, so-called natural cleansers [like cold process soap] are by no means neutral in a biologic sense (source)”.

These results were duplicated using two syndet bars to see if perhaps it was the soap, and not the pH that was the issue. One syndet bar had a pH of 8.5, while the other had a pH of 5.5. The participants using the pH 8.5 bars had a significant increase in propionibacteria population. “The results suggested that even minor differences—in the order of a single pH unit—in skin surface pH markedly influence the resident flora, in particular propionibacteria (source).” They went on to study soap vs. acidic syndet in acne-prone individuals over 4 weeks: those using soap experienced an increase in acne and irritation, while those using the syndet bar experienced a decrease in acne and significantly less irritation. Another study demonstrated “that high-pH
solutions even in the absence of surfactants increase stratum corneum swelling and lipid rigidity (source),” so we do know that it’s the pH, and not the soap that causes issues.

Because infants are born without an acid mantle and gradually acquire one over the first month or so of life, they’re great little case studies on life without an acid mantle. “Elevated pH is known to increase activity of serine proteases, kallikrein 5 and 7, which are involved in desquamation and degradation of corneodesmosomes” (source)—basically, when your skin pH is higher than it should be, you start to see your skin dry out as its barrier function degrades. “Additionally, key enzymes involved in the synthesis of the permeability barrier, β-glucocerebrosidase and acidic sphingomyelinase, which require an acidic pH are not fully activated in the newborn period resulting in decreased skin hydration (source)”. So, babies are prone to dry, easily irritated skin because their acid mantle hasn’t developed yet.

Skin pH: From Basic Science to Basic Skin Care discusses how several enzymes that are essential to the barrier performance (and barrier regeneration) of our skin are pH dependent. “Two key lipid-processing enzymes, β-glucocerebrosidase and acidic sphingomyelinase have pH optima of 5.6 and 4.5, respectively. Both are involved in the synthesis of ceramides, critical components of the permeability barrier. Activity of β-glucocererbrosidase is 10 times lower in situ at pH 7.4 than at pH 5.5.” If the pH of your skin is higher than it should be, the ability of your skin to protect itself drops significantly. “Studies have shown that elevations of pH in normal skin creates a disturbed barrier, linked to increased activity of serine proteases and reduced activities of ceramide-generating enzymes (source).”

Messing with the pH of your skin also throws off its microbiome—that is, it makes the good bacteria unhappy, and rolls out the welcome mat for the types of bacteria and fungus that causes problems. For instance, sweat contains Dermicidin, an antimicrobial peptide. In sweat it has been shown to have a bacteriocidal effect over 90% at a pH of 5.5, but that effect dropped to 60% in a pH of 6.5 (source).” That’s an efficacy drop of over 30% with a pH change of just 1! Having a higher than optimal skin pH means the bacteria in your sweat can more easily thrive, which means more body odor. Neat, eh?

We briefly looked at how a higher skin pH can cause propionibacteria to grow, so let’s look at that a bit more. There are three different types of propionibacteria that camp out on our skin: propionibacteria acnes (acne causing!), propionibacteria avidum, and propionibacteria granulosum. P. acnes (which causes acne!) is the most prominent. “While P.acnes grows very well at pH values such as 6.0 and 6.5, this is not the case at a pH of 5.5… a pH of 6.0 clearly promotes propionibacteria growth, while the opposite applies to pH values of 5.5 and 5.0.” (Source)

“Repeated washings with soap led to increased [propionibacteria] bacterial counts, after changing to the acidic syndet, counts decreased again. Moreover, there was a correlation between the skin pH and density of both bacterial species at the forehead. These observations indicate that (i) repeated washings with either soap or acidic syndet produce long-term changes in skin pH; (ii) different bacterial species forming the resident flora can be influenced differently in the long run by the type of skin cleanser.” (Source) Given the increase in propionibacteria bacterial counts in the group using the soap bar, we can conclude that their skin pH must’ve elevated to at least 6.0, while those using the sydet bar maintained a pH of 5.5 or lower. “In contrast to alkaline soap, [synthetic detergents with a pH of 5.5 or below] do not interfere with the cutaneous microflora, whose composition is linked to the skin surface pH.” (Source)

Now, let’s talk about the acid mantle in relation to pH: “The key to the bilayer formation and water-retaining capcity of the epidermal lipids is the pH of the system. Only if the pH is adjusted to that of normal skin (pH 5.5) are bilayers of these lips formed which are essential for the prevention of skin dryness and roughness… on the basis of these data, it may be suggested that individuals with sensitive skin such as atopics should preferably not use alkaline soaps.” (Source) Basically, the ability of our acid mantle to exist and do things like keep your skin smooth and hydrated relies on the pH of the skin being around 5.5 or lower. So, even if you’re not fussed about acne, there’s still plenty of reason to care! Studies have shown that people suffering from eczema, itchy skin, dry skin, ichthyosis vulgaris, Candidal intertrigo, irritant contact dermatitis, and athlete’s foot all have higher skin pH in the affected areas (source). Of course having a higher skin pH doesn’t mean one will get any of these conditions, just like walking about topless doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up with sunburned nipples—but in the event of exposure, one is much more susceptible!  “Indeed, a large proportion of the general population—those with a polar constitution of the skin surface that is either seborrheic or sebostatic skin—might profit from the regular use of an acidic cleanser, and there is no reason to believe that it might be disadvantageous in the rest.” (Source)

You can learn even more from F.C. over at his wonderful Simple Skincare Science blog. His post on the importance of the pH of our skin care products is incredibly comprehensive and informative, and worth every second it takes to read.

Some soap makers say that using acidic cleansers is a fad and unnecessary because the pH of your skin will revert to pre-wash levels within about 6 hours (source). Setting aside the fact that these assertions come from people who make their living selling soap, which makes them a touch biased, the evidence shows that this isn’t completely true as pH changes do accumulate over time with frequent washings (source). The key here seems to be the frequency. This study (which was sponsored by Kao Corporation, a company that used to be known as the Kao Soap Company and now owns brands like Biore… so a study sponsored by a company that sells both soap and syndet products found that both soap and syndet are appropriate cleansers…) looked at people who routinely used soap on their body vs. those who used syndets, and found little difference in the pH of their forearms. The studies showing long term pH change looked at washing twice a day, which one typically does not do to their arms. The arm study was not particularly comprehensive, either; they looked at 43 individuals who self-reported that they’d either used exclusively soap or exclusively acidic sydets over the past five years (and self-reporting is notoriously unreliable). The pH of their skin was then measured over the course of one day; once before washing, and then at 0h, 1h, 3h, and 6h after washing with their preferred soap or syndet. The study states that “By 3 h following washing, there were not any significant differences between any of the user groups at any measured time.”, but if one looks at the included chart those differences were typically at least 1 pH, and we’ve already looked at how a difference that small can mean the difference between the proliferation of p. acnes and a substantial decrease in the performance of naturally occurring antibacterials, so I don’t agree with their definition of “significant”.

This excerpt from this informative post explains why while your skin will strive to correct its pH, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the pH of your facial cleansers. “It literally takes a split second for an alkaline product to degrade the skin barrier enough for an irritant or damaging detergent to penetrate. Some people can handle this better then others, but long term daily use on the skin can contribute to long term issues on all skin types. As skin ages, or the barrier function degrades, it has more difficultly dealing with this type of stress. Even after 20 min or so, when the skin re-adjusts to its more normal pH (4.5 to 5.5) – it is already damaged, irritated and stressed. The damage recovery involves longer term healing. 14 to 17 days for acid mantle repair.” (Source)

Long story short—alkaline facial cleansers are out on Humblebee & Me. I won’t take down the pre-existing recipes, but I won’t be publishing any new ones ’cause I don’t want to encourage any kind of acid mantle disrupting silliness! Instead I’ll be focusing on gentle, pH balanced cleansers. I’ve been doing this personally for a couple months and I can’t believe how much happier my face is!

From what I can figure, this research doesn’t mean there are no uses for baking soda or soap in your DIY routine. In applications where baking soda is reacted with an acid (like bath bombs), it’s not an issue, nor is it an issue when a small amount is added to a huge amount of water, like in an occasional bath soak. I’m also happy to continue using soap on my body given the infrequency of use (though I am giving more acidic hand washes a go as I wash my hands more than anything). I may change my mind on this with more research, though!


How can I avoid nanoparticles?

Nanoparticles are incredibly small. Just because something is a fine powder does not in any way mean it is a nanoparticle. A nanoparticle is between 1 and 100 nanometers (nm) in size. A nanometer is equal to one billionth of a meter.

The particle sizes of the ingredients we work with are typically measured in microns or micrometers: one millionth of a meter.

The difference between one micrometer and one nanometer is a factor of 1000. That means if you are working with a powder with an average particle size of 0.5 microns/micrometers (fairly typical for non-nano titanium dioxide) that is 500 nanometers—5x the maximum size of a nanoparticle. Micronized, or nano titanium dioxide has a much smaller particle size that usually falls within the definition of a nanoparticle. None of my recipes call for micronized or nano titanium dioxide.

Your suppliers should provide the particle size of your ingredients; TKB Trading is especially good for this sort of information, and they carry a ton of different powdered ingredients. For instance, their 24k Gold Mica has an average particle size of 75 micrometers, which is 75,000–nanometers—not even close to being a nanoparticle!

Research has also not conclusively shown that nanoparticles are actually absorbed into the body. This study makes for interesting reading, but I found this section to be particularly pertinent as most of the worry around nanoparticles in this space seems to pertain to titanium dioxide:

Regarding the passive diffusion of TiO2 the EU Scientific Committee on Cosmetics and Non-Food Products (SCCNP) published a paper based on studies with micro- and nano-sized material. Herein they state that these particles remain on the skin surface or on the outer layer of the stratum corneum and do not penetrate into or through the living skin. Confirmation was obtained with studies on human, porcine or murine skin for particles within a size range between 10 and 100 nm. These data were recently confirmed by the outcome of an EU project (NanoDerm). Here, TiO2 are only found in the top layer of the stratum corneum and the openings of the hair follicle. Similar results were obtained for ZnO., Just recently two studies on ZnO and TiO2, were published; ZnO penetration was investigated in vivo with human volunteers and located the particulated materials only on the skin surface and their accumulation in skin folds and/or hair follicles. In vitro measurements of the penetration of TiO2 particles between 20 and 100 nm showed the nanoparticles only in the top 3–5 layers for all skin samples used (porcine skin, healthy human skin and human skin grafted on a severe combined immuno-deficient mouse model).


I disagree with some of the ingredients you use.

That’s ok! The ability to choose the ingredients you want to use is a big part of why DIYing is so awesome. You are free to learn what works for you and to use those things (and I work really hard to fill Humblebee & Me with free, self-serve information about the ingredients I use, including extensive information about substitutions—please refer to the encyclopedia, which is positively packed with useful info!). Which ingredients people choose to use is a very personal thing, much like dietary choices. Some people choose to eat meat, others choose to avoid all animal products, and of course, there are thousands of other dietary variations! You do you.

What’s not ok, though, is insulting me, accusing me of poisoning the ones I love, etc. I’ve been a vegetarian for over a decade, but I have never sought out a meat-eating food blogger to criticize their personal choice to eat meat with phrases like “meat is murder” and links to studies that bacon is a proven carcinogen. That would be utterly exhausting. Why would I choose to spend my time and emotional energy proselytizing to random people on the internet who are probably well aware that 1) meat is dead animals and 2) bacon is not health food? I’d ask that you grant me the same courtesy.

I thoroughly research my ingredients and I’m comfortable with my choices. I do not owe anyone on the internet justification as to why I am using an ingredient beyond that it has been approved for use by regulatory bodies staffed by chemists and experts who know far more than I ever will. You don’t have to agree, but I’m not interested in engaging with people who seem interested in having an argument about this topic.

Here’s a section of a post I shared in 2017 called Let’s talk about “natural” that is particularly relevant:

A lot of people coming to me with a laundry list of perfectly safe ingredients they are hell-bent on avoiding because they “don’t trust them” or they “don’t like the sounds of” them, or for any other reason, be it the EWG database or a scary-sounding blog post that frames limited data in a terrifying way. Honestly, I don’t know how to tactfully address that. If you can’t provide me with vetted, scientific proof beyond your gut feeling that something is legitimately harmful in the ways and concentrations it is approved for use (to users, animals, the environment—something!)…. I’m not interested in engaging with a personal opinion. You are obviously free to make any decisions you want about what ingredients you want to use, but please don’t expect me to agree.

This is a lot like my flat out hatred of olives. I think they are gross, and I don’t want anything to do with anything that has olives in it. Seriously. If a casserole has a smattering of olives on top, those nasty little things have infested the entire casserole and it is ruined for me. That doesn’t mean that olives are poisonous, and I’m certainly not going to go seeking out a blog focused on cooking with olives and ask them to do extra work to develop new, olive-free recipes to accommodate my (entirely personal) hatred of olives.

I’d recommend reading these posts as well:


What kind of container should I put this in?

When it comes to storing your concoctions, there are three big options for containers:

  1. Glass
  2. Metal
  3. Plastic

Here’s a quick overview of their strengths and weaknesses, and why you might choose one over the other.


Non-porous, does not corrode, available in lots of different shapes & sizes, pretty, looks pretty classy.

Quite breakable, and the broken pieces can easily puncture skin; light permeable; heavy.

Best For
Most concoctions, but especially concoctions with high concentrations of essential oils (5%+) or extreme pH’s.

Avoid with
Anything that will be used in the bath or shower due to shattering + bare feet risk.


Strong, looks great, tins can dent rather than break, opaque

Some metals can leech into concoctions, especially ones with high concentrations of essential oils (5%+) or extreme pH’s; denting can be unattractive; metal can rust.

Best For
Great for oil-based concoctions.

Avoid with
Not recommended for lotions as the water can trigger rust.


Hard to break; inexpensive; available in a huge variety of shapes, sizes, colours, opacities; lightweight.

Plastic can can corrode and leech into concoctions, especially ones with high concentrations of essential oils or extreme pH’s.

Best For
Good for anything to be used around the shower, great for lip balm tubes, good for lotions and body butters. Good for most things, really.

Avoid with
Anything with high concentrations of essential oils (5%+) or extreme pH’s.


I heard/read something bad about an ingredient and would like you to explain/refute it.

If you follow the news you’ve almost certainly come across headlines and articles about certain ingredients being banned and/or newly discovered to be awful in some way.

I appreciate that you trust me and want my opinion on these headlines, but I’m flat out unable to dig into every sensational headline and explain/debunk them. That could be a full time job, and I’m already very busy with all things Humblebee & Me.

If you have concerns about an ingredient, I’d encourage you to consider these points and resources:

Usually headlines about ‘banning’ lead to a much less sensational (and more specific) truth. A commenter once told me France had banned phenoxyethanol. Further research showed it was no longer allowed in diaper-area products for children under the age of 3; FAR from a complete ban.

Is the exposure you might get to X ingredient from cosmetics meaningful? Remember: the dose makes the poison. Additionally, many of the compounds we’re exposed to are found far more plentifully outside of the realm of cosmetics. I’m not saying you shouldn’t avoid a certain chemical, but it does seem inconsistent to refuse to use an ingredient with 0.05% topical exposure if you’re also eating that chemical (like parabens) or are exposed to far higher levels of it from other common items/activities.

How, and how much? Dose, application, and use matter. Hot sauce is safe at low dosages in soup, but dangerous if you put pure hot sauce in your eyes. If an ingredient has been banned in aerosols or leave-on genital-area products that doesn’t mean it’s unsafe for wash-off use.

Headlines often use percentages or multiples to discuss increased risk, as in “increases risk by 10x!”. That sounds scary… but if the baseline risk was 1 in a million, increasing it to 10 in a million is still a very, very low risk. What are the actual numbers?

Check with and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review. Avoid any sources that aim to scare or worry (like the EWG).

Reporters are usually not chemists or experts in cosmetic formulation. Look for the actual study on PubMed. Is the media’s interpretation accurate? Was the sample size so small that the results can’t be guaranteed? Was the methodology flawed? Was the study sponsored/run by an organization with a conflict of interest?

Read more: Research Red Flags & How to Learn About Your Ingredients


Is _____________ ingredient safe?

This is a super broad question, with a frustratingly wide array of answers.

Some ingredients we can pop fairly safely in the “no” category—things like asbestos or agent orange.

For everything else, the answer is “it depends”. Yes, everything—even water can be dangerous if it’s in your lungs or you drink far too much of it! Remember that natural ingredients can be toxic, too (hemlock, poison ivy, nightshade, and even mistletoe!). Natural is not an indicator of safety!

The first thing you should consider is dose; how much of said ingredient are you using? Ibuprofen is considered a very safe medication, but if you take too much you can damage your stomach and intestines. The dose makes the poison.

The safety data sheet for an ingredient can be a good place to start your research, but remember that they are dealing with the ingredient at 100% concentration. If the SDS says an ingredient in irritating to the eyes at 100% concentration, but you’re planning on using it on your hands at 5% concentration, that isn’t hugely relevant. Chilli peppers, for instance, would really suck if rubbed directly into the eyes, but many people enjoy them at lower concentrations in spicy foods!

The second thing you should consider is the usage. Titanium dioxide (and many other fine powders) are perfectly safe as long as you don’t inhale them. Tea tree oil is toxic if consumed. Some citrus essential oils are phototoxic in leave-on products. Water is safe to drink, but not to inhale. Anyhow, you get the idea, but do your research and ensure you are using the ingredient safely—something that is perfectly safe for topical application may become dangerous if inhaled or ingested, but that does not mean that the ingredient is inherently unsafe.

The third factor to consider is your personal sensitivities. Are you allergic to nuts? If so, it should go without saying that you should avoid all nut products, even though they are perfectly harmless to anybody without nut allergies. The same philosophy applies to all ingredient sensitivities; some people find sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) to be very irritating, while many people do not. Some readers have told me they’re allergic to vitamin C, that doesn’t mean vitamin C is bad for everybody!

All that said, some ingredients are certainly more dangerous than others if used improperly. They might have a much narrower margin of dosing error, making it easy to use too much (think morphine vs. water; one has a far smaller margin of error than the other!). Some have much scarier side effects than others (endocrine disruption, carcinogen, etc.). Some are well-documented irritants/health hazards and would be best avoided in a home making situation.

In the end, I’d recommend doing proper, science-backed research and deciding what you’re ok with. Cosmetics Info is a great database; the EWG’s Skin Deep Database is not. I’ve written a post on how to evaluate sources to help prevent you from falling into the fear-mongering wormhole that can be the internet.

I suppose the general gist of this is “think critically, do research, and make your own decisions.” I hear from some readers who won’t make anything with water in it because they refuse to deal with any preservatives, and that’s fine. I hear from some who are really enjoying playing with synthetic ingredients, and that’s fine, too. This is you, your body, and your hobby.


Is X ingredient a chemical?

Yes. Everything is a chemical/made of chemicals—air, water, coconut oil, baking soda—so this really isn’t a very useful question. It’s sort of like asking if something exists. It doesn’t tell you anything about the ingredient at all.

This question is usually asked from a safety standpoint, so the better question is “is this safe to use as directed?”. For this information I would recommend referring to the Cosmetics Info database. Each ingredient has a “Safety” tab that contains more information.

It is important to remember that ingredient safety is not a simple “safe” or “not safe” thing. Think about water—safe to drink, but you wouldn’t want it in your lungs! Concentration (usage rate), where it is used on the body, and whether it is a leave-on or rinse-off product all play a role in determining if an ingredient is being used safely. There are many ingredients that are fine for feet and hands, but not eyes. There are many that can be used at higher concentrations in a rinse-off product than in a leave-on product.


Is edibility a good indicator of ingredient safety?

In short, no.

Our skin has very different needs that our body’s nutritional needs.

Think of your skin as a dog; you wouldn’t get a dog and only feed it things you ate. Sure, that would work out fine in many cases (meat, sweet potatoes, water), but it’d prove lethal in others (chocolate, grapes, garlic, onions). Dogs have different dietary needs—and bodies—than humans do, so you cannot assume something is safe for a dog because it’s safe for a human.

The same goes for the skin.

Many ingredients that are perfectly safe for use on the skin would make you very sick or ill if you ingested them. This is not an indicator that the ingredient is unsafe; it just means you shouldn’t eat it.

Would you sit on a toilet seat, but not lick it? Same deal.

One of the best examples of a type of ingredient that is safe when used in skincare at responsible levels but can make you very sick if ingested is essential oils. It depends on the essential oil, of course, but experts do not recommend consuming essential oils unless under the supervision of a qualified professional.

There are also plenty of things that are safe to eat, but detrimental to skin health. Examples include lemon juice, hot sauce, and baking soda. These ingredients will disrupt your skin’s natural barrier and can lead to burns, rashes, and irritation.

The skin is an excellent barrier. It has evolved to protect us from the outer world and keep our internal organs from falling onto the sidewalk. The notion that your skin absorbs everything you put on it as if you were eating it is flat out wrong. If that was true, you would need to buy new underpants all the time because they would constantly be absorbed into your bloodstream. You’d also need pee ferociously shortly after getting into the bath, or overdose on sodium every time you swam in the ocean. You do not need to worry about your body absorbing all of your skin care products through it.

Learn more: The “60% of what’s applied to your skin is absorbed into your bloodstream” myth from Lab Muffin


Can I add a store bought product to this project, or vice versa?

Please don’t.

There are two ways people want to use store bought products in their DIYs. They’ll either want to add some concentrated DIY ingredients to a pre-existing product (for example, adding some hyaluronic acid to an otherwise complete moisturizer), or include some of a pre-existing ingredient in a recipe, often as an alternative for a concentrated DIY ingredient (for example, using a store bought hyaluronic acid serum instead of pure hyaluronic acid or a precisely made hyaluronic acid solution).

Store bought products are complete formulations. If they are an emulsion, the emulsifier will be carefully calculated to create a stable emulsion—as is. Adding additional ingredients can de-stabilize the emulsion, causing it to split.

If the product requires a preservative, that preservative system has been carefully designed and tested to preserve exactly that product. Adding additional ingredients can overwhelm or deactivate the preservative system, causing the product to spoil. Additional preservatives may conflict with the pre-existing one.

Store bought products containing a common ingredient (like a vitamin or extract) is very different from using the raw material. The raw material is always more concentrated, but you also know exactly how concentrated. Store bought serums rarely list their ingredients, but even if they do, trying to use a 5% serum in place of a 100% active won’t work well. You’d need to use 20x as much to get the same concentration of the active ingredient, and chances are there isn’t room in the formula for 20x more.

If you have a store bought product that sounds like it kinda-might-work, just use it the way it was intended to be and invest in the actual raw ingredient when you can.


Why don’t you list potential allergens on recipes?

Honestly, it’s because people can be allergic/sensitive/sensitized to pretty much anything, so such a warning would basically end up being “Warning: Contains ingredients it is possible to react to.”

I’ve heard from people with allergies/sensitivities to almost every single ingredient used in cosmetics. Everything from food allergies that preclude certain carrier oils to alcohol (fatty or otherwise) to shea butter to aloe to vitamins to synthetic fragrances to certain essential oils. Allergies and sensitivities are a highly personalized thing.

If you have an allergy or sensitivity, it is up to you to make sure you’re not using ingredients that will trigger a reaction. I always clearly list the ingredients I use (that’s a must for a recipe!) so you can do your own research. It should be impossible to hide ingredients in something you make for yourself 😉 Just make sure you are checking INCI listings as well (basically, the ingredient list for your ingredients) as some products we use have trade names that are much more memory/pronunciation friendly than the full INCI.


Let’s talk about essential oil concentrations.

Depending on the recipe, you’ll see different recipes use different concentrations (or percentages) of essential oils.

Recommendations on these percentages vary from source to source, but generally fall between 2–5%. Lower concentrations are generally recommended for children, infants, pregnant/breastfeeding women, and the elderly; generally from 1% all the way down to none.

However, it’s important to remember that the 2–5% number is really a very broad generalization. You can easily purchase 150+ different essential oils, and just like the plants they are derived from, these essential oils vary wildly. Think of essential oils a bit like the herbs and spices you cook with. A dish that is 5% cayenne pepper will be very different from a dish that is 5% basil.

Lavender and tea tree essential oil are often cited as being safe for “neat” (straight, undiluted) application—that’s 100% concentration. While I wouldn’t recommend doing that, people clearly do and there are no reports of loss of limb or life from doing so (though sensitization [developing an adverse reaction to something from exposure] can and does happen).

On the other end of the spectrum, some essential oils are crazy irritating, even in very small doses. Honey myrtle (Melaleuca teretifolia, a relative of tea tree essential oil) is one such essential oil. I added a couple drops to my bandits blend and then tried diffusing a few drops of the blend in my house. Within minutes my eyes were burning from across the room—from what might have been a drop of honey myrtle essential oil diffused throughout an entire room. That, obviously, is well below the 2–5% recommended “safe use” and was still intolerable.

The Government of Canada publishes and maintains a Hot List of prohibited and restricted ingredients for use in cosmetics. The banned list only contains two essential oils, neither of which I’ve ever seen for sale. The restricted list contains a few essential oils, including Eucalyptus essential oil, which must be used at concentrations of not more than 25%—substantially more than that “safe” range. Feel free to peruse the list yourself—it’s quite an interesting read (human placenta is on it…).

When we use essential oils we generally use them for scent/aromatherapy benefits, or for physical effects (and sometimes both, though one is usually more important than the other). Examples of use for scent include lotion, lip balm, and body butters. Examples of use for physical effects would be things like tingly foot rubs, tiger balm, and cramp salves.

When adding essential oils for scent, and to “taste” (of your nose, haha), I find it’s hard to surpass the “safe” range. You’ll find your product smells plenty strong enough well before your surpass 5%. Assuming 20 drops = ~1 gram (a rough approximation), that means you’d want to use 20–50 drops of essential oil in a 50g batch of lip balm to be within that 2–5% “safe zone”.

When using essential oils for a physical effect, we’re generally talking about a warming (cassia, chili seed), cooling (peppermint, menthol), or clearing (eucalyptus, camphor) effect, or some combination of the three. I have found that 5%> concentrations simply do not deliver these physical effects to the desired level. I’ve made tiger balm with essential oil concentrations from 30–50%, and the 30% stuff produces a very, very weak effect.  A 50% concentration delivers the kick that you’d get from the shop-bought stuff, which leads one to assume the shop-bought (and government regulated) stuff contains a concentration of essential oils somewhere around 50%. The same can be said for shop-bought menthol muscle rubs. So, you will find that many of my “physical effect” essential oil recipes feature concentrations of essential oils well above 5%. This is why they work. I test them on myself, and never publish anything I find to be uncomfortably irritating. I also don’t recommend using these recipes while pregnant, or on children. All that said, these “physical effect” recipes use a fairly small selection of essential oils that are commonly found in shop-bought high concentration products—we’re generally talking about menthol, peppermint, chili seed, cassia, cajeput, and camphor. You won’t find recipes from me that are 10% Honey Myrtle essential oil, that’s for certain.

So… where does that leave us? You may want to do some of your own research. You are certainly more than welcome to reduce essential oil concentrations in recipes to suit your comfort level. However, if you’d like to keep all your essential oil use under 5%, I’d recommend staying away from the “physical effect” category of recipes—you’ll be wasting your ingredients.


Do I need to worry about California Prop 65 warnings?

If you’re purchasing cosmetic grade ingredients from reputable suppliers, no, you do not need to worry about Prop 65 warnings.

You might’ve seen warnings like this when shopping for ingredients:

“This product may contain trace levels of chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm: … ”

Prop 65 warnings call out the potential for certain ingredients/compound to be present, regardless of concentration, dosage, risk, and actual presence of the compound. This makes those warnings sound a lot more scary than they are.

From Prop 65: Disneyland Is Bad for Your Health?:

Prop 65’s dire and dramatic warning on coffee, for example, is based on the ubiquitous presence of acrylamide, found in almost everything cooked at high temperatures. No study has ever determined coffee to be carcinogenic to humans. In fact, a 2018 statement from FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb stated clearly: “Although acrylamide at high doses has been linked to cancer in animals, and coffee contains acrylamide, current science indicates that consuming coffee poses no significant risk of cancer.”

From The New York Times:

The Prop 65 label is like a noisy alarm that rings equally loudly about smaller amounts of low-risk substances and huge amounts of potentially harmful chemicals. The labels don’t say how much of the chemical is present, or how much it would really take to make a person sick. You could get the same alarming label on potato chips (acrylamide), chemotherapy (uracil mustard), lumber (wood dust), or toxic runoff (arsenic). It’s obviously helpful to be alerted to the presence of potentially harmful chemicals. But not all doses of these different chemicals mean the same thing.

Imagine if a warning label accompanied every risk you took on a regular basis, from driving on the freeway to baking gel nail polish under UV light. Fear is powerful, but it should be commensurate with the danger, and the Prop 65 label tends to equalize risk in a way that actually might actively harm people’s ability to judge danger.

TKB Trading has a great FAQ on Prop 65 warnings that you can read here.

If you’re worried about a chemical that is called out in a warning, I recommend starting your research at What is the safe level? Then compare that with the data sheet for the ingredient; it will almost certainly comply (I’ve never found one that doesn’t). After that, consider the concentration that you’re likely to use that ingredient at.

For example: The concern usually brought up in regard PEGs is the potential contamination with 1,4-dioxane. 1,4-dioxane is NOT an ingredient in PEGs. Think of it a bit like M. bovis (a bacterial species of the M. tuberculosis complex); this is not an ingredient in milk, it’s a potential contaminant, and steps are taken to reduce that contaminant, which is why we generally do not worry about contracting tuberculosis from milk anymore.

1,4-dioxane a well-known potential contaminant, and the industry works hard to reduce that contamination as much as possible. The European Commission Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety concluded “1,4-dioxane amounts in cosmetic products are considered safe for consumers at trace levels of ≤10 ppm”. By checking the data sheet, you can see that the Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate sold by Lotion Crafter is declared to comply with this—and on top of that, you wouldn’t be applying that ingredient directly to the skin, so anything you’d actually encounter would be even less concentrated.


Can I use this during pregnancy/on my new baby/for my cancer/etc.?

I am not a doctor, and as such I refuse to give advice about anything to do with this. Please consult a real doctor and not a stranger on the internet 🙂

This goes for all medical type advice, really.


What precautions should I take when working with fine powders?

We work with lots of fine powders when we’re DIYing up a storm—clay, oxides, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, arrowroot starch, and more. They’re all light, fluffy, and can be easily inhaled, and we should take steps to avoid doing that as this can be a cancer risk.

When blending powders in your DIY specific coffee grinder I recommend leaving it capped for a minute or two after you’ve shut the motor off to let the powder settle down a bit. I also recommend getting yourself a dust mask for such projects to further minimize the risk of inhaling powders.

What about final products? You obviously don’t want to wear a dust mask every time you apply eyeshadow.

  • Many products have the powder totally wetted out/weighted down, like in soaps and lipsticks. There’s no inhalation concern here, so no worries.
  • Products that stay powdery will call for a few drops of a liquid oil. This is to help weigh the powder down so it doesn’t “pouf” up much when used. Don’t eliminate the liquid oil!
  • Do not make lines of your powdery concoctions and inhale them like they do in the movies (albeit with different powdery concoctions)


Soap (8)

How can I make soap without using lye?

You can’t, and I wrote an entire article on why—you can read it here.


What is superfatting/lye discounting?

Every fat requires a certain amount of lye to turn it into soap. For example, 500g of olive oil (pomace) (USA / Canada) requires 67.7g of lye, whereas 500g of lard requires 70.5g of lye.

When you are making soap the idea is to always use more fat than the lye can convert into soap. This prevents the presence of any excess lye in the finished bar, which means it will be a nice, gentle bar, and will not be irritating.

A 5% superfat is fairly standard (you don’t want to go much higher than 10% or the bar will be very soft and can go rancid). 5% superfat is not an ingredient, it’s part of how you calculate the recipe—the lye calculator you use will have an area asking what superfat percentage you want to calculate at. Put the number “5” in that input box for a 5% superfat.

With a 5% superfat, you would only use 64.3g of lye for 500g of olive oil (pomace) (USA / Canada) instead of 67.7g. That means 5% of that 500g of olive oil (pomace) (USA / Canada) will not be turned into soap, giving you a bar of soap that is 475g of saponified olive oil (pomace) (USA / Canada) with 25g of leftover olive oil (pomace) (USA / Canada) mixed into the bar to moisturize your skin and work as a buffer against any errors in measuring the lye.


How dangerous is lye?

Lye has the potential to be very damaging, but I would like to contextualize that within your day-to-day life and dangers you regularly face. A lot of the reading you’ll do on NaOH (sodium hydroxide)/KOH (potassium hydroxide) will have you thinking it is the most dangerous thing you’ve ever handled by a factor of 10, which will likely make you very afraid of it, and nervous whenever you handle it. When you’re afraid and nervous you don’t work very well. Your hands might shake. You might be more likely to freak out if you think something might be going wrong, compounding the problem. I would like to argue that you do not need to be afraid of lye. You need to respect it.

I would like to draw a parallel between a concentrated lye solution and boiling water. Both have the potential to do a lot of damage to you. I’m quite familiar with the boiling water side of this as I once sustained a second-degree burn on my stomach from a cup of just-brewed tea. It’s no laughing matter. Photos I’ve seen of serious lye injuries look a lot like my scalding burn. Multiple layers of skin instantaneously blasted away, leaving the remaining skin raw and seriously damaged. OUCH.

Both boiling water and concentrated lye solutions are dangerous and should be respected and treated with care. However, when most people handle boiling water they are not afraid of it. They are well aware that they should not stick their hands in it, and should take great care to avoid spills, but they are not so terrified of it that they have adrenaline coursing through their veins whenever they have to work with it. Treat lye water with the same level of respect you’d treat boiling water, and you will be ok. Be calm, be careful, but do not get so worked up with fear that you’re quaking in your boots.

If you think treating lye water with the same level of respect that you’d give boiling water is encouraging lax lye safety… I don’t know what to say to that. I suppose I would encourage you to treat boiling water with more respect if that’s the case.

The concentrated lye water stage is the most dangerous part of making soap. This is the stage where you should be wearing gloves, eye protection, and an apron—especially if you are new to soap making. This is because this is the stage where you will sustain the most damage if anything goes very wrong. Start with all the protective equipment, familiarize yourself with the process, and don’t be an idiot. But also don’t be terrified.

Once the lye water has been blended into your fats, the danger factor goes down significantly. This is because the lye is now diluted in a bunch of oils and fats. As with all things, the dose makes the poison. Raw soap batter is nowhere near as dangerous as a concentrated lye solution because it is nowhere near as concentrated. Is it still very basic and caustic? Yes. But we are not in “instantly blasting off your skin” territory anymore. If soap batter ends up on your skin, you will likely not even notice for a few minutes. When you do, it’ll itch, you’ll wash it off with water, and that’s that. Side note: don’t use vinegar for this; it’ll react with the lye and cause extra damage. Just use lots of water.

I’ve heard from some experienced soap makers that they no longer wear gloves for this raw soap batter stage as they find gloves negatively impact their grip and made them more likely to slip or spill. They also all stated that this was a personal choice for them. I sometimes don’t wear gloves for this stage anymore, either, but that is definitely a personal choice borne from my experience with contact with raw soap batter. If given the choice of having an accident with one or the other, I would choose diluted raw soap batter over boiling water any day. Many other soapers said they still wear gloves all the way through because they prefer gloves to the raw soap itch, or because they’re particularly klutzy or messy. When you have years of experience behind making this call, I say go for it. This is you. Your body. Your hands. Your risk assessment. In my personal experience, the risk at this stage is fairly low, especially if you are being careful.

In the end, it is best for you to wear safety gear, for those just in case moments. Especially goggles. Your eyes are much harder to wash than your arms, and they don’t heal up nearly as well. However, I don’t want you to be afraid of lye. I want you to respect it. Fear is not productive or conducive to good decision making. Fear leads to the jitters, and jitters lead to spills. Don’t be afraid. Be respectful. Ensure your working area is clear of tiny intruders (aka children & pets). Don’t be an idiot. But don’t be terrified, either.


How long should I age my cold processed soap?

We age soap to give the water content in it a chance to evaporate off, giving us a harder bar that doesn’t immediately turn to soap slime when it gets wet in our shower or soap dish. The longer you age a bar, the more water will evaporate, and the harder a bar will be. In really long-aged bars you’ll often notice the surface is a bit concave as the soap visually contracts from water loss.

As soap ages you’ll reach a point of diminishing returns. You’ll notice substantial differences in hardness over the first couple days of aging, but after a bar is a couple months or years old, those differences will be extremely subtle.

The typically suggested period of time for aging a bar of soap is three weeks, and this is what all of my soap recipes are based around unless otherwise noted on an individual recipe. However, aging time can be influenced by a couple big factors:

  • The recipe. If your recipe uses a lot of soft/liquid oils, your soap will need a longer aging time (I’ve read 5 years for 100% olive oil soap). If your recipe uses a lot of hard oils (tallow, palm, lard), you may be able to age those bars for less time.
  • The environment. If you live somewhere very dry your bars will obvious age much faster than if you live somewhere very humid.

Something else to keep in mind is that as soap ages, other things can change as well. If you used essential oils to scent your soap, those will fade. If you used botanicals to colour your soap, those can oxidize and change colour, or fade. If you age soap for a very long time it will shrink, and decrease in weight. Things that do not change through aging are lather or how gentle or harsh the soap may be on the skin—those things are determined by the recipe, and once saponification is done, you won’t see any significant changes through aging.


Can I reduce the pH of this soap?

To a degree, yes, but soap needs to be basic to remain soap. I wouldn’t recommend it as the more acidic soap is, the less effective it is.

To recap: soap is a reaction between fats and a strong base (something like sodium hydroxide [NaOH] or potassium hydroxide [KOH]—typically called “lye”). The end product is basic, typically with a pH around 9.

The basic pH of soap is an integral part of its soap-ness. When soap becomes acidic is ceases to be soap and instead transforms into free fatty acids. The lower the pH of the soap, the less it suds, as more and more of it ceases to be soap.

Kevin Dunn has been running an acidic soap challenge for a few years now, and has yet to receive a successful entry. I had an interesting talk with him at the 2018 HBBG conference in Toronto. He described an experiment where one can add acid to a soap solution and watch the fatty acids precipitate out of solution. One can then add some NaOH solution and the mixture will suds again!

If you want to make an acidic (or even just more acidic) cleanser, I’d recommend shifting to working with surfactants. Lowering the pH of soap also lowers its efficacy as the addition of acid slowly eliminates the soap from the mixture.


Can I use pre-made liquid castile soap instead of the liquid soap paste in your recipes?

Kind of, but there are better options.

Using a shop bought liquid soap like Dr. Bronner’s in place of liquid soap paste you make yourself is sort of like using a store bought cake instead of baking your own. You have no control over the ingredients, or how it was baked. You can decorate it however you like, but you can’t change the core ingredients, and you can’t change the dilution level. So, this will really only work for projects where we’d be diluting the liquid soap paste to the same consistency as the liquid soap you have on hand—soap paste based cleansing balms and recipes that call for a cream soap paste are out of the question. If you are using pre-diluted liquid soap in a recipe that calls for liquid soap paste, eliminate the soaking step and do not add any extra water.

A better option is to use a purchased liquid soap paste. Brambleberry has one that looks great (their high sudsing one also looks great!), and it’s much more cost effective than Dr. Bronner’s. You get 2lbs (0.9kg) of undiluted paste for the same price as 2lbs of pre-diluted Dr. Bronner’s. According to Brambleberry, 2lbs of liquid soap paste can make 7–8lbs of diluted soap, so that means you’d get up to 4x as much liquid soap out of that paste, meaning it’s a quarter of the cost! And, since it’s still a paste, you can use it in any recipes that call for liquid soap paste that don’t include dilution. You still cannot use it for recipes that call for cream soap paste as that is an entirely different thing (sort of like pancakes vs. Devil’s food cake… both have “cake” in the name and use flour, but after that the process and ingredients vary quite a lot!).


Can I use a melt and pour soap base instead of making my own soap base?

Melt and Pour soaps are like those tubes of cookie dough or a cake mix—all the important stuff has been done already, and now you just need to add the finishing touches, like icing, and baking (and extra chocolate, if you’re like me). And while that’s great for when you want cookies ASAP, you don’t have any control over what’s in them. Do you prefer whole grain flour or free range eggs? Too bad. Somebody else has already chosen all the ingredients, made up the recipe, measured everything out, and determined almost all the other variables. And while the cookies are going to taste awesome, they’ll never really be truly yours.

So, to draw the analogy over to soap. Say you think palm oil is terrible for the environment, and you prefer tallow (as I do—here’s why). If your M&P base contains palm oil instead (as they almost always do), you’re out of luck. Want to experiment with alternatives to water, like milk, beer, coconut, or tea? No can do.

I hope you can see why I prefer to make my soap from scratch—I like to control all the ingredients, not just the decorations. Looking for M&P recipes is like looking for recipes based on cake mixes—you’ll probably find most of the ambitious ones start from scratch, not from a box.

If you are interested in learning more about doing up your own soaps entirely from scratch, I’ve written two articles that should get you started nicely. First off, Why There is No Such Thing as Soap Without Lye goes over how soap is the result of a chemical reaction, and why lye really isn’t that scary. Then, my basic overview on making soap from scratch, to help you get the hang of the measuring & mixing.


My soap is drying out my skin—what am I doing wrong?

Honestly, you’re probably doing nothing wrong, other than perhaps having expectations for your soap that are a bit too high.

To start with, let’s look at how soap cleans, because that’s the crux of matter. Soap is made up of double-ended molecules; one end loves water, and the other end loves oil. The water loving end bonds with the water you’re washing with, and the oil loving end grabs the oils on your skin. When you rinse, the water loving end hitches a ride, taking the oil-loving end and the oil it’s scavenged up with it.

So, basically, soap cleanses by removing oil from your skin. This is how all surfactant/emulsifier powered cleansers work, but bar soap is unique in that its very concentrated and by definition has a very high pH. Because soap removes oil there is no way for this to not be at least a little drying to the skin. For this reason the idea of “moisturizing” soap has always been a bit baffling to me; the core function of soap is the opposite of moisturizing—it removes moisture. We can make gentle(r) soaps, but all they can really do is remove less oil. They will not be adding it. Fundamentally, soap is still soap, and if it’s working, it is removing moisture from your skin. If you have dry skin and/or live in a dry environment and wash frequently, you will need to be following up with something else to add moisture back into your skin. Soap is not a moisturizer.

The strength of soap can be diluted/tempered in a few ways. Superfatting is the most obvious, but it is typically not advised to exceed 5–7% superfat as that can create a bar of soap that will go rancid quickly, is too soft, or begins to sport “dreaded orange spots” (DOS). Superfatting gives the oil-loving end of the soap some fat to grab onto that isn’t oil that’s already on your skin. Some of the superfat may remain on your skin, but if the soap is doing its job and cleaning, not much will. We can also dilute to some degree by including ingredients like clay, herbs, or fruit/veg purees. These are typically very small dilutions, though—the bar will still typically be 90% soap. Liquid soap can be an effective way to create a more diluted soap, but in order to get the consistency most people want (something with some body), it’s typically still fairly concentrated. If you really love soap, though, this may be an angle to try!

The high pH of soap is also worth mentioning, as it disrupts our acid mantle. I’ve written quite a lot about this here, but the general gist of it is that high pH cleansers like soap damage our skin’s protective acid mantle, and frequent use impedes its ability to repair itself. This can create and exacerbate dry skin.

Surfactant-powered cleansers can be more gentle/less drying than soap because they can be pH adjusted to a more skin-friendly pH (attempting to acidify soap will cause the soap to convert into fatty acids and cease to be soap), and because the active matter of the cleanser can be more effectively diluted. Different types of surfactants can also be blended to create a milder final product.


Troubleshooting & Adjusting (17)

Why has my lip balm/body butter gone grainy?

Our butters are made up of different fatty acids, all of which have different melting points and solidifying points. Sometimes certain harder fatty acids (like stearic and palmitic acid) will harden before the rest of the fats in a product and create extra hard blobs in your product. Ick! Some butters are more prone to going grainy than others—I find shea to be the worst offender, but mango butter (and any other solid butter, really) can also go grainy.

This is pretty simple to fix. The first thing you’ll want to do is bring your mixture to “trace” before pouring (I learned this trick in my Formula Botanica course!). Basically, stir the mixture until it has gained a bit of viscosity before pouring. If you’re making something like a lip balm (something with a fairly high wax content) you can do this at room temperature, but if you’re working with just butters you’ll want to immerse your container in an ice bath to speed things along.

Once you’ve reached trace and poured I’ve found it is best to move everything to the fridge to fully set up.

This post (“So you want to avoid graininess in your butters and balms?”) from Skin Chakra is also fantastic!


I created an abomination—help!

Don’t fret—it happens! Chances are you should learn from your mistakes and throw it away.

If it is an emulsion (especially a failed one), you cannot re-jig it. It likely needs to be binned.

If it includes a preservative you likely cannot expose it to any heat (different preservatives have different maximum temperatures) or add any more ingredients without throwing off the preservative balance; I’d recommend just chucking it.

If it needed a preservative and you didn’t include one and it’s been more than a couple of days, it’s probably a good idea to stop using it (you could keep it and observe it and see how it goes over the following weeks/months/years, though!).

If it already has essential oils, exposing it to heat will damage them. That’s not a deal-breaker, but please don’t add more to try to compensate as you may over-do it and create something irritating or sensitizing (or just plain stinky).

If you want to write for troubleshooting help…

Imagine somebody sends you the following message:

Help! I combined flour, water, salt, yeast, mustard, ham, lettuce, sunflower seeds, cheese, and then I didn’t have mayo so I used whipping cream. It was supposed to be a sandwich but it’s awful! What did I do wrong? How do I fix it?

Think about all the questions you will have to ask this person to have any sort of idea what they’ve done to even start to offer troubleshooting advice. How much of everything did they use? What did they actually do? Did they actually bake the bread before trying to turn it into a sandwich? Why did they think whipping cream was a good alternative to mayonnaise? Were the following a recipe or did they just make this up?

If you want to write to me for troubleshooting help you need to tell me exactly what you used (in percentages by weight, NOT volume measurements), and exactly what you did. If you just send me a giant list of ingredients and a loose description of whatever you ended up with I can’t even begin to guess what you’ve done, let alone what you should change.

Also, please know that providing troubleshooting advice for formulations that are not my own is a very low priority for me. I always have more correspondence than a single person can reasonably handle at any given time, and I prioritize helping people make my formulations.


Let’s talk about stickiness/tackiness.

Stickiness and/or tackiness in formulations can happen for a variety of reasons, but the broad one is that there’s a high enough concentration of a sticky ingredient in a formulation that the stickiness comes through in the end product, without anything to sufficiently counter that stickiness.

Perceptions of/opinions on tackiness/stickiness are very personal, so it’s important that you understand how sensitive you are to tackiness. If your tolerance for tackiness is significantly lower than mine, there’s a good chance you will find some of the formulations I share sticky/tacky enough that you don’t like them. That doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, it just means you are more sticky-sensitive than I am.

Think of it a bit like sweetness—one person’s perfectly sweetened cup of coffee will be disgustingly over-sweet to someone else, and too bitter to drink to another. Because stickiness is such a personal thing, I really can’t tell you if you will find something to be sticky or not… I will note in the formulation if I think there’s a potential for it to be tacky to some, or if I think it is best topped with a different sort of product to reduce stickiness, but there is no universal sticky/not sticky line that I can advise you on.

A few common things that can be sticky/tacky:

  • Products with high concentrations of glycerin (though definitions of “high” vary! I have made lotions with 30% glycerin that I love. Others can’t stand that.)
  • Mostly watery things with small amounts of oils and humectants (like gel creams, mists, and toners)
  • Concoctions that contain high amounts of beeswax

Ways to reduce tackiness:

  • Reduce the ingredient that makes it tacky, if you know what that is.
  • Include 2–3% dimethicone or cyclomethicone. PEG-8 dimethicone can be a good option in otherwise hydrous formulations.

And remember—you can always learn more about the ingredients we use in formulations in the Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia!


I made one of your body butters and it’s really soft/oily/separated. What happened?

It sounds like you live somewhere far hotter than I do, and the body butter is melting to some degree. Please read this.

In order to remedy this, you’ll need to raise the melting point of your body butter. In order to do so, please read this. I also recommend familiarizing yourself with the melting points of the ingredients you’re using in the Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia. If the melting point is lower than your ambient temperature, that ingredient will not offer any solidifying/thickening powers as it will be liquid where you live!

For body butters, you’ll want to start by increasing the butter and decreasing the liquid oil, but if you live somewhere very hot you may also need to replace some of the butter with a fatty thickener like stearic acid or even a wax like beeswax. Unfortunately, I’m really not able to offer much advice beyond this as I do not live somewhere very hot—the body butters I share are perfect for my climate, and adding wax or stearic acid would make them too hard.


Why didn’t my lotion emulsify?

You didn’t use emulsifying wax in a formulation that called for emulsifying wax.

You cannot use beeswax instead of emulsifying wax, it won’t emulsify! If you want to create a beeswax/borax emulsion, please check out this post from 2011.

You didn’t use a complete emulsifying wax.

Some suppliers sell ingredients they call “emulsifying wax” that may have some emulsifying properties but require co-emulsifiers and/or stabilizers to work. These so-called “emulsifying waxes” won’t work in my lotion recipes on their own. Make sure you’re reading product descriptions and reviews, as well as looking at the INCI for the ingredient. If the INCI is just one ingredient, be wary. For instance, an INCI of just “Cetearyl Alcohol” would not be an emulsifier, but “Cetearyl Alcohol (and) Polysorbate 60” is—that’s Emulsifying Wax NF.

You didn’t use enough emulsifier.

Different emulsifying waxes have different recommended usage rates, but most of the emulsifying waxes we use work well at 20–25% of the oil phase. To determine this, add up everything in your oil phase (including the emulsifying wax) and then divide the amount of emulsifying wax by that total. To take this formulation as an example; the oil phase is 13%, and there is 3% emulsifying wax. 3 ÷ 13 = 23%. That’s within the 20–25% range.

As always, know your ingredients, as this isn’t a universal rule. Compare your emulsifier usage rate with what your suppliers recommend and what you see in sample formulations from suppliers and manufacturers; if you’re using the emulsifier at a drastically lower rate than recommended, that might be your problem.

You didn’t blend/stir the lotion enough.

Some emulsifying waxes require somewhat constant whisking until the lotion has cooled to maintain the emulsion, and some really need high-shear blending in order to form stable emulsions. Know your ingredients!

Your cool down phase was too large.

If your cool down phase is 10% or larger, that can destabilize emulsions.

Something about your formulation conflicts with your emulsifier (or something else in the formulation).

Check on charge, pH, oil phase size, and electrolyte content to start with. Once you figure out where the conflict is, remove it and see if that fixes the problem.

You altered the proportions of the formulation enough to break the formulation.

Most emulsifying waxes work with relatively specific oil to water ratios, and changing those ratios too much can break the emulsion. This can happen by attempting to convert a recipe written in weight to volume measurements.

The preservative you added broke the emulsion.

Optiphen Plus is is one preservative that can de-stabilize emulsions.

Your formulation was too thin for the emulsifier.

The thinner an emulsion is, the more likely it is to split. How thin is “too thin” will vary with the emulsifier. Adding a bit of a gum or other gelling ingredient can help stabilize the emulsion.


Can I add a fragrance oil or flavour oil to this formulation?

Probably! Here are some things to consider:

Which one?

Fragrance oils and flavour oils are different, and have different uses/purposes. Fragrance oils are used for body products except for lip products, and flavour oils are for lip products. Do not use fragrance oil in lip products. You can use flavour oils in other body products, but I never choose to.

How much?

Fragrance oils are a lot more potent than essential oils, and I usually find that 0.1–0.5% is more than enough to scent a finished product. That said, make sure you are paying attention to the documentation for your specific fragrance oil. Your supplier should list maximum allowable values for a variety of leave-on, rinse-off, and off-body products (like candles). Click here for an example. Some fragrance oils are formulated for candle use and will have a very low leave-on usage rate (or may not be allowed for on-skin use at all), while others are designed for the skin and will have a leave-on usage rate that is many times higher than you’d ever want to use (as in the linked example—72% in body lotion! 😳 That’s strong enough that your neighbours in your apartment building would probably be able to smell your lotion through the ventilation, ha).

For soap: the general rule of thumb is 30g (1.06oz) fragrance or essential oil per 500g (~1lb) of oils, but I find that’s a lot of fragrance and usually use closer to 20g per 500g. Make sure you are paying attention to the maximum values supplied by your supplier as well—those take priority.

How do I make room for it in the formulation?

If it’s a lotion, reduce the water by the same amount (using 0.1% fragrance? Reduce the water by 0.1%). If it’s an anhydrous product, reduce the most-used carrier oil by that amount.

For soap: if your soap was previously unscented you don’t need to remove anything from your soap to make room for fragrance oil.

Want to see the formulation adjustment in action?

Watch this video

Other considerations

  • Tread very carefully with eye products; I usually prefer to scent them with hydrosols if I scent them at all.
  • Surfactant products can behave very differently with different fragrance oils and essential oils. Check out this cool blog post from Botanical Formulations and this experiment I did to get an idea of all the things that can change! There are a ton of variables here—the surfactants, the thickener(s), and all the chemical constituents in your fragrance oil, so isolating the issue can be very challenging (but fun!).
  • If it’s a soap, make sure you’re reading up on how your specific fragrance oil performs in soap. Does it accelerate trace or cause soap to seize? Does it contain vanillin, which will result in browning over time?


How can I make this thinner/softer/less viscous?

Generally speaking, include less of what is making it hard/thick, and more liquid/soft ingredients.

Hardening/thickening ingredients are typically waxes (beeswax, candelilla wax, cera bellina, etc.) or fatty thickeners like stearic acid or cetyl alcohol. In an anhydrous (no water) product these ingredients typically provide the bulk of the thickening power. It is also possible that the thickening comes entirely from the blend of butters—if a product is approximately 40% or more solid or brittle butter (cocoa butter, mango butter, shea butter, etc.), that can be where the firmness of the product comes from without any additional thickeners.

The viscosity of an emulsion is influenced by the size of its inner phase. The lotions we usually create at home tend to be oil-in-water emulsions, so in that case the larger the oil (internal) phase, the thicker the end product. An oil-in-water lotion with a 25–30% oil phase will be significantly thicker than a lotion with a 15% oil phase, even if the 15% oil phase contains other thickeners like cetyl alcohol or gums. While you can reduce the thickness of a lotion by using liquid oils instead of solid butters and/or thickeners, the best way is to reduce the size of the oil phase, which will require re-calculating the recipe so the amount of emulsifier and water remain in balance. I cover how to do this here. Please keep in mind that the stability of emulsions is often influenced by the viscosity; if you drastically thin out an emulsion you may encounter stability issues.

Watery products that aren’t emulsions often get their viscosity from gelling agents and gums like xanthan or hydroxyethylcellulose. To make such products less viscous simply use less of the gum and more water.

Remember: never just decrease or delete an ingredient. You must keep the formula in balance by ensuring it always adds up to 100%. If you are aiming to make a thinner/softer product this will typically mean replacing the thickener you’ve removed with something liquid, like water or liquid oil.


Where can I learn more about lotion formulation?

I’ve shared a ton of content about making lotion over the years, so I thought I’d collect the links into an FAQ for easy reference.

If you’ve never made lotion before, start with one of these formulations:

highly recommend looking up the ingredients (especially the emulsifying waxes!) in the Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia.

I’ve also shared a comprehensive series of posts on lotion formulation. These posts all work off this formulation as the base formulation, but any of the four starter formulations linked above will work. If you’ve made one of the simple lotions linked above and now want to add scent, make it thicker, make it thinner, etc., these posts will guide you through all of that:

These resources will help you start to adjust pre-existing formulations and create your own:

If you are looking for one-on-one instruction, please consider becoming a top-tier patron over on my Patreon. My $50USD/month patrons get a monthly 30-minute video consult with me where we can discuss all things formulating 😊

You might also consider becoming a patron at the “The Monthly Collection + Office Hours” tier; this tier includes two monthly “office hours” sessions. Just like office hours with a TA, you are welcome to pop into the call/meeting with any questions you might have, discuss any projects you’re working on, or just to say hi. The calls are not be recorded. You need Zoom (it’s free) to participate, but you don’t need an account; each session runs approximately 45–60 minutes. One session is typically held in the afternoon, and the other in the early evening (Calgary time; MT/MDT).


Why are there air bubbles in my lotion?

What does air bubbles in lotion/creams look like?

If you’ve ever packaged up a lotion in a clear bottle and noticed lots of air bubbles appearing up against the side of the bottle a day or two later, that’s air bubbles. Or perhaps you’ve made a thicker cream, you package it up, and it collapses and dramatically reduces in volume in the following days—that’s also due to air bubbles.

Why are there air bubbles in my lotion?

Very basically, they’re there because you put ’em there during the blending/stirring process. The thicker an emulsion is, the easier it is to incorporate air as you mix it. Here are some tips to reduce the amount of air you work into an emulsion as you make it.

Tip #1

Make sure the tool you are using to blend the lotion is designed for puréeing, not incorporating air. If you’d use a tool in the kitchen to whip cream, do not use it to mix a formulation 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.

If your immersion blender has interchangeable blades, choose one of the flatter ones. The flatter/lower profile the blade is, the less likely it is to poke up over the surface of the mixture you’re blending (which will blend in more air).

Tip #2

Stop blending the lotion while it’s still too thin to support air bubbles and switch to gentle hand stirring. I typically find a 40–60 seconds of blending (followed by near-constant hand stirring until the emulsion thickens up) is more than enough to create a stable emulsion.

If the emulsion is still very fluid/thin, it won’t be able to support any air bubbles—they’ll just float right out. Continuing to vigorously blend/stir a lotion when it has thickened up will incorporate air into it, and it’ll be able to stay there because the lotion has enough structure to support that air.

This tip is more important for thicker emulsions; if you’re making a thin body milk you can blend away to your heart’s content as the emulsion will never get thick enough to support air bubbles.

Tip #3

Keep the immersion blender head submerged when it’s running; don’t pump it up and down. If you feel like you need to pump the blender up and down, that’s a good sign your emulsion is thick enough that you should’ve stopped blending a while ago. Only use the blender while the emulsion is thin enough that it’ll circulate around the moving blades easily.

Similarly, don’t stir super vigorously one you switch to hand stirring—keep the emulsion moving, but if your stirring method looks like something you’d do to prepare eggs for scrambling, calm it down 😄

Tip #4

Make sure your tool is submerged in the emulsion as you’re blending. You need to be able to submerge the entire head of the immersion blender in the emulsion; if it’s poking up above the surface, that blade will be able to grab air and blend it into your emulsion.

Ensuring submersion is typically going to depend on 1) batch size, 2) beaker size, and 3) blender size.

The wider the head of your immersion blender is > the wider your beaker needs to be to fit the blender > the larger your batch size needs to be in order to submerge the blender head.

My Braun immersion blender is 6.6cm across. This wide enough that the minimum batch size that will submerge it is 100g (3.5oz).

My Bamix immersion blender is 5.6cm across; this is narrow enough that a 50g (1.76oz) batch will submerge it.

Learn more about my blenders: Immersion blender in the free Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia


How can I incorporate X ingredient into a formulation?

Good question!

First things first—learn about it. If the ingredient is in the Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia, you should find all the information you need to incorporate it there. Your supplier should also be able to provide you with all this information. Otherwise, start googling! Here’s a list of things you should know, though there may be other things depending on the ingredient:

  • What is it soluble in? Once you know this, you know your formula will need to contain some of whatever the ingredient is soluble in so it will dissolve/be compatible. If your ingredient is something like a carrier oil, your recipe will need to be anhydrous or an emulsion. If your ingredient is something water-soluble, like panthenol, your recipe will need some water—be it mostly water or an emulsion.
  • What is the recommended usage rate? Now you know how much to use. This is typically a range, with a minimum and maximum percentage.
  • Is it heat sensitive? If yes, don’t heat it past that maximum heat level (typically 40–45°C)
  • What is its pH? Is it compatible with your product?
  • Does it need a certain pH to work? Does that pH work with the rest of the ingredients in your product?
  • What is its charge? Is it compatible with your product?
  • Is there anything the ingredient explicitly cannot be used with? Don’t do that, basically.

Once you have answers to all of these questions you’ll know 1) how much to use and 2) which phase to put it into. That should be about it!

Make sure you are removing the percentage of the new ingredient from (generally speaking) either the water or the most prominent oil in your product to keep the recipe in balance. Which phase you remove from depends on the solubility of the ingredient. Water soluble ingredients will deduct from the water phase, oil soluble ingredients will deduct from the oil phase.


Can I leave the colourant out of this recipe?

It depends on the recipe, and the amount of colourant used.

If it’s a colour cosmetic, like a lipstick or blush, no. The colour is the entire point of the product, and it will comprise a pretty substantial portion of the formula. The rest of the formula will be designed around the inclusion of the pigment (typically to do things like offset the dry and powdery nature of pigments, or to increase the wear time of the pigments), so leaving them out is not a good idea.

If the product contains very little colourant and is strictly decorative you can replace it with a bit of extra liquid oil or water and carry on. Examples include:

  • Body/hand wash (replace with more water)
  • Liquid shampoo & conditioner (replace with more water)
  • Solid shampoo & conditioner (replace with more butter/fatty thickener)
  • A lip balm or body butter with a small amount of mica that is not intended to tint the skin (replace with more oil or butter)


How can I make a pump-top surfactant formula work in a foamer top bottle (or vice versa)?

The main difference between formulations that are designed to go in a pump-top bottle vs. a foamer-top bottle is the viscosity of the end product, so in order to make a formulation work in a different type of packaging, you will need to adjust the viscosity.

Formulations designed to be packaged in a foamer top bottle need to be very thin—usually somewhere around the consistency of water. If the formulation has even a hint of viscosity you’ll have issues dispensing it from a foamer top bottle. You’ll get lots of sputtering and will dispense fairly small amounts of uneven foam rather than the plentiful clouds of bubbles you wanted.

Formulations designed to be packaged in a more standard pump-top container (like the sort we’d put lotion in) need to be thicker—you’re probably pretty familiar with the consistency of more sorts of not-water-thin hand washes/body washes/shampoo and that’s roughly what you need. One of the many things you’ve probably encountered in 2020 is an un-gelled, water-thin hand sanitizer packaged in a container with a lotion pump, and it’s not a great experience. You get a great big splash of super-thin product that goes everywhere.

Want to make a pump-top formulation foamer-top friendly?

Remove the thickener. Depending on the formulation this could be a gum (or another gelling agent), salt, or Crothix™ liquid.

Some formulations may be too viscous on their own to work in a foamer-top bottle—if you’re making the formulation and it’s already thicker than water before you add a thickener, you won’t be able to put that formulation in a foamer-top bottle (this formulation would be an example of that—the Sodium Laureth Sulfate [SLeS] is so viscous that the product is too thick for a foamer bottle without any added thickeners).

Want to make a foamer-top formulation pump-top friendly?

Thicken it up! The easiest way to do this is with Crothix™ liquid. Gently stir it in at the very end; you’ll probably need ~3–4% to get the desired end consistency. Go slow, adding ~1% at a time and waiting between additions so you don’t accidentally create a solid blob 😂

For other ideas on ways to thicken surfactant products, check out some of my formulations for pump-top/squeeze-bottle friendly hand washes/ body washes/ shampoos. There are quite a few options!


How much essential oil can I add to this recipe?

If the recipe is for application somewhere very sensitive, like the eyelids, I would not add an essential oil at all.

Otherwise, generally speaking you want to stick to 1% or less for the face and 2–3% or less for the body. Make sure the recipe has an oil phase so the essential oils will be properly dispersed. If the formula you’d like to add essential oils is entirely water-based you will need to include a solubilizer as well to ensure the essential oils are safely diluted in the end product.

You’ll also need to make “room” for the essential oils by reducing another ingredient in the recipe by however much you’re adding. So, if you are adding 1% essential oils to the recipe, you would want to use 1% less of something else—typically something liquid, like a liquid oil or water. In an emulsion I remove the essential oil amount from the water; in an anhydrous product, I remove it from the predominant carrier oil.

Also: find out the maximum usage rates for the individual essential oils and make sure you stay within those maximum levels. It very well may not be a full 2% or however much you wish to include. Your suppliers are typically not a good place to determine maximum usage levels for essential oils. The IFRA has a database that contains a lot of information, but isn’t massively user friendly as it mostly focusses on the individual fragrant compounds rather than whole essential oils. If you are interested in working with essential oils I highly recommend investing in a copy of Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals by Robert Tisserand & Rodney Young. I’ve also found this page listing 400 essential oils and their maximum usage levels and the rest of the associated website to be quite useful. The levels listed there don’t always jive with EU regulations, but if you aren’t selling in the EU it is a good place to start your research.


How can I make this thicker/harder/firmer?

By using more of a thickening or hardening ingredient, and less of a liquid ingredient.

Does your recipe already contain a hard wax (beeswax, candelilla wax, carnauba wax, soy wax, etc.) or a fatty thickener (cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, stearic acid)? If so, increase the amount of that ingredient, decreasing the amount of a liquid ingredient to make room for it. Keep in mind that using more of a thickening ingredient will also bring more of the characteristics of that ingredient to the end product. For instance, increased concentrations of beeswax tends to make products stickier/skiddier.

For anhydrous products the thickening ingredient can be either a wax or a fatty thickener. You can choose to combine waxes and fatty thickeners; I’ll often do this to get some of the weight and occlusiveness of a wax like beeswax, and then get the rest of the thickening/hardening from something like stearic acid or cetyl alcohol.

For emulsions you’ll typically want to stick to fatty alcohols or pseudo-waxes (waxes where the INCI is a hydrogenated vegetable oil) as I’ve found true waxes can give emulsions a tacky skin finish. For emulsions you can also try increasing the size of the internal phase (this usually this means increasing the size of the oil phase as emulsions made with Emulsifying Wax NF, Polawax, Olivem 1000, Ritamulse SCG, and BTMS-50 are all oil-in-water emulsions).

To learn more about the potency of these ingredients and the characteristics they add to our products, check out these series of guides I’ve done:

If I haven’t done one of these guides for the thickener in your recipe it’s very simple do conduct such an experiment yourself to learn more; each of these posts details how I set the experiment up.

Good luck! Take lots of notes, label your experiments, work in small batches, and have fun!


Can I remove the essential oil or fragrance from this recipe?


The first thing you need to figure out is why the essential oil or fragrance is there. Is is there for a functional reason (a cooling sensation from mint, perhaps)? If so, you should probably leave it it.

Is it there just to make the product smell pretty? You can probably leave it out. However, if the sole purpose of the product is to smell nice (for example, a room diffuser), that might defeat the purpose of the DIY!

To remove a fragrance or essential oil blend from a recipe be sure you’re making up the lost amount of the recipe. If your recipe contains both water and oil you can make up the difference with water or oil. Oil is typically the first choice as essential oils are oil soluble, but depending on the product you may not want to replace volatile, lightweight essential oils with a heavier fixed oil. If your recipe is entirely oils you can replace the missing essential oils with more of a (preferably liquid) oil already present in the formula.


Why do you pour the heated water phase into the heated oil phase when making emulsions?

This is mostly personal preference; I find the water phase comes out of its measuring cup more easily and completely, so I do it this way. If you prefer to do it the other way around, go for it. It usually does not matter. If the formulation uses PolawaxEmulsifying Wax NFOlivem 1000Ritamulse SCG (Emulsimulse, ECOMulse)BTMS-50BTMS-25Glyceryl Stearate SE, or Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate as the emulsifier, I’m quite confident that you can pour whichever phase as you desire and the formulation will succeed. I have probably made well over a thousand successful emulsions with these emulsifiers, pouring the water phase into the oil phase.

Some people believe that if you’re making an oil-in-water emulsion than you must pour the oil into the water and vice versa. This is not the case. The emulsifier the formulation uses determines the sort of emulsion you get—which phase is poured into which cannot change that. Some formulations/emulsifiers will specifically require that one phase is poured into the other. If that is the case for any of my formulations, I’ll make it abundantly clear in the instructions.

Try it!


Can I add a surfactant to this mostly fat-based formulation (or vice versa)?

I’m often asked about combining fats and surfactants. These questions usually come as variations on these two themes, which I’ll discuss briefly here.

A maker wants to add a foaming surfactant to a fat-based cleanser (like a cleansing oil or cleansing balm) to add lather.

This can be done, but it usually won’t add much (if any) noticeable lather. This is because fat inhibits lather, and a fat-based cleanser contains a lot of fat—those sorts of formulations are almost entirely fat! Something else to consider is that many foaming surfactants are water-soluble, so you may encounter solubility/stability challenges.

A maker wants to add fat to a foaming, water-soluble surfactant-based cleanser to make it gentler/richer.

If the surfactant-based cleanser isn’t designed from the ground up to contain and support a meaningful oil content, this won’t work—the oil will separate out as there won’t be an adequate emulsifier present. Compare this formulation without oil to this one with oil to see how different they are. The fact that oil inhibits lather also comes into play here; the oil in the formulation will reduce the lather the cleanser produces.


General Usage (16)

How can I make something whitening?

DIY skin bleaching/whitening products are absolutely not something you should ever, ever make or use.

I’ve shared several brightening formulations featuring ingredients like niacinamide (Vitamin B3) and N-Acetyl Glucosamine. Simply search “brightening” here on the website or click the linked ingredient names in the previous sentence and scroll down,;you’ll find a list of formulations featuring those ingredients there.


Does the skin absorb everything that is applied to it?

Thankfully no! If our skin did absorb everything, just think of all the problems we’d encounter in our day-to-day life!

  • After a long soak in the tub, you’d be incredibly bloated and have to pee for hours afterwards.
  • Using alcohol-based hand sanitizer while out running errands? Be careful not to get a DUI!
  • You could easily get your entire daily calorie allotment from a generous application of body butter (as it’s pure fat).

Our skin is an amazing barrier that protects us from the outside world—so much so that formulating products that do penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream is very difficult, as the product has to work around a series of very robust and complex defence mechanisms. Here’s a great post from LabMuffin on the topic.

So, rest assured that applying a lotion is not at all the same thing as eating it, and there is no reason to limit the ingredients you use in your skincare to ones you would also eat.

You can learn more about ingredient safety here.


Can I use this formulation on children/babies?

Generally speaking, I would encourage you to ask your physician about the sorts of things that are suitable for children, especially very young ones. I am not a parent or a physician, and I rarely formulate anything for very young children.

That said, you are hoping to make something to use on a young person, make sure you are watching your preservatives and essential oils.

Some preservatives are not allowed for use on those under 3, or if they are, they are only allowed in rinse-off products. You can learn more here. I would recommend looking at commercially available products made by large corporations and see what they use to preserve their baby products.

When it comes to using essential oils on babies, I will refer you to Robert Tisserand. Please visit this page and scroll down to the “Children” section (please read the entire page, but that section is especially relevant). Out of an abundance of caution, I would generally choose not to use any essential oils in products for very young children. I would leave the product unscented or get the scent from ingredients like cocoa butter, coconut oil, or hydrosols. Sensitization to essential oils is often life-long, and I wouldn’t want to accidentally inflict that on a very young person.

Beyond preservatives and essential oils, I would recommend sticking to quite gentle, benign ingredients. Avoid high-strength actives (babies don’t need retinol or acidic peels!) and anything that could potentially be irritating. Babies have far more delicate skin than adults and they definitely don’t need any anti-ageing anything! Again; I would recommend looking at commercially available products made by large corporations and see what ingredients they use in their baby products.


Can you give me advice on my business/potential business?

I’m afraid I really can’t—that is not an area I feel at all qualified to advise on, and it’s also not one that interests me. I love to teach people how to make things for themselves, their friends, and their family. If you wish to sell I’d encourage you to join a guild (like the Handcrafted Bath & Body Guild in Canada, or the Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetics Guild in the USA) for professional support. It’s also a good idea to take a course, like the ones offered by Formula Botanica (read my review of their Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation here). For further personalized advice, you could consider hiring a business coach.

I have created two pieces of content regarding selling things/owning a DIY business as I did run one for just over two years (and I really, really didn’t like it).

  • So, You Want to Sell the Things You Make
    This is a very practical overview of many of the things you should consider before selling things you create. I learned these lessons in the process of setting up my own selling-stuff business.
  • I QUIT! Why I Stopped Selling Stuff
    This is a YouTube video where I tell the story of Humblebee Beauty & Skin and why it is no more. It is my personal story of what I didn’t enjoy and the things I intentionally did not do because I did not want my handmade business to grow and take up more of my time.

Something I can do, though, is branding and graphic design! I am a professional graphic designer with a Bachelor of Design Honours from York University & Sheridan College and I love working with small businesses to create a visual identity that really lets their products sing. If you’d like to review my portfolio you can do so here. If you’d like to contact me for a quote, there’s contact information on my portfolio website.


If I’m going to sell this do I need to do X/include Y?

I don’t answer questions like this.

If you intend to sell to the public, you need to be able to answer all these questions yourself. No worries if you can’t yet, but if that’s the case, I’d say you aren’t yet ready to sell to the public. It’s a big deal—please read this to learn more 🙂

If selling is your goal, I’d really recommend taking a full course from a school that will teach you not only formulation, but the regulatory side of things. I have a Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation from Formula Botanica and they cover both of those areas; you can read my full review here. I also have a Diploma in Organic Haircare Formulation from Formula Botanica, but that course does not address regulatory requirements as knowledge of them is a pre-requisite.

Also, please read this: Can I sell things made from your recipes?

Happy making!


Should I take a course?

You may have heard this saying before: “Cheap, fast, good: pick two.” That’s pretty relevant if you are considering taking a course vs. teaching yourself. There’s a ton to learn in the amazing world of DIY skin care and cosmetics, and I often get emails from people impatient to know it all. You’ll never know it all (there’s always new ingredients to experiment with, new projects to try, new failures to understand!), but you can certainly learn a lot—and much can be learned without taking a course. However… assuming “good” is an important part of your desired outcome, here’s your options:

Cheap & Good

Teach yourself. Be meticulous. Follow recipes, learn from others, take tons of notes. Research everything, ask critical questions, make observations, and test, test test. Learn from your mistakes, follow your curiosity, and obsess over everything. This won’t be free as you’ll definitely need ingredients, and you’ll likely end up buying some books/textbooks/access to databases as well, but it’s cheaper than a course—assuming you don’t have a deadline of any kind. This will take years. They are fun years, to be sure, but it’s going to take you a really long time, and the hardest part about teaching yourself is figuring out what you don’t know so you can go learn it.

Fast & Good

Take a course, like the ones offered by Formula Botanica. Taking a high quality course will help you skip over a lot of the mistakes you’ll likely make as a new DIYer, and will quickly and accurately teach you what you need to know. This definitely isn’t free, though. It also won’t teach you everything as experience is invaluable, but it’s definitely a great kick-start to help you avoid common pitfalls and start with a really solid foundation.

I have completed Formula Botanica’s Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation and Diploma in Organic Haircare Formulation courses. The Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation is a great place to start. You will learn how to formulate a wide variety of products, how to preserve them safely, and how to comply with regulations to create safe, effective products. They typically say the course can be completed in six months with one day of study per week, but if you’ve already been making things for a few years you could likely wrap it up faster than that.

Cheap & Fast

This is where you lose the “good”; where you try to learn everything yourself quickly (and here I’m thinking a year or less—notice that the “fast and good” course offering still has a starter time period of six months!). There is a lot to learn in the great wide world of skin care, and a big part of learning is knowing what you don’t know, and setting out to fill in those blanks; that’s hard to do when you’re new to something, because you’re usually so new that you don’t know what you don’t know. I think many people feel like they know quite a lot after a year or so, but after a few more years of learning, they look back and realize they knew pretty much nothing (that was definitely me!).


What’s the difference between a vinegar/acidic hair rinse and conditioner?

An apple cider vinegar/acidic rinse corrects the pH of your hair, while conditioner “conditions” with the inclusion of a cationic ingredient (like BTMS-50 or honeyquat) as well as moisturizes it with oils and other nourishing ingredients.

An acidic rinse will usually be slightly acidic water, with that acidity coming from vinegar, lemon juice, kombucha, or powdered citric acid. The purpose of this rinse is to smooth the hair shaft back down after your alkaline (basic) shampoo bar raises the scales that make up your hair. If you don’t smooth them back down with an acidic rinse you’ll notice that your hair feels quite coarse and tangles really easily. If you don’t use a shampoo made from true soap with a higher pH, you won’t need an acidic rinse to counteract the effects of your alkaline shampoo. You can infuse your rinse with herbs, silk, tea, and other good-for-hair goodies, but the primary purpose of the acidic rinse is to smooth the hair shaft back down so your hair doesn’t catch on itself tie itself into knots. Understandably, this is much more important for people with long hair.

Conditioner can be a lotion or a solid bar. Lotion-y ones are usually mostly water with some oils emulsified in, often using the cationic emulsifier BTMS-50 to bring both conditioning and emulsifying to the conditioner. It can also have all kinds of other good-for-hair things in it like herbs, glycerin, honey, essential oils, and phytokeratin. The “conditioned” feel comes from the cationic (positively charged) ingredients, which adsorb to the hair, leaving an extremely fine coating that helps smooth, protect, and soften hair. Bar conditioners are usually mostly BTMS-50 (or some other solid conditioning ingredient) plus other hard ingredients (cocoa butter, cetyl alcohol, stearic acid), and some of the same good-for-hair ingredients like panthenol and hydrolyzed proteins.

Conditioner serves a difference purpose from an acidic rinse, though you’ll often read that an acidic rinse is a replacement for conditioner. This isn’t really true. The acidic rinse occupies the after-shampoo spot that conditioner usually does, so it can seemingly replace that part of your routine, but acidic rinses do not condition—they just pH correct. I’d recommend shampooing first, then using your acidic rinse, and then finishing up with some conditioner (being sure to use it sparingly and rinse it out quite thoroughly to avoid the greasies).


Will this melt in hot weather?

All anhydrous projects have a melting point, and this melting point is a big part of what determines the texture and skin feel of the product. Something like a facial oil obviously has a very low melting point, so the product is pretty much always melted (aka liquid). Products with higher melting points are typically formulated to melt or soften (to varying degrees) somewhere around body temperature.

Body temperature is ~37°C (98.6°F). Something like a lip balm is formulated to soften when pressed against the skin, but not melt. To this end lip balms contain wax, which have higher melting points that butters and fatty thickeners. Beeswax melts around 63°C (145°F), and when it is added to formulations in significant amounts (typically above 20%) it generally raises the melting point of the product above body temperature.

Products like whipped body butters are designed to melt slightly below body temperature; they typically get most of their structure from semi-firm butters like shea or mango (with melting points around 35°C/95°C) that are softened (the melting point is lowered) with liquid oils. These decadent butters are formulated to melt on contact with the skin, so they melt below 37°C (98.6°F).

A decent point of reference most people will be familiar with is cocoa butter; it melts right around body temperature. If you’ve handled cocoa butter (or eaten chocolate), you’ll know how quickly it melts when in contact with the skin. If something you’re using melts faster than that, the melting point is likely lower than body temperature. If something melts slower, its melting point is likely higher than body temperature. By comparison, coconut oil melts at 24°C (75°C). Think about how quickly that melts when it contacts your skin! This is a fairly simplistic way of looking at things, but it’s a decent estimator.

You can also look at the melting points of everything in your recipe. If the highest melting point in the formulation is 35°C, and everything else is lower, you can be pretty confident the end product will melt below 35°C. How much lower will depend on a lot of factors (how much of the 35°C ingredient is used? What else is in the formulation? etc.), but if that’s as high as it gets, you know the melting point can’t be higher than that.

You typically won’t find too many products with melting points around room temperature because this makes for quite unstable products. Where I live I the temperature in my kitchen is typically around 22°C, but in the summer it can easily climb up to around 30°C. That means the coconut oil in my cupboard is usually solid (since it melts at 24°C), but sometimes on a hot summer day I’ll open the tub and find it has either completely liquified, or has a few solid blobs floating in a pool of liquid oil. This isn’t the type of experience we want with our skin care products! You don’t want to discover that something that’s supposed to be liquid is solid or vice versa, or end up with some sort of peculiar semi-formed separating oily thing.

Now that we’ve talked about the melting points of our products, let’s bring weather into it. 37°C (98.6°F) is pretty darn hot, but certainly not an out-of-the-question temperature (even Calgary has had hotter days!), especially if you are leaving concoctions in the car, or if you’re shipping them and they’re being left in hot delivery trucks.

Your product does not care if the heat comes from the air surrounding it, the stovetop, the microwave, or your skin—if the temperature of your product exceeds its melting point, it will melt. If your product is designed to melt below body temperature, there is a very good chance it will melt in the summer heat, especially if you live somewhere very warm.

Generally speaking, I’ve found products that contain at least 15–20% wax don’t melt in ambient heat. I’ve taken products like that to Australia and Costa Rica, and left them in my hot car in the summer, and they’ve been fine. They soften, but they don’t liquify. Anything that gets its sole structure from butters or fatty thickeners like stearic acid is fair game for melting in easily achievable ambient temperatures.

Yes, you can raise the melting points of your formulations by including waxes, but this will impact your end product. You might not want it to be waxy. You’ll lose that melts-on-contact consistency of your body butter because the melting point is now higher than body temperature. The melting point of a product is part of how it feels on the skin, and you can’t alter one without altering the other.

I’ve definitely seen Etsy shops and small skin care brands that won’t ship certain products during the summer, so that’s one way to go about it. You could also look at formulating more lotions if you’re concerned about melting, as they tend to be more thermally stable.

Something I’d love to do someday is spend a month or more somewhere properly hot and try formulating with more waxes and thickeners and see if the consistently increased ambient temperature impacts my perceptions of the skin feel. It could be that if you’re living somewhere with weather consistently warmer than body temperature things change a lot! I just haven’t had the chance to find out yet 🙂


Will this clog pores?

There’s no way to say if a product definitely will or won’t clog pores. I highly recommend this post & partner video from Lab Muffin; she does a great job of explaining the flaws in the commonly referenced “comedogenicity” ratings.

With all things, if you know something to be problematic for your skin that’s a very different matter, but don’t write off an ingredient simply because it has a high rating. Also, keep in mind that wash off products are significantly less likely to be comedogenic than leave-on ones, and comedogenic-ness is going to be less important in something like a foot cream than a face cream.


Can you share advice on how to make big batches of things?

Not really, simply because I almost never do. I share two new formulations a week—if I made a big batch of everything I’d be run out of my home by tubs of lotion and body butter in less than a year 😂

If you’re looking for information on how to scale a formulation up or down, I have two helpful posts (with partner videos) on that:

But when it comes to manufacturing, I never make anything in amounts that might be called “bulk”. If I’m making body butter, I rarely make more than 30–50g. My lotion batches tend to top out around 200g, though they’re usually smaller. Hand wash might go up to 500g. Bath bombs batches are typically around 800g, and my biggest batches of things are usually soap, around 1500g.

If you’re looking at equipment for making big batches, I really can’t help you—I specifically seek out equipment to help me make smaller batches! I want tiny mixers and super-precise scales so I can make a 20g batch, not a 20kg batch.


Can you create me a basic recipe that I can use for my business?


If I did this, I would be charging for it. I am not interested in giving out free help so people can launch for-profit ventures, and at this time I have no time to be hired for this sort of thing. If you are planning on launching a business, you really shouldn’t need my help in any event. If you can’t develop and test your recipes yourself, you aren’t ready to launch your own business.


Why do your recipes produce such small amounts of product?

My formulations are designed for personal use, and as such, the scale matches.

With body products, a little goes a long way. Unlike with cooking, where a cup of rice or oatmeal isn’t that much food, a cup of body butter will quite literally last you months. Think about how long it takes you to use up a single tube of lip balm—that’s just 4.5g of product! So a 20g batch of lip balm will make 4–5 tubes of lip balm, and that’s a lot of lip balm, even if 20g really isn’t that much of anything in the grand scheme of things.

Also—when you are bitten hard by the DIY bug (like me!), you’ll grow to appreciate small batch sizes. It allows you try out lots of projects without rapidly filling your house with utterly unusable quantities of everything you make. That helps reduce waste and ensures you never make too much of anything you might not love. When you try a new cookie recipe you wouldn’t make a 500 cookie batch, so the same goes here 🙂


Can I use this product on a part of my body other than where the title suggests?

Most of the time—absolutely. The belief that certain products are only suited for certain parts of our bodies is usually just an excellent bit of marketing to get you to purchase 4 different lotions instead of one. I’ve used beard oils to moisturize my face, body butters as lip balms, hair serums as hand lotions, and all my homemade soaps usually end up playing shampoo, shave, face, and hand soap.

There are a few exceptions:

  • Anything containing toxic essential oils, like wintergreen or tea tree essential oil, should not be used around the mouth or nostrils for obvious reasons!
  • Scrubs for the body are generally too harsh for the face
  • Some essential oils taste just awful, which makes things made with them less that ideal for use around your mouth. My Honey Coconut Body Butter is a great example of this—yuck!
  • Anything containing lots of essential oils (like tiger balm) or irritating essential oils (like menthol, peppermint, cinnamon, cassia, chili seed, etc.) should be used with caution/not at all around the face and mucous membranes. Be very careful putting those sorts of essential oils in bath products as well—combining a more irritating essential oil with hot water and then submerging yourself in it (this usually includes your genitals in a bath situation) can be a very bad idea.

Now, just because you can put something pretty much anywhere on your body doesn’t mean you’ll like the experience of doing so, or that it will work. You’ll probably find a thick body butter too heavy for your face, and lip balm too sticky for your hands, but who knows—you might also love it!


How should I clean my bottles and containers before filling them?

If the container in question is new from a reputable supplier it should not require any cleaning. If it appears dirty (ew), 1) stop buying from that supplier and 2) wash it by hand and then either send it through a hot dishwasher or mist with 70% isopropyl alcohol or a 5% bleach solution and leave to dry.

If you are looking to re-use something, there are a few things to consider. Not everything can be safely cleaned and re-used. I’ve talked more about this in this video on DIYing and Single Use Plastics as well.

Open jars & tubs

These sorts of things are typically quite easy to clean as you can easily access all of it. I will typically wash them by hand and then send them through my dishwasher, which gets steaming hot. You can also mist/swish things with 70% isopropyl alcohol or a 5% bleach solution and leave them to dry. Be sure to watch for deep scratches in your jars that can harbour bacteria.


These can be a bit trickier to clean, especially if the opening is small and they’ve contained something quite oily/greasy. If they are glass I will wash by hand as well as possible before sending through the dishwasher. I typically recycle plastic bottles after a single use (I’ve had some melt in the dishwasher!).

Complex caps & pumps

These need to be recycled after a single use; they have far too many complex nooks and crannies to be safely cleaned and re-used. I’ve tried, and I always end up noticing a slurry of mold somewhere in the pumping mechanism after a couple weeks—ew!

An exception to this is re-filling; if you’ve made a big batch of something like a foaming hand wash, feel free to keep refilling your foamer bottle with that hand wash. Do not try to clean it first! As long as the solution you’re sending through the pump is always a properly made and preserved finished product, you’re fine.

Lip balm tubes

These are best as a single use product as well. They are almost always filled with a very waxy/greasy product that is extremely difficult to clean out of all the little nooks and crannies of the tube, and they are so inexpensive that you will waste more money, detergent, and time trying to clean them than you would if you recycled them and used a new one.

Want to learn more about my favourite types of packaging? I made a video on it!


Is this the original formula for the store bought product?

It is extremely unlikely. It’s technically possible, but given all the possible combinations of the ingredients, the chances that I have happened to hit on the exact same usage amount of every single ingredient is practically zero. For more information, this is a rough overview of the process I follow when creating a dupe/tribute product.


Can I sell things made from your recipes?

Honestly, I’d prefer that you didn’t.

Reason 1

If you’re using my formulations because you can’t develop your own, you are nowhere near ready to be selling skincare and cosmetics to the general public. Please give this post a read. Selling to the public is a big deal. You need to be a total expert in everything you sell, and you should know more than enough to formulate everything you intend to sell.

Reason 2

Nothing I share has been designed or tested for mass manufacturing, sale, or shelf stability. It may not meet the regulatory requirements for the country you live in or countries you plan to sell to.

Reason 3

I spend a lot of time and money developing these DIYs to share with people like you for free. In sharing my formulas you are able to stop being dependent on store-bought products and save money by making things yourself. That is the spirit in which I share—if you take what I give freely and sell it to people… that just feels wrong.

Going to do it anyway?

Do it legally

Get insurance, fill out all the forms you need to, undergo any legally mandated testing. Ensure your labelling is legally compliant. Follow GMP. Know what is required of your business and ensure you are legally compliant.

Please pay me a licensing fee

This is on a per-formulation basis. Get in touch and let’s talk.

Credit me right on your packaging and your website, complete with links

If your potential customers want to make it for themselves instead of purchasing it from you they should be able to.

Please don’t come to me with questions for your business/products

If you need me, you should spend more time becoming familiar with the basic principles of spoilage, pH, solubility, etc. so you can stand on your own two feet. I will not be answering questions like “if I’m going to sell this, do I need to do X/include Y?”. You should know all those answers and more if you are planning on selling to the public.



Preservatives (15)

Why did my formulation spoil?

In the broadest sense, your formulation spoiled because some sort of microbes overcame your preservation system and are now having a party in your project, devouring all the delicious ingredients and making themselves a lovely little homestead. Ick!

There are quite a few reasons this could happen, but here are some of the more common ones.

You don’t include a preservative.

If your product contains water and isn’t designed to be used immediately, it needs a broad spectrum preservative. It’s also recommended to include one in anhydrous products that could or will come into contact with water, like a shampoo bar that lives in the shower.

The preservative you used was not well-suited to the formulation.

Different preservatives have different strengths and weaknesses that need to be considered when formulating, and not all preservatives work well in all formulations. Research your preservative and make sure it is suitable.

The preservative you used wasn’t actually a preservative.

Vitamin E, sodium lactate, and rosemary seed extract are three examples of ingredients that are sometimes sold as preservatives but aren’t. If you used one of these ingredients instead of a preservative, that’s likely the problem.

Something happened to de-activate the preservative.

Different preservatives have different requirements for maximum temperatures, pH, and more. Make sure you have not over-heated your preservative (leaving something like Liquid Germall™ Plus, with its maximum temperature of 50°C, in a hot car in the summer could be problematic), and make sure the pH of your formulation is appropriate.

There was so much contamination in the product that your preservative was overwhelmed.

There are many potential sources of contamination, including poor manufacturing process, ingredients, and the end user. Try reducing these sources by ensuring you are following good manufacturing standards, your ingredients are sourced from reliable suppliers, and packaging your products in a way that reduces potential contamination by the user.

As always—know your ingredients. Preservatives and preservation are massive, complex topics, and it’s important that you understand how your preservative works and what it needs to succeed. Different preservatives have different strengths and weaknesses that need to be considered when formulating. Here are some helpful resources to get you started on your research:


What preservative can I add to lip products?

Both Geogard 221 and Geogard ECT are recommended for use in lip products by the manufacturer.

Anhydrous lip products (ones that don’t contain any water) shouldn’t need a broad spectrum preservative if kept dry.


Can I use a different preservative than the one you’ve used?


Different preservatives have different strengths and weaknesses, and different requirements for success that may or may not be compatible with the formulation. If you want to use a different preservative you’ll need to know what the new preservative needs, and if it is compatible with the formulation, or if the formulation can be made to be compatible.

You can learn more about the requirements of different preservatives here. If you don’t see the preservative you want to use listed, please refer to these blog posts (part 1, part 2) to learn how to research your ingredients and find that information.

Part of my development and testing process includes ensuring the preservative I include in the formulation is compatible with the formulation and works. If you’re changing up the preservative you’re using, you’ll need to do that testing work yourself. If you’re very familiar with your alternative preservative you’ll likely have a good feel for how it works; if it’s a brand-new-to-you preservative you’ll need to do more experimenting to get to know the preservative.

I also recommend giving this FAQ a read.

I’d also like to gently suggest that if an answer of “maybe” and “it depends” is not a sufficient answer for you, that you may not yet be at a level where switching around preservatives is in your wheelhouse. That’s ok, especially if you’ve been making for less than three years without any formal training. In that case, I recommend sticking with the recommend preservatives in formulations until you’ve learned more.


On “antibacterial” ingredients

There are lots of ingredients out there that are touted to have antibacterial properties. These include things like honey, salt, and lots of essential oils and carrier oils.

While that’s all well and good, these things are not preservatives. Not even close. Honey, for instance, will last forever… on its own. If you mix it in some water and leave it out you’ll find it gets quite nasty, quite fast. Its antibacterial strength is in its purity, where its lack of water and high sugar concentration smothers bacteria. Once sufficiently diluted, this is no longer true. (The same is true for other syrups).

The same is true of salt; when used in high concentrations it’s a great preservative (used often to preserve meat), but you wouldn’t expect the teaspoon of salt you added to a batch of stew to preserve it indefinitely.

The gist of this is to say that just because something is antibacterial/has antibacterial preservatives on its own in no way means that it will bring those properties over to a final product in any meaningful shelf-life-extending way. That’s what broad spectrum preservatives are for.


How will adding ___________ ingredient impact the shelf life of my product?

To start with, there’s two main categories of product when we’re talking shelf life: things that are 100% oil based (lip balms, body butters, salves), and things that contain water (lotions, sprays) or might come into contact with water (body scrubs designed to be used in the bath).

For things that are 100% oil based

The kind of spoilage we’re concerned about here is rancidity, which is oils oxidizing and starting to smell funky (like old crayons). Some oils oxidize faster than others, so if you add an oil with a short shelf life (check with your suppliers, but anything less than one year is considered short), that will shorten the shelf life of your product. You can extend the life of 100% oil based products by adding an antioxidant, like vitamin E, during the cool down phase.

Adding anything that contains water (not just water, but hydrosols, teas, extracts, etc.) will bump your concoction to the other category and will drastically shorten the shelf life.

For things that contain water

Anything that contains water needs a broad spectrum preservative, but those are not infallible. The more delicious bug food we add to our potions, the faster we’ll override that preservative and the faster our products will spoil. Here’s a list of things that will speed spoilage (it is by no means exhaustive):

  • Any kind of food (milks, flours, starches, honey, syrup, sugar, nuts, etc.)
  • Any kind of plant matter (aloe juice, hydrosols, etc.)
  • All herbs and herbal infusions
  • Clays

Some of these things will spoil faster than others. Dairy milk is notoriously difficult to preserve and I would not recommend including it in anything that you don’t intend to use up that day. Clay masks are also very hard to preserve, so I would recommend only mixing the dry parts up in advance.

The amount of bug food you use is important, too. 1% honey is very different from 10% honey. If you want to include some oat milk or hydrosol in a lotion recipe, try replacing only half or a quarter of the water with it instead of all of the water.

You should also take a look at commercially produced herbal infusions and extracts rather than homemade to extend shelf life.

For things that could become contaminated with water

Honestly, the easiest thing to do here is to not allow the concoction to get wet. Scoop out however much scrub you need for a single use and take that to the tub in a small plastic dish. Put bath oils in pump top bottles. Use a dry finger or popsicle stick to remove cleansing balms from their containers.


Do I need to add a preservative to my soap?

If you are making your soap properly (that is, without a ridiculously high superfat percentage, and ensuring you’re measuring & calculating correctly)—no.

Soap has a high pH because it is made from lye, which has a very high pH. This high pH wards off bacterial growth. The high pH of the soap will not wear off over time.

If you superfat your soap much about 7%, you may encounter rancidity (the excess oils in your soap will oxidize) or DOS (deadly orange spots). The best way to avoid this is by not superfatting your soap above 7%.

Something else that can interfere with the shelf life of your soap is adding acid to lower the pH (I’ve read about people doing this for shampoo). I’ve never tried it myself, but logically speaking, lowering the pH of the soap means its pH may no longer be high enough to ward off bacterial growth.


Some common myths & misconceptions about preservatives

Whenever you’ve got water in a product, you need a broad spectrum preservative. Here are some common misconceptions about times when a preservative might not be necessary (spoiler alert… the preservative is still necessary!).

Ingredient X and ingredient Y have indefinite shelf lives, so when I combine them that mixture will also have an indefinite shelf life.
Ingredients like clay, honey, alcohol, and water can sit on shelves for ages and be fine, but this by no means translates to anything being made with them also having an indefinite shelf life! Think about flour, salt, water, and yeast—all will last for ages in their pure state when stored properly. Combine them into bread, and you will have a lovely loaf that will sprout mould in a matter of days.

Ingredient X has antibacterial properties, therefore it will preserve my entire final product.
No, it won’t. Once again, food is a great place to look for parallels. Spices like cinnamon, oregano, and cloves all have antibacterial properties, but you’d never make a curry with a cinnamon stick, store it at room temperature, and eat it a week later (I hope!). Ingredients with antibacterial/antiviral/antifungal properties are not broad spectrum preservatives. Please don’t try to use them as such!

Ingredient X is a store bought product that contains a small amount of preservative and since I am including that in part of a larger formula, I don’t need another preservative.
Proper preservation is not, unfortunately, contagious. The concentration of the preservative is very important, so when you dilute it, you weaken it and/or render it completely ineffective. Preservatives in store bought products are also carefully selected and blended based on the precise composition of that exact product, and that blend might not even work with the ingredients you’re working with. For a food metaphor; beef jerky has been preserved by smoking, but if you add it to a stew that stew can and will spoil!

Broad spectrum preservatives will prevent any and all spoilage for all eternity, regardless of ingredients, storage, and manufacturing methods.
Sadly, broad spectrum preservatives have their limits; especially when we’re working at home in less than sterile making environments. The more delicious bacteria food you add to your products (herbal infusions, food, milks, etc.), the faster they will spoil. Less than sterile making environment? Warm storage? Putting your fingers in things? All of those things will shorten the shelf life of your product, and while a broad spectrum preservative will help, it’s not infallible. Food analogy: consider (hypothetically or otherwise, haha!) putting the recommended amount of your broad spectrum preservative of choice in a pot of chili and leaving that on your counter for a few days. There is far too much bacterial temptation in that chili for the broad spectrum preservative to defend it, however valiantly it may want to. Erk!

I’ve also made a video on this topic, with even more myths! Watch it here.


How do I know my preservative is working?

The two biggest ways you’ll know if your preservative is working are either the test of time (months and years), or a professional microbial challenge test (these typically run upwards of several hundred dollars per test, and still take some time get results).

For most home crafters who don’t intend to sell their products the cost of a professional test makes that option quite unappealing. So, we are left with time—and we all know that takes, well… time!

Here’s a few ways to increase the chances of our preservative succeeding:

  • Choose a preservative with a good reputation (do some googling and look for experiences with it that aren’t from the manufacturer). This often means sticking to preservatives that have been around for a while. New preservatives come out all the time (especially more natural ones), but if you’re looking to to avoid doing the initial leg work to see if they work well, you’ll have to wait until somebody else does it.
  • Check with your supplier to see what circumstances the preservative needs to succeed. pH, maximum allowable temperature, required usage levels, etc. Make sure you’re working within those parameters.
  • Use the maximum recommended amount, but no more.
  • Follow good manufacturing practice—keep things clean as you work.
  • Be aware of any more difficult to preserve ingredients in a formula; things like milk, clay, fresh fruits, etc. are really difficult to preserve. Keep in mind that more natural preservatives typically aren’t as strong as synthetic preservatives, so if you’re working with lots of harder to preserve ingredients you may want to choose a synthetic preservative instead of a natural one.

You can purchase at-home microbial testing kits as well, like this one from Lotion Crafter.

Found a new preservative that sounds promising, but you can’t find much on it? Try making a simple lotion using your new preservative, making sure you’re following the recommended usage rate, pH range, and any other pertinent requirements. Label it, and make note of your complete formula. Put the completed formula in a wide-mouthed jar and store it somewhere warm and bright (to encourage anything that might grow to grow faster). Wait, and see what happens. If it’s still looking good after three months, try making a more challenging lotion (something with perhaps 2% colloidal oatmeal) and add that to your experiment shelf.

If it’s still looking good after six months, shoot for a year. If it’s still looking good after a year, shoot for two. We can’t always see microbial spoilage, but if something still looks fine after a year, you can probably be reasonably confident it was ok at the six month mark. If you want even more information, get one of those at-home testing kits and test it every three months or so. See where it’s at!

Here’s a neat article on some ways to test stability at home.

I found this experiment from The Nerdy Farm Wife to be quite interesting reading!


If I don’t have a broad-spectrum preservative, what can I use instead?

Nothing. Seriously. There is nothing that will replace a true broad-spectrum preservative. If you do not have one, you should buy one, or you should only be making products that contain no water, otherwise you are risking infection from fungus and bacterial growth.

Remember, vitamin E and rosemary seed extract are in no way broad spectrum preservatives. They are simply antioxidants. A broad spectrum is something like Liquid Germall Plus or Phenonip. You can learn a lot about different preservatives here.


Preservative Calculator

You can use this handy-dandy calculator to figure out how much preservative you need to add to your final project. You can use grams or ounces, but it does need to be a weight measurement.

It is best to include your preservative as part of the original formulation, as a percentage, by weight. This calculator adds the preservative on top of an existing formula, which isn’t ideal, but is a decent place to start. This will result in a slightly lower usage rate, but if you’re using the maximum recommended amount that should still be within the recommended range. For instance, if you calculate a 100g recipe at 0.5% that’ll tell you to add 0.5g preservative, which means your batch size is now 100.5g. The preservative is now technically present at 0.497%, which is pretty darn close to 0.5% and within the recommended usage range.

Remember, there is always more to preservatives than just the usage rate! Be sure to look at effective pH range, solubility, and anything other conflicts. For relatively foolproof preserving I recommend using Liquid Germall Plus as it has a broad pH range, is water soluble, and you won’t easily de-activate it. You should use Liquid Germall Plus at 0.5%; the recommended range is 0.1–0.5%, but since our home laboratories are nowhere near sterile, it’s best to err on the side of more. Don’t use more than 0.5%, though—more preservative is not better!

If you want to use something else, please check out this page/table detailing lots of different preservatives (with references!). That will give you the recommended usage rates for the second field, and details some incompatibilities or conflicts.



How long will ______ last? What is its shelf life?

Long story short, it’s pretty impossible to give you an accurate answer to this, but I’ll try to help you determine a ballpark. Probably at least a year or two, but also “it depends, x1000”.

For 100% oil-based concoctions (lip balms, body butters, massage oils, etc.)

Because these things contain no water, we’re only concerned about rancidity—that is, the oils that make up the product oxidizing. You’ll usually get at least a year out of a 100% oil-based product, but that can be impacted by a few factors:

  • Storage. Cool & dark = longer shelf life. Warm & bright = shorter shelf life. (Store un-started projects, like extra lip balms, in the fridge before use for the longest shelf life.)
  • Ingredient freshness. Fresher ingredients = longer shelf life.
  • Ingredient shelf life. Some oils have longer shelf lives than others and will shorten the shelf life of your entire product. Check with your supplier to determine the shelf lives of your carrier oils (good suppliers should include a “best before” date on the carrier oils they sell). Examples of carrier oils with short shelf lives (generally less than a year) include flaxseed oil, borage oil, and evening primrose oil.
  • Added antioxidants. Adding an antioxidant like Vitamin E MT-50 (USA / Canada) or rosemary seed extract will help extend the shelf life of 100% oil-based products. Antioxidants are not preservatives!
  • Contamination. If you get water in a supposed-to-be-anhydrous concoction, it joins the second category in this list and the shelf life will shorten drastically.

For concoctions that contain water (lotions, body mists, creams, etc.)

Because of the presence of water, these projects can and will quickly sprout mould, fungus, and other gross things quite promptly without the inclusion of a broad spectrum preservative. Even with a broad spectrum preservative, these things can eventually spoil.

As with food, I would recommend that you are as clean as possible when making, avoid making more than you can use in a couple of months, and watch for spoilage (changes in colour, texture, scent, or mould population).

Here are some factors that will impact shelf life:

  • Inclusion of a preservative. If the formulation includes water (and the water will stay in the recipe and not be dried out of it) and is more than a single-use project (like a face mask), you need to include a preservative. Read this for more info.
  • The formulation itself. Some formulations are harder to preserve than others. The more bug food you include (aloe vera, botanicals, clay, honey, etc.), the faster the product can spoil. Preservatives will help extend that shelf life, but that shelf life is unlikely to be indefinite.
  • Freshness of ingredients. As with all things, fresher ingredients last longer. If you make a stew with nearly rotten meat, that stew will spoil faster than stew made with fresh meat. It is completely possible for an oil in your lotion to oxidize (go rancid) before bacterial spoilage sets in; short-lived oils like hemp seed and flax seed are definite candidates!
  • Storage. Cool & dark = longer shelf life. Warm & bright = shorter shelf life.
  • Cleanliness. Keep your kitchen and utensils as clean as possible while you’re making the project, and avoid contaminating it while using it (consider choosing pump-top bottles instead of open jars for lotions so you aren’t dipping dirty fingers into your final product).

So… how long will your product last? Sorry, but there are way too many variables to answer that question accurately. When I create and share a formulation I test it, and am reasonably confident my lotions and other water-containing formulations will be shelf-stable for at least 12–24 months. That said, that is for how I made (and stored) the formulation. Did you make a substitution or four? Did you package your product in a jar, while I used a pump-top bottle? Are you dipping your hands into your product directly after playing with your dog, contaminating it? Do you live somewhere drastically warmer than I do? Did you use mineral-rich well water instead of distilled water? All of these factors (and many more) can impact the shelf life of your product. With all these variables, it is flat-out impossible for me to give you an exact shelf life. Probably at least a year (but also please don’t spit in your formulations). Please read this for more information.

Trying to figure out how much preservative to add to your final product? I made a handy-dandy preservative calculator that you can use here.

For concoctions that contain water, but are dried out (bath bombs, clay bars, etc.)

If you’re making something that has water in it, but the water will be evaporated off promptly, you often don’t need a preservative. For something like bath bombs, they are dry for the vast majority of their life and are then used up all at once, so no preservative is needed and the shelf life should be more or less indefinite, assuming you keep it dry (if you live somewhere humid consider sealing the bath bombs in an air-tight bag).

For projects that will be continually wetted and allowed to re-dry, like a clay bar… this one is a bit tricky and depends on where you live. There are clay bars for sale which contain no preservatives, and while that’s not always a flawless indicator of best practices, one can assume that the company selling the bar does not want to sell a product that will sprout mould immediately. I live in a very dry climate, and have clay bars that I’ve used for years that have never shown any signs of spoilage as long as they’ve been left to dry between uses—but given the environment I live in, they always dry quite quickly. If you live somewhere humid, this may not be the case, and a broad-spectrum preservative may be advisable.

For Soap

Thanks to its high pH and low water content, bar soap should last for years. Using a higher superfat can lead to spoilage (look for orange splotches, also known as “dreaded orange spots”) or rancidity (too much unsaponified fat can go rancid in the bar).

Liquid soap paste will have a similarly long shelf life. Once diluted with additional water the pH should still be high enough to keep it from spoiling, but the final pH obviously depends on how diluted it is (more water = lower pH). You can also impact shelf life by adding lots of delicious bacteria goodies to your liquid soap (botanicals, clay, unsaponified oils, honey, aloe vera, etc.)—too much will impact the shelf life of your liquid soap. You can try adding a preservative if you are finding your liquid soap is spoiling quickly, but few are effective in high pH—from my reading, Liquid Germall™ Plus (INCI: Propylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate) would be your best bet.


Do I need to add a preservative to this if I plan on keeping it in the fridge?

Think of unpreserved DIYs that contain water like leftover food. How long would you leave a chili or a soup in your fridge before deeming it inedible? That’s roughly as long as you’ll be able to store an unpreserved DIY in your fridge—three to five days.

That kind of time span is generally not well suited to the sorts of products we make as even 50g (1.76oz) of lotion will usually take a couple weeks to use up.


If I add one water containing ingredient to an otherwise water-free formula, do I need a preservative?

Yes. The inclusion of water always means you need a preservative unless the product is intended for immediate use. You will also need to incorporate an emulsifier in order to properly incorporate that ingredient into the rest of the product.

So, to recap, if you want to add something that contains water to an anhydrous preservative, you need to add:

  • The new ingredient
  • A suitable emulsifier
  • A suitable preservative

This is often more trouble than it is worth, so I’d recommend seeing if there is a water-free way to incorporate the ingredient you’re trying to add to the formula. If it’s a tincture, consider an oil infusion instead—that sort of thing.


Do I need to add a preservative to this recipe? How long will it last?

Short answers:

  • Does it contain water, OR will it come into contact with water, and do you intend to keep it longer than a day or two? Yes, you need a preservative.
  • If it contains no water, and will not come into contact with water, or if you’ll be using it immediately: No, you don’t need a preservative.

First off, there are two types of spoiling we’re worried about: rancidity and microbial (mould/fungus/yeast—living stuff).

Rancidity is a problem with oils, but it takes a very long time to set in. Oils, when kept somewhere cool and dark, will generally last years (though some are more shelf stable than others). You’ll know oil has gone rancid when it starts to smell off, sort of like very old lipstick or a bag of 10-year-old trail mix you found at the back of your pantry.

So, for things that are just made from different oils (body butters, lip balms, massage oils, etc.), rancidity is what you’re worried about, and you’ll generally have a few years before that sets in. You can delay it by adding an antioxidant like rosemary seed extract, grapefruit seed extract, or Vitamin E MT-50 (USA / Canada). I store yet-to-be-started lip balms and body butters in my fridge.

Mould and other bacterial spoilage become a problem when water (and time) is involved. That includes emulsions (like lotions), mists and sprays, and things that can be contaminated with water (like a scrub that lives in the shower). Ingredients like witch hazel, rose water, floral hydrosols, aloe vera juice, and milk still count as water when we are considering shelf life—in fact, they count as water plus additional bacterial temptation, and concoctions made with lots of these ingredients are harder (or in the case of milk, impossible) to preserve. The shelf life of something with water will depend greatly on how the concoction was prepared, how clean everything was, and how it is used and stored, so it is impossible for me to give you any kind of shelf life estimate. Generally speaking, though, things that contain water are probably only good for a day or two without a broad-spectrum preservative.

You MUST add a broad-spectrum preservative to recipes that include water. Broad-spectrum preservatives are not infallible, though—you can’t just add them to anything and expect it to last forever. Concoctions with lots of delicious bacteria food (herbal infusions, plant extracts, etc.) may eventually spoil regardless of added preservatives, especially because our kitchens are far from sterile. I make things in small batches, avoid as many temptations as possible, add a preservative, and watch for signs of spoilage, as I do with food in my fridge. If you notice changes in colour, scent, or texture, or you see mould or separation, it’s time to chuck it out.

Antioxidants like rosemary seed extract, grapefruit seed extract, and Vitamin E MT-50 (USA / Canada) are not preservatives and will do nothing to extend the shelf life of something that contains water and requires a broad spectrum preservative.

When it comes to selecting a preservative, make sure you read up on it to ensure it’s compatible with your product. Your supplier should list all this information on their website. Points to consider include:

  • Effective pH range: many more natural preservatives have a narrower effective pH range, so if you want to use them you will need to make sure you can accurately test and adjust the pH of everything you make to ensure your preservative is compatible.
  • Ingredient compatibility: some preservatives are inactivated by ingredients like PEGs or even vitamin C, so make sure you check and see what’s what/
  • Solubility: water-soluble is said to be best as anything that goes wrong in your product will go wrong in the water phase—that said, I have read a lot of debate on both sides of this. Whatever you do, make sure your preservative is soluble in your product (don’t put a water-soluble preservative in a 100% anhydrous product with no emulsifier)
  • Maximum temperature: don’t cook your preservative and ruin it. Preservatives typically go into the cool-down phase (below 40°C/104°F), but some products (like solid shampoo bars) are really dang solid at 40°C, so you’ll want to choose a preservative with higher heat tolerance (I like Optiphen Plus for this).

Trying to figure out how much preservative to add to your final product? I made a handy-dandy preservative calculator that you can use here.

Wondering which preservative to use? More on that here!


What preservative should I use? How much of it should I add?

If you are making something that contains water, you need a broad spectrum preservative. Imagine a tub of soup left out on your kitchen counter; how long would it have to sit there before you wouldn’t want to eat it anymore or serve it to company? That’s the kind of timeline we’re looking at for bacteria setting up shop in your watery concoctions.

There are a lot of broad spectrum preservatives readily available from DIY suppliers. Here’s a few:

  • Germall® Plus (powder or liquid)
  • Optiphen™
  • Optiphen™ Plus
  • Phenonip®
  • Leucidal® Liquid (not truly broad spectrum, but also not an antioxidant)
  • NeoDefend™
  • NataPres™
  • Gluconolactone & Sodium Benzoate

These things are often sold in the “preservatives” section but are not preservatives—just antioxidants. They are usually far less scary/more natural sounding, but they will not do the job at all.

  • Sodium lactate
  • Grapefruit seed extract
  • Rosemary antioxidant
  • Vitamin E

I encourage you to do your own research and decide for yourself which preservative will work best for you. I also encourage you to read everything about the preservative from the supplier to determine if it will work for you. Effective pH range and solubility are important things to consider. I’ve compiled a table of information about different preservatives here, complete with sources so you can read and learn more.

So, with all that in mind, for relatively foolproof preserving, I usually use Liquid Germall Plus. It is water soluble, effective in small amounts, and has a broad effective pH range (3–8). It’s not easily accidentally deactivated. You are unlikely to need to test the pH or adjust it. It has a usage rate of 0.1–0.5%, though I would recommend erring on the 0.5% of things for home use, since our kitchens are far from sterile.

The two active ingredients (Diazolidinyl Urea [and] Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate) are a bit scary when you research them, but Liquid Germall Plus is 60% propylene glycol, meaning only 40% of your preservative is the scarier stuff, which means, at a 0.5% usage rate, only 0.2% of your formula will be “scary” ingredients. With the tiny inclusion of those scary ingredients, the rest of your formula will be protected from other scary things, like fungus and mould. In a 100g batch of lotion, that translates to 0.2g, which is barely anything, especially when spaced out over many uses.

Please see my Resources page for a list of links to places to purchase ingredients including preservatives.

How much do I need to use?

Each preservative will have a different recommend usage rate, which you can get from your supplier.

I made a handy-dandy preservative calculator that you can use here. Or, for the math:

Let’s say your preservative should be used at 1%; if your recipe contains 100g of ingredients, that’s approximately 1g of preservative. That’s not 100% accurate as 1% of 101g (original recipe + weight of the preservative) will be just over 1g, but with the small batches we’re working in the the accuracy level of the scales we’ve got at home, I consider it to be close enough.

  1. Figure out how much your recipe weighs. Either add up the weights of all the ingredients or weigh the final product.
  2. Figure out the recommended usage rate of the specific preservative you are using. Your supplier will provide this. Choose the higher end of the range since we’re not manufacturing in sterile labs.
  3. Multiply the weight of your product by the usage rate percentage, and divide that number by 100. So, if your concoction weighs 50g and the usage rate is 2.5%, that would be 50 × 2.5 = 125. 125 ÷ 100 = 1.25. That means you should add 1.25g preservative to your concoction.


Makeup & Cosmetics (4)

What’s the colour blend to re-create this store bought lipstick/eye shadow/blush/etc?

I’m flattered you think I’m so good at colour blending that I can pull an accurate colour dupe out of thin air, but sadly I am not there yet 🙁 I do have a few tips to help you figure it out for yourself, though:

  • For any sort of a proper purple you will need carmine; red iron oxide is much too muddy
  • Most classic reds need carmine as well; red iron oxide is too muddy and brown to make a classic red
  • If you want a berry tone, try incorporating the blue-toned red iron oxide or blue ultramarine
  • Don’t discount the awesomeness of titanium dioxide (white) in a blend
  • You’ll need oxides and other pure pigments to get strong, lipstick worthy colour blends; micas are much weaker and don’t pack nearly the same colour punch
  • There’s both a dark brown and a light brown oxide; choose accordingly based on your needs
  • For super bright corals you’ll need carmine and titanium dioxide as well as yellow iron oxide. For even brighter corals, you might consider looking at a yellow FD&C dye.
  • Take notes for all your colour blends so you can recreate them, and label both the formula notes and the final product!


Let’s talk abut substitutions for Make it Up recipes

I get a lot of questions about substitutions in general, including queries about replacing some of the stranger ingredients used in Make it Up.

In recipes for things like lip balms and sugar scrubs, swaps are typically fairly easy. Using one light carrier oil for another likely won’t break the recipe. The scrub will still scrub, the lip balm will still hydrate your lips, and that lotion will still moisturize.

However, when it comes to cosmetics, there are WAY more variables. We are talking about:

  • Slip
  • Adhesion
  • Wear time
  • Colour
  • Consistency
  • Melting point
  • Texture
  • Opacity
  • And more!

As I was developing the recipes in Make it Up, I tested them thoroughly and obsessively, so when I say I’ve worn a lip paint through a whiskey tasting and it stayed on for hours, I’m saying that about the recipe as I made it. Once you start changing things, my promises of good results go out the window. I did not (and do not) have time to re-develop or check every recipe in the book with a different set of ingredients. This is why I am hesitant to tell you that “yes, you can use X instead of Y”—I have no idea how well (or if) it will work!

Some changes are more likely to be successful than others; using a different liquid oil in some powdered cosmetics, or in the lip gloss recipe likely won’t be disastrous. When it comes to powdered ingredients, though (things like boron nitride, magnesium myristate, and silica microspheres), well—I added those ingredients to those recipes because they make them better. I started without them, and added the because they improve the final product.

Generally speaking, no one ingredient is the “linchpin” of a recipe’s success, but you might be looking at the difference between 5 hours of wear with it, and 30 minutes without it, or something that feels skiddy and awful when applied vs smooth and creamy. I’d call those things recipe failure. You may not.

So, the general gist of the answer to “is there an alternative for X ingredient in X recipe in Make it Up?” is: maybe. I haven’t tested it, so you are on your own. Refer to the chart on page 57 to learn about what different powders do in cosmetics to get an idea of why they’re there—that should help guide your search for alternatives. Good luck!


Can I add mica to a mist?

I don’t recommend it.

In my experience, there are a few challenges with adding mica to water-based mists:

  1. Mica tends to clog mister tops.
  2. In order to prevent mica settling, the product would need to be made more viscous… but products with even a hint of viscosity don’t “mist” out of mister tops… they come out in a high-powered concentrated stream.


How can I make all the projects from Make it Up in weights?

The formulations in my book, Make it Up: The Essential Guide to DIY Makeup and Skin Care, use a combination of weight and volume measurements, with volume measurements being used mostly for powders and pigments that are used in small amounts. This was a deliberate choice to increase the accessibility of the formulations—readers only need a scale accurate to 1g and a set of tiny measuring spoons. The precision required to weigh out 1/64 tsp of a powdered pigment would require a relatively pricey scale compared to a $5 set of measuring spoons.

The formulations in the book were developed as they are shared. This means there are no fully-by-weight versions of the formulations, so I don’t have some sort of document with by-weight versions I can share—such a document does not exist. I tested all the projects thoroughly and am confident they work as written and shared, even with the slight variations inevitable with volume measurements.

If you want to make the formulations by weight that is very understandable, but you will have to the conversions yourself. I do not have any sort of master volume-to-weight conversion chart I can share.

I would recommend by discerning an average per-teaspoon weight of each ingredient. For example, weigh out one teaspoon of titanium dioxide five times, and then average out that weight. From there, you can divide that number as required to get an average weight per half teaspoon, quarter teaspoon, etc. It is very important that you do this for every single ingredient as they will have different densities. I show how to do this in this video.

Good luck & happy making!


Substitutions (24)

Can I use mica instead of pure pigment?

Sometimes, but not always, and you will always have to make modifications unless you are ok with creating a drastically different end product.

Coloured micas are made by blending mica with pure pigments; as such, they are significantly less pigmented than pure pigments as a coloured mica is basically pure pigment diluted in mica.

For the purposes of this FAQ, “pigments” will include iron oxides, ultramarines, FD&C dyes, and carmine. These are all highly pigmented and concentrated colourful powders.

Beyond potency, it is also important to remember that micas are shimmery/shiny, while pigments are matte. Micas are also finely milled and easy to incorporate, while pigments can be lumpy and clumpy, and can require extensive mixing in order to incorporate into products smoothly. Iron oxides and titanium dioxide are typically the worst offenders for being clumpy.

I will often use a small amount of mica (~1%) to colour a product without leaving any colour on the skin (for example: lip balms, lotions, and body butters). If you replace mica 1-to-1 with pigment, you will get a significantly more pigmented product. You might, for instance, make a soap that stains towels, a face wash that stains the skin, or a body butter that ruins clothing after application.

I mostly use pigments for colour cosmetics, where they are used to colour the skin (lipstick, eyeshadow, etc.). Because they are so concentrated, you don’t need much to get the desired effect. I also use them at very low concentrations (~0.01%) to tint liquid products like hand washes or shampoos.

Some examples:

  • Say you are making a lip balm that calls for mica, but you use pigment instead. A switch from mica to pigment will take you from a slightly shimmery lip balm to something more like lipstick. If you do the opposite, and use mica instead of pigment, you will get significantly less colour payoff in the end product.
  • Say you’re making a foundation that calls for yellow iron oxide, but you use a yellow mica instead. That product will be:
    • The wrong colour:
      • 1) As there are many many many yellow micas in many different shades of yellow, but only one colour of yellow iron oxide
      • 2) As micas are far less pigmented than oxides, and as such will not “stand up” to the other pigments in the blend.
    • Shimmery, which we do not usually want in a foundation.
  • Say you’re making a bath bomb, and you use mica instead of a water-soluble dye (pigment, for this FAQ). While a tiny amount of pigment would’ve created a bath bomb that dyes the bathwater, the mica won’t do anything. Micas are also insoluble, so if you use more they will leave a ring/shiny sediment behind in the tub.
  • In a product like this, using pigment instead of mica would noticeably change the colour of the skin rather than just adding some subtle shimmer.


I made several substitutions to one of your formulations and it didn’t work out—why?

The more changes you make to a formulation, the harder this question is to answer.

Generally speaking, if you made one change, and your end product ended up being drastically different than mine, it was probably that one change that caused that difference. One variable means it was probably that one variable that caused that one change.

As the number of changes increases, so does that number of variables and the number of possible reasons for a different end product. Say I used ingredients A, B, and C and you used ingredients A, X, and Y (swapping B for X and C for Y)—and your end result is drastically different than mine. It could be that X + Y ingredients don’t work well together. Maybe ingredient Y conflicts with ingredient A, but so A + X + C would’ve been fine, but A + X + Y isn’t. There are a lot of possibilities, and the more changes you make, the number of possibilities increases substantially.

Sometimes I’ll be able to tell what went wrong knowing what those ingredients were, but the more variables there are, the harder it is to identify where the problem might be.

In order to troubleshoot the issue, you’ll need to re-make the formulation multiple different ways in order to isolate the variables and see where the problem crops up. So, from the example above, you’d need to make A + X + C and A + B + Y to isolate if it was X or Y causing the issue. If both of those test versions are fine, then you know it is X + Y causing the issue.

If we add a third variable ingredient, the number of experiments you’ll need to do to isolate the problem grows—a lot. Let’s look at “formulation” A + B + C + D vs. A + X + Y + Z.

The original formulation with just one of the new ingredients:

  • A + B + C + Z
  • A + B + Y + D
  • A + X + C + D

And then the original formulation with two of the new ingredients, in different pairings

  • A + B + Y + Z
  • A + X + C + Z
  • A + X + Y + D

You can see that adding just one new substitution (from 2 to 3) took us from 2 isolation experiments to 6. Each additional substitution is going to increase that number substantially.

Thankfully, some critical thinking and common sense can often narrow things down and give you a decent starting point:

  • If you changed the thickener, and your end product has a drastically different viscosity than mine, I’d look at the thickener first
  • If you changed the emulsifier, and your end product has a drastically different viscosity than mine (or the emulsion fails), I’d look at the emulsifier first
  • If you changed the preservative, and your end product has a drastically different shelf life than mine, I’d look at the preservative first
  • If it’s a surfactant product and you’ve used a different essential oil or fragrance oil… that can get weird. Read this blog post for an idea of how weird!
  • If you made surfactant substitutions, there’s a lot that can change there. I recommend reading this to learn more.


The kind of silk I have is different than the one called for. Can I use it?

Assuming you don’t have a bolt of silk fabric, yes. Hydrolyzed silk peptides, hydrolyzed silk amino acids, and hydrolyzed silk powder are all generally interchangeable. The difference is in the mesh of the powder. Powder is the coarsest, peptides are the middle of the road, and amino acids are the finest. The finer, the more easily absorbed, but unless otherwise stated they can be swapped for one another without noticing much (or any) difference in the final product.

Tussah silk is silk that’s still in fiber form—you’ll get it in a sort of lump of wispy fibers that you can pull apart. It isn’t hydrolyzed, which means it won’t dissolve in water. We need silk to dissolve in water to work with it in our concoctions, so tussah silk really isn’t very useful.

If you’ve got liquid silk, you can still use it, but only in recipes that contain water and are already liquid; things like lotion, soap, and conditioner are a go, but powdered cosmetics or 100% oil based things won’t work out.


If a recipe calls for a a solid plant component (oats, ground almonds, cornstarch), can I use the oil of that plant instead?

Often times, if I include something like colloidal oats or rosehip powder in a recipe, I’ll be asked if something like oat oil or rosehip oil would be a good alternative.

The short answer is no. Those things are very different, despite coming from the same plant (sort of like the difference between steak and leather, despite both coming from a cow). If you were cooking and a recipe called for cornstarch, you wouldn’t use corn oil instead. If a cookie recipe called for chopped walnuts, you wouldn’t use walnut oil instead. In a bread recipe, you wouldn’t use wheatgerm oil instead of what flour.

However, that doesn’t mean it’ll break the recipe. It just won’t be the same. If the recipe is already mostly liquid oil, and you want to use a liquid oil instead of a solid ingredient, you could swap out some of the liquid oil in the recipe for some of your new liquid oil, and that will likely work to some degree.

Think about why we’re including the ingredient before deciding to make such a swap. If a recipe calls for ground almonds as an exfoliant, almond oil is not a good alternative because liquids are not exfoliating. If rosehip powder is called for as a colourant, its oil won’t work as a swap because it isn’t bright pink. Also remember to account for solubility and state.


How can I substitute one surfactant for another?

Generally speaking, you’d hope to replace any surfactant with one that is the same format (liquid or powder) and has the same charge (anionic, non-ionic, amphoteric, or cationic). A similar pH and active surfactant matter (ASM—the concentration of the surfactant, basically) would be nice, but those differences can be accommodated in the formulation. It is also nice if the surfactant has a similar feel and produces similar lather. You can look up this information in my surfactants table and in my Encyclopedia. Your suppliers should also be providing this sort of information.

As with all substitutions, the impact of the substitution on the final product is heavily influenced by how much of the ingredient is used (if it comprises 50% of a recipe using something else will have a much bigger effect than if it comprises 0.5%!), and how similar the substituting ingredient is.

Before you go too far, you’ll want to be certain the ingredient you’re hoping to use instead actually is a surfactant. Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside and PEG-6 caprylic/capric triglycerides are surfactants; the similarly-named caprylic/capric triglycerides is not, and absolutely cannot be used as an alternative for either surfactant ingredient. The name similarity indicates the source material for these ingredients is the same, but the finished ingredients are very different.

You’ll also need to consider the jobs a surfactant is doing; foaming/cleansing is often job #1, but if it is also functioning as a solubilizer (Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside often does) you’ll need to be aware of that and replace that functionality as well with something like polysorbate 20.

Another job a surfactant can be playing in a product is to make the blend milder; this is achieved by combining surfactants with different changes. Cocamidopropyl Betaine is very commonly used for this reason; it is amphoteric, and while it isn’t a great lathering/cleansing surfactant on its own it compliments anionic and non-ionic surfactants, making them milder and supporting lather. Cocamidopropyl Betaine is usually the most readily available amphoteric surfactant, which is why I use it so often. If you need to substitute Cocamidopropyl Betaine (or another amphoteric) surfactant you will want to use a different amphoteric surfactant, and those can be hard to find. You can try coco betaine, babassuamidopropyl betaine, disodium lauroampho diacetate, and sodium cocoamphoacetate.

If you have a solid surfactant that may work, but the recipe calls for liquid, you can try making your own solution of the solid surfactant in water to give it the right format and ASM. Not all solid surfactants dissolve happily in water—I find SCS is reasonably cooperative, while I’ve watched SCI sit in a jar of water for over a year without dissolving.

If the recipe calls for a solid surfactant and produces a solid or semi-solid end product, you will need solid surfactants—liquid surfactants simply will not do. If a recipe calls for a solid surfactant and produces a liquid end product you can likely use a liquid surfactant instead; just keep in mind that liquid surfactants typically have significantly lower ASM values, so you will need to adjust the formula to keep the final ASM the same. I go over how to do this with spreadsheets here.

You will also want to take into consideration the type of lather the surfactant produces, how mild it is, and how good of a cleanser it is. I know this can be hard to do if you haven’t worked with both of the surfactants, so you’ll want to read about both and see if the recipe gives any clues as to why a certain surfactant was chosen. If the recipe makes a really big deal about not substituting a certain surfactant, take that into account.

All that said—you probably aren’t going to create an absolute catastrophe substituting surfactants, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Whatever you make will still lather and clean, and if you don’t like it very much you can probably use it up in no time if you start using it as a body wash.


Can I use food/spices to colour my cosmetics instead of iron oxides?

Please, please, please do not. The thought is tempting, but it’s not a great idea, and possibly even a bad one. Remember, just because something is edible doesn’t mean you should be spreading it on your face! Here’s a few reasons:

  • Kitchen spices are not approved colourants for cosmetics, and they are not approved for a reason (the exceptions being annatto and caramel)! They can irritate (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, paprika, cayenne, etc.) and stain (paprika, turmeric, cayenne, etc.) the skin and mucous membranes.
  • The particle size may be large enough to irritate the skin and feel scrubby—not something you want in a cosmetic!
  • Colours of spices and foods vary from batch to batch and between suppliers; sometimes greatly. This doesn’t matter in food, but it does mean you may never be able to re-create that shade of foundation.
  • Spices aren’t typically very potent colourants, meaning you’ll need to use quite a lot more than you’d use of oxides, which is likely to throw off the entire balance of the formula.
  • The final product will smell, and probably not like something you want your face smelling like (cinnamon + turmeric + paprika = curry, I guess?)
  • Fresh foods will spoil in a day or two and drag your product along with it.


Can I replace the essential oils in this formulation with carrier oils?

I don’t recommend it. In the world of cooking, this would be like replacing a spice like cumin or cinnamon (something potent used at low amounts) with something like celery or broth (something significantly less potent in the flavour department that is used at higher concentrations in food).

If you were making a curry, replacing a teaspoon of cumin with a teaspoon of celery would be rather silly. You’d lose a ton of flavour from the loss of the cumin, and an additional teaspoon of celery will do nothing to compensate for that loss of flavour.

It’s the same with essential oils; replacing essential oils in a formulation with carrier oils is pretty meaningless. If you don’t want to use the essential oils called for in the formulation just replace them with more water (if it’s a lotion) or more of the predominant carrier oil in the formulation (if it’s anhydrous).


Can I use something other than coconut oil in soap?

Coconut oil is really unique in providing amazing, fluffy lather in soaps—that’s why you’ll find it the vast majority of soap recipes. The only other oil I’ve found that gives similar numbers for lather when run through a soap calculator is babassu oil, which is quite similar to coconut oil in terms of texture and feel. It is, however more expensive. You can get 4L of coconut oil for soaping for about $25CAD, whereas 4L of babassu oil will cost you about $42CAD. These prices will obviously vary by supplier, I got these from New Directions Aromatics.

You could replace the coconut oil with any other oil, really, but it’s hard to say how your final bar will turn out. Pay attention to the “Soap Bar Quality” area on SoapCalc after you calculate your recipe. Try calculating it with coconut oil and with whatever you decide to replace it with, and watch how the numbers change. Try to keep them within the recommended ranges (listed on SoapCalc in the “Soap Bar Quality” area).


Can I use peppermint essential oil instead of menthol?

Sort of/it depends. You’ll need to do a bit of research/math as well.

Different peppermint essential oil (USA / Canada)s have different menthol percentages. Making this swap will work best with a high menthol peppermint essential oil (USA / Canada)—you should be able to get this information from your supplier, especially if they are reputable.

Say a recipe calls for 3g of menthol, and your peppermint essential oil (USA / Canada) is 50% menthol. That means that 3g of peppermint essential oil (USA / Canada) will contain 1.5g of menthol, so you’d need to use 6g of peppermint essential oil (USA / Canada) in the recipe to have an equivalent amount of menthol in the final product. You are, of course, also bringing an extra 3g of other pepperminty things to the recipe that were not originally accounted for when the formula was developed. In small amounts this usually isn’t a problem, but it’s still a consideration.

Perhaps your peppermint essential oil (USA / Canada) is only 20% menthol. Now you’ll need 15g (3 × 20 / 100) of peppermint essential oil (USA / Canada) to get 3g of menthol, and 15g is a lot more than 3g; I’d start to be worried about this swap throwing off the balance of the recipe. Peppermint essential oil is often liquid (especially if it’s relatively low in menthol) and menthol is solid, so now you’re using a lot of liquid in place of a small amount of solid. If you replaced a little bit of butter with 5x as much olive oil (pomace) (USA / Canada) in a recipe, that would obviously have some serious implications—the same thing happens with DIY body/bath/etc. recipes.

I’ll use menthol in a recipe where I want concentrated cooling, and little else. Peppermint essential oil contains menthol, but it also contains other things that make it smell like peppermint, and because you’ll always need more peppermint essential oil (USA / Canada) than menthol, your final product will smell a lot like peppermint.

So… use your judgement, basically 🙂 It can be done, but there are some considerations to be made.


Are aloe vera juice and aloe vera gel the same thing?

No. Think of aloe vera juice as cocoa powder, and aloe vera gel as a chocolate cake that happens to contain cocoa powder, but also contains a lot of other stuff.

Aloe vera juice is a thin liquid that’s visibly indistinguishable from water. That’s what you’ll want to use for any recipes that call for aloe vera juice. You can also make your own aloe vera juice by re-hydrating powdered aloe vera juice.

Aloe vera gel is the sort of thing you buy in a pump bottle at the drug store. It’s often bright green and in addition to aloe contains added colourants, fragrances, preservatives, and pH adjusters. This kind of aloe vera gel isn’t an ingredient that you should be using because it’s got so much other stuff in it you can’t be sure how it’ll perform or how it might impact the final product. It’s also got a completely different texture from aloe vera juice (semi solid vs. thin liquid), so that would be a bit like using yogourt instead of milk to make hot cocoa.

You can also get aloe gel/goo straight from the aloe plant, and while this stuff is lovely, I don’t recommend using it in anything that’s not going to be used immediately as it’s highly prone to spoilage and will take your lotion/spray/etc. down to moulds-ville with it.


Can I use vanilla extract instead of benzoin/vanilla essential oil?

No—please, please do not do this. It is a waste of a lot of ingredients.

For starters, vanilla extract is formulated for taste, not scent—and especially not long-lasting scent. It doesn’t tend to smell very nice, and not for long, either.

Secondly, vanilla extract is in an alcohol base, so if added to anything 100% oil based it will bead up, giving you little pockets of brown vanilla extract in your final product.

And for the love of all things sudsy, do not put vanilla extract (or any other cooking extract) in soap instead of essential oils. Readers that have tried this have reported back with disastrous results.


Can I use an essential oil or fragrance oil instead of a carrier oil?


Essential oils and fragrance oils are very, very different from carrier (or fixed) oils. Making this swap will ruin your product and possibly damage your skin.

Essential oils and fragrance oils are highly concentrated aromatic compounds that are generally used at 1% or less as higher concentrations can cause negative skin reactions. Though they are oil-soluble they do not contain any oil/fat, similar to how sugar is water-soluble but does not contain any water.

Carrier (or fixed) oils are liquid fats—things like olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil, safflower oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, etc. They can be used on the skin at up to 100%.

Swapping a carrier oil for an essential oil or fragrance oil would be like swapping broth in a soup recipe for straight hot sauce. Please don’t!

Note: Tea tree essential oil and lavender essential oil are sometimes referred to without the “essential” part, i.e. tea tree oil. They are still essential oils and still should not be used as alternatives to carrier oils or applied directly to the skin.


How can I use an extract instead of a DIY infusion or hydrosol?

Sometimes a recipe will call for a DIY infusion (perhaps an herb-infused oil or a water-based infusion) or hydrosol, but you already have a commercially produced extract and would prefer to use that instead. No problem!

Step 1: Check the solubility. Extracts can be oil or water-soluble, and the solubility of the extract needs to be compatible with the product you are making. If the end product is an emulsion, with both an oil and a water phase, either an oil or a water-soluble extract will work. If the product you are creating is strictly hydrous or anhydrous, the solubility of the extract will need to match (for example, if you wish to replace an herb-infused oil with the extract of that herb in a 100% oil/wax base, the extract must be oil-soluble to work).

Step 2: Check the recommended concentration rate for the specific extract you have. It’s probably 5% or less. Your supplier should supply this information.

Step 3: Make the swap!

Let’s say the recipe originally called for 30% calendula infused olive oil, but you have an oil-soluble calendula extract you’d like to use, and you can use it at up to 3%. You’ll want to use 3% calendula extract and 27% olive oil in the recipe (3% + 27% = 30%).

If a formulation called for 30% lavender hydrosol, but you have a water-soluble lavender extract you’d like to use instead, you’d use the extract at whatever it’s average to maximum usage rate is (I’d generally let the price and the scent of the extract guide this choice) and replace the rest of that with more distilled water. So, if you used the lavender extract at 5% you’d need 25% distilled water (5% + 25% = 30%).

Be sure to pay attention to if the extract can be heated; it likely can’t, so include the extract in the cool-down phase. If this was a watery thing, that called for 40% herb-infused water, and you have an herbal extract that can be used at 5%, you’d use 5% extract and 35% water (35% + 5% = 40%).


How can I substitute one emulsifier for another?

The first place to start is looking up the emulsifier the recipe calls for in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia and seeing what alternatives are listed as recommended substitutions!

If what you’re looking for isn’t there, here are some guidelines:

  • What kind of emulsifier is it? Oil in water or water in oil? Is it a complete emulsifying wax or solubilizer? It is essential that any substitutions you make are for the same kind of emulsifier. Using a solubilizer instead of a complete emulsifying wax or vice versa will fail.
  • What is the solubility situation? Make sure whatever substitution you are making has the same solubility as the original ingredient.
  • What format is it in? Generally speaking, you’ll want to swap solid for solid, and liquid for liquid.
  • What is the recommended usage rate? Make sure you will not be over-using anything.
  • Charge: what is it, and does it matter? Different emulsifiers have different charges—typically anionic (negatively charged), cationic (positively charged), and non-ionic (no charge). Non-ionic is the most common and will be compatible with other charges. Cationic (or conditioning) emulsifiers should not be swapped for non-cationic emulsifiers as their cationic nature is typically part of the performance of the product. Anionic and cationic ingredients are generally incompatible, so make sure you keep an eye on everything else in the formula before choosing an emulsifier with a different charge than the original one.

Remember—just because something has “emulsifying properties” does not mean it can be used as an alternative for anything else with emulsifying properties. You can learn a lot more about the full spectrum of ingredients often sold as emulsifiers/solubilizers/surfactants here.


What can I use instead of water?

In anything that calls for water, you can play with the formulation by swapping that water for things that are mostly water.

Examples of such ingredients include:

All of these things can be utterly lovely in a lotion, toner, or mist! There are many possibilities, and I highly recommend researching any and all ingredients you want to use so you can understand how best to use them. I highly recommend these posts: How to Research Your Ingredients Part 1 + Part 2.

Do keep in mind, though, that not-actually-water but water-like-ingredients can contain bits of botanical matter that make our creations harder to preserve. For that reason, I recommend treading carefully, especially if you’re a newer maker and don’t have a good feel for the limits of your preservative.

Start with small batches, so if it grows mould you aren’t throwing out too much product. I’d also recommend starting with less than a 100% swap, so if a formulation calls for 70% water you might replace just 20–30% with a not-water water-like thing, and leave the remaining 40–50% as distilled water.

If you’re looking for a more reliably shelf-stable way to incorporate some ingredients, take a look at cosmetic grade extracts. They are available for a wide range of botanicals from DIY suppliers and are typically used at relatively low usage rates (5% or less), so they’re relatively economical.  Their active components can also be more stable in a cosmetic grade extract vs. a homemade infusion.

And remember—when water is involved, a broad spectrum preservative is a MUST. Ingredients like hydrosols and aloe vera juice are ~99.9% water and require preserving. Using a hydrosol etc. instead of water does not mean you do not need a preservative.


Can I use soap instead of foaming surfactants?

Kind of, sometimes, but I don’t recommend it. Soap is technically a surfactant, but for the purposes of this FAQ I’ll be referring to saponified fats as “soap” and products like Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI), Cocamidopropyl Betaine, etc. as “surfactants” (also known as syndets aka synthetic detergents).

Surfactants are a lot more versatile than soap, so it’s always going to be a less-than-ideal swap. Both soap and surfactants lather/foam and cleanse, but that’s roughly where the universal similarities stop. Using one for the other will result in a different end product, so if you make the swap, be prepared for the changes.

One of the biggest reasons I use surfactants over soap is that surfactants can be acidic, while soap cannot. Mildly acidic products are gentler on the skin than products with a basic (above 7) pH. They help keep our moisture barrier intact and firing on all cylinders. Read this to learn more. So, at a bare minimum, if you are using soap instead of surfactants your product will be basic, and that is harder on the skin and hair. If you suffer from dry hands I highly recommend switching to washing your hands with a mildly acidic syndet product rather than soap—this simple change has made a massive improvement in the state of the skin on my hands!

There are also many different surfactants available, with different charges (anionic, cationic, and non-ionic), and these surfactants will have different strengths and weaknesses. Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, for instance, is very gentle as it is non-ionic, but it’s also a great solubilizer, so I’ll often use it in products like foaming hand and face washes to solubilize an essential oil without incorporating an additional solubilizer. Compared to Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, soap is basic (instead of acidic—harder on the skin), anionic (harder on the skin), and may require an additional solubilizer as soap isn’t as good of a solubilizer is Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside.

Liquid castile soap can sort of work as a stand-in for liquid surfactants, but again, I don’t recommend it. A finished castile soap product (like Dr. Bronner’s) will already be diluted with water, so using it in place of an undiluted liquid surfactant product will result in a much weaker product. A concentrated castile soap paste would be a slightly better option, but it will still be very basic and I don’t recommend it.

In a solid syndet bar the product is usually comprised of 50%+ solid surfactants like Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI), Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLSa), and Sodium Coco Sulfate (SCS). I really do not recommend using solid soap in place of solid surfactants in products like these.

An additional consideration is preservation: it is not uncommon for preservatives to require an acidic pH to function, and with soap being basic this may compromise your preservative system. While pure soap does not require preservatives it’s hard to guarantee products made with some soap will be stable, so that is something else you would need to monitor if you made that change.

As with anything, you can certainly try it, but I don’t recommend this particular switch. The end result will be less gentle on skin and hair due to the higher pH, and you may also compromise efficacy and other “jobs” like solubilizing.


What can I use instead of silk?

The silk we use in our cosmetics is hydrolyzed silk protein, meaning it has been modified so it will dissolve in water. You can purchase a variety of particle sizes (amino acids, peptides, and powder), but anything you get really needs to be hydrolyzed if you are intending on using it in products where you need it to dissolve.

Silk is a very unique ingredient. It naturally manages moisture, attracting it to the skin when it’s dry out, and releasing it when it’s humid. Its make-up is very similar to that of our skin and hair, which helps it regenerate. Silk helps add bounce and shine to hair, along with a nice silky sheen.

You can try using another hydrolyzed protein as an alternative; hydrolyzed oat protein is a nice alternative.

In general, though, a recipe will never fail for its lack of silk (or any other hydrolyzed protein), so go ahead and make it 🙂


Can I use a different essential oil (or essential oil blend) than what is called for in a recipe?

Generally speaking, yes, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

Are the essential oils part of the function?

In something like tiger balm or a tingly mint cooling concoction the essential oils are part of the core function of the product—don’t change them.

If it’s a lip product

Are the essential oils you’d like to use lip safe? Essential oils like wintergreen and tea tree are orally toxic, so I wouldn’t recommend them for lip use. Additionally, lip skin is quite thin, so essential oils that can be extra irritating (cinnamon bark, cassia, etc.) are probably best avoided or used in very low concentrations. Also—do they taste nice? A few aromatic compounds (like labdanum) smell divine but taste wretched!

What are the maximum usage levels for the new essential oils you want to use?

Find out and make sure you stay within those maximum levels. Your suppliers are typically not a good place to determine maximum usage levels for essential oils. The IFRA has a database that contains a lot of information, but isn’t massively user friendly as it mostly focusses on the individual fragrant compounds rather than whole essential oils. If you are interested in working with essential oils I highly recommend investing in a copy of Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals by Robert Tisserand & Rodney Young. I’ve also found this page listing 400 essential oils and their maximum usage levels and the rest of the associated website to be quite useful. The levels listed there don’t always jive with EU regulations, but if you aren’t selling in the EU it is a good place to start your research.

If it’s solubilized

If the the essential oil in the original recipe was solubilized into a mostly watery concoction using a solubilizer, using a new essential oil may necessitate a different amount of solubilizer to ensure everything stays properly solubilized (yes, even if the weight stays the same). This is something you will need to determine yourself through experimentation.

Want to leave out the essential oils entirely?

As long as they’re not part of the integral function of the recipe (see above), go for it—just be sure to replace the lost amount with a liquid oil or water, depending on the recipe. Oil is the preferred replacement medium, but if it’s a recipe that is almost entirely water (say, a toner with a small amount of essential oils solubilized into an otherwise water-based product) you can eliminate both the essential oils and the solubilizer and replace them with more water.


Can I use a fragrance or flavour oil in place of the essential oil(s) called for in a recipe?

Generally speaking, yes, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

Are the essential oils part of the function?

In something like tiger balm or a tingly mint cooling concoction the essential oils are part of the core function of the product—don’t change them.

If it’s a lip product

Make sure you are using a lip-safe flavour oil, not a fragrance oil.

What is the maximum usage level for the fragrance oil you want to use?

Find out and make sure you stay within those maximum levels—you should be able to find this information from your supplier or the manufacturer of the fragrance oil. If your supplier doesn’t list it, simply google the name of the fragrance oil and “maximum usage rate”. They typically vary depending on purpose (skin/face/soap/etc.) Wholesale Supplies Plus does an excellent job of displaying this information for the products they sell.

Learn more: How to naturally scent lotions (and other formulations) with essential oils and natural fragrance oils

If it’s solubilized

If the the fragrance/essential oil in the original recipe was solubilized into a mostly watery concoction using a solubilizer, using a new fragrance or essential oil may necessitate a different amount of solubilizer to ensure everything stays properly solubilized (yes, even if the weight stays the same). This is something you will need to determine yourself through experimentation.

Want to leave out the essential oils entirely?

As long as they’re not part of the integral function of the recipe (see above), go for it—just be sure to replace the lost amount with a liquid oil or water, depending on the recipe. Oil is the preferred replacement medium, but if it’s a recipe that is almost entirely water (say, a toner with a small amount of essential oils solubilized into an otherwise water-based product) you can eliminate both the essential oils and the solubilizer and replace them with more water.

Want to use a different amount?

Adjust the formulation accordingly. Fragrance oils are typically a lot stronger than essential oils; I rarely use them above 0.3%, tending towards 0.1% as a default starting point. If a formulation called for 0.5% essential oil and you want to use a fragrance oil instead I’d use 0.1% fragrance oil and replace the missing 0.4% with more water (if it’s a formulation that contains water) or more liquid carrier oil (for anhydrous products).


I don’t like the sounds of emulsifying wax—can I use beeswax (or a plant based wax) instead?

Sadly, swapping out emulsifying wax for anything other than a different complete emulsifying wax (which beeswax isn’t) is like using a paint chip instead of an egg because they’re both yellow. You can pair beeswax with borax to make an emulsion, but then you can only do a 1:1 ratio of oils to water, which makes for a very heavy, waxy, greasy lotion. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s typically not what most people want when they are looking for a lotion.

I have seen plain beeswax mixtures succeed, but these are not true emulsions and do not pass the tests used to determine if something is a true emulsion. Formula Botanica has done an excellent blog post on this here.

Emulsifying wax isn’t a single ingredient: there are a lot of different types, made from different ingredients. All of these ingredients are usually derived from plants—mostly coconut & palm as they’re inexpensive and versatile. Not everything sold as “emulsifying wax” is a complete emulsifier (some are just thickeners, or only partial emulsifiers), so be sure to read up on the precise emulsifying wax you’re considering before buying it.

I’ve worked with (and had good results with) these emulsifying waxes:

  • Polawax
  • Emulsifying Wax NF (INCI: Cetearyl Alcohol (and) Polysorbate 60)
  • Ritamulse SCG/Emulsimulse (INCI: Glyceryl Stearate (and) Cetearyl Alcohol (and) Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate)
  • Olivem 1000 (INCI: Cetearyl Olivate (and) Sorbitan Olivate)
  • BTMS-50 (INCI: Behentrimonium Methosulfate (and) Cetyl Alcohol (and) Butylene Glycol)

This is by no means an exhaustive list of emulsifying waxes, but I find these ones are easily accessible in most parts of the world. Some suppliers like to rename the emulsifying waxes they sell, so make sure you’re checking the INCI (basically, the ingredients list for the ingredient) so you know what you’re getting.

Polawax and Emulsifying Wax NF are typically the easiest emulsifying waxes: they’re nearly foolproof, widely available, and inexpensive. They make beautiful, smooth emulsions and work well with a wide variety of phase sizes and are quite forgiving when it comes to manufacturing methods.

Ritamulse SCG & Olivem 1000 are considered to be more “natural” emulsifying wax options. They tend to be more expensive and can be harder to find depending where in the world you live. They can be more challenging to use than the other emulsifying waxes I’ve worked with, but I still find them to be very reliable emulsifying waxes.

BTMS-50 is a cationic (positively charged) or conditioning emulsifying wax, and it’s fantastic. If you’re interested in making emulsified hair conditioners I highly recommend it—that cationic charge gives the end product some serious conditioning magic that’s downright wonderful. I love BTMS-50 for all kinds of lotions, balms, serums, and conditioning type projects, but it is more expensive than most other emulsifying waxes, so I typically save it for places where I want both conditioning and emulsifying—if I only need emulsifying, a different emulsifying wax will do the trick for less money.


Can I use emulsifying wax instead of solubilizer, or solubilizer instead of emulsifying wax?

No. Emulsifying wax thickens products and requires a precise ratio of oils to water to form an emulsion, making it ideal for lotion type applications.

Solubilizers emulsify small amounts of oil into mostly water based concoctions without thickening them, making them ideal for room sprays, mists, and other almost entirely water formulas that require a small amount of oil or essential oils. You can learn more here.

Also—look up the emulsifier/solubilizer the recipe calls for in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia and see what alternatives are listed as recommended substitutions!


Can I use ____________ instead of _____________ in a recipe?

The first place to start is looking up the ingredient the recipe calls for in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia and seeing what alternatives are listed as recommended substitutions! Please also check the “Substitutions” list at the end of all my newer recipes (generally anything from 2018 onwards), and refer to all the other articles in the “Substitutions” section of the FAQ.

After all that, this answer is always a great big “it depends”, so I’ve written a few articles on substitutions. Please read them thoroughly before asking me more specifically 🙂


Can I use _______ wax instead of the wax called for in the recipe?

The first place to start is looking up the wax the recipe calls for in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia and seeing what alternatives are listed as recommended substitutions!

In the case of candelilla and carnauba waxes, go for it—they are very similar.

Otherwise, the answer is generally a sort of “yes, but in different amounts and the final product will have a different texture/scent.”

I recommend reading over some of my oil and wax experiments to get an idea of how different waxes/thickeners behave in formulations, and what they contribute:

Waxes & Pseudo-Waxes


If it’s a floral wax, that’s a slightly different case. Floral waxes don’t serve to thicken a formula—they are generally used in very small amounts for fragrance. They have the texture of a soft butter, like unrefined shea butter (USA / Canada) or mango butter (USA / Canada), so if you don’t have the particular floral wax I’d recommend swapping it out for about 0.7–0.9% of a soft butter and 0.1–0.3% of a similar essential or fragrance oil to get a similar effect 🙂 Example: if a formulation called for 1% rose wax you could replace it with 0.8% mango butter and 0.2% rose fragrance oil.

If it’s orange wax, that’s another entirely different case. Orange wax is actually liquid—it’s not waxy in the slightest. A good alternative would be jojoba oil (USA / Canada) or another medium weight carrier oil with a few drops of orange essential oil. You could also blend the jojoba with a bit of buriti or sea buckthorn seed oil to get the orange tint that orange wax brings to products.


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