I dreamt up this cleanser for my friend and super-awesome yoga instructor Danny. He’s pretty much the sole reason I’ve been able to start running again, so when he mentioned he’d be interested in trying some of the things I make, I was on it (I definitely prefer to thank people with personalized DIY concoctions instead of a bottle of wine or flowers wherever possible). I was immediately drawn to the idea of a coniferous-y cleanser, and though I made this Forest Facial Cleanser over a month ago, it seems fitting to share it while I’m relaxing in the middle of a forest in Manitoba.
This is an evolution of earlier facial cleanser recipes I’ve shared, starting with foaming lotions and slowly moving away from the emulsion base towards this sort of thing, which I suppose is basically a very dressed up, gentle liquid detergent. In this one I reduced the surfactants by 5% for a gentler cleanser; I’ve been doing some really interesting reading over at It’s All In My Hands on calculating the active surfactant matter of a recipe. For this one we’re using 6% Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate and 9% Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) is 84% active, so out of the entire recipe that’s 5.04% active SCI. Cocamidopropyl Betaine is 30% active, so that means 2.7% of the entire recipe is active Cocamidopropyl Betaine, for a total 7.74% active surfactant matter. I recently made a hand wash that’s 15% ASM and I’m finding that to be a bit drying, so I’m thinking my starting point for hands and face will be around 7.5–10% from now on.
For most liquid surfactant-based concoctions containing Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI), step one is usually melting the SCI into a liquid surfactant like Cocamidopropyl Betaine. For some reason, this takes ages for me (I may just be impatient), so a month or so ago I made a paste of the two that I keep in the freezer. To do this I weighed out 100g of Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) (2 parts) and 150g Cocamidopropyl Betaine (3 parts), stirred that together, and popped it in a water bath until I had a smooth, even, white paste. I transferred that to a 250mL (8oz) mason jar, labelled in, and keep it in the freezer to scoop into as needed. I can easily add more Cocamidopropyl Betaine if the recipe calls for it, and I intentionally chose a fairly high SCI: Cocamidopropyl Betaine ratio so it would be unlikely I’d ever need to melt more SCI. So far this has been a pretty awesome shortcut—I’ve used this jar of paste to quickly make facial cleansers for several friends!
The dressed-up bits include a long-time cleansing favourite of mine: French green clay! I love the added cleansing boost it brings as well as the lovely dusty green colour that’s perfect for a Forest Facial Cleanser. Fortunately the viscosity the Crothix brings is enough to keep the clay in suspension, so no shaking is necessary! There’s also a nice trio of humectants: glycerin, sodium lactate, and panthenol. You’ll also find some soothing aloe vera and some silk, which contributes some film-forming goodness to help keep the cleanser from being too drying.
Our blend of essential oils is summer in Manitoba perfect; bright, piercing spruce and fir are mellowed out with deep, mysterious oak moss absolute and sweet, spicy cardamom. It’s the perfect pick-me-up first thing in the morning, and just might help send you off into dreams of frolicking in the woods in the evening. If you’re not a fan of foresty smells, feel free to customize the blend as you prefer.
If you decide to go the pre-made-paste route, once that’s done this is delightfully simple, if not a bit time consuming (though it’s mostly downtime). Most of what you’ll be doing is waiting for the surfactant blob to dissolve, and then let it cool before scenting, thickening, and preserving, so most of the time is just waiting (smart Marie uses this time to clean up her messes… other Marie uses this time to fritter time away on the interwebs because she is already “being productive” 😝). Anwho! Let’s go make some Forest Facial Cleanser—time frittering optional.
Forest Facial Cleanser
80g | 2.82oz distilled water
2g | 0.07oz panthenol powder (vitamin B5) (USA / Canada)
5g | 0.18oz French green clay
0.5g | 0.018oz aloe vera 200x concentrate powder
2g | 0.07oz sodium lactate (USA / Canada)
1.5g | 0.05oz hydrolyzed silk (USA / Canada) (wondering about substitutions?)
2g | 0.07oz vegetable glycerine (USA / Canada)
10 drops spruce essential oil
20 drops fir essential oil
3 drops oak moss absolute
4 drops cardamom essential oil
0.5g | 0.018oz Liquid Germall Plus™ (USA / Canada) (or other broad spectrum preservative of choice at recommended usage rate [why?])
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a wide, flat-bottomed sauté pan.
Put on your dust mask and weigh the Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) and Cocamidopropyl Betaine into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Place the measuring cup in your prepared water bath to let the Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) dissolve into the Cocamidopropyl Betaine. This will take a while! It took about an hour for me—keep an eye on your water bath so it doesn’t simmer dry.
While the surfactants do their thing, weigh the water, panthenol, French green clay, aloe vera, sodium lactate, silk, and glycerin into another small heat-resistant glass measuring cup or beaker. When the surfactant mixture looks mostly uniform (perhaps just one or two white blobs left), pop the water mixture beaker into the water bath as well to heat that through.
When the water part has heated through and appears uniform, scrape the surfactant paste into the water part—I found it helpful to pour a bit of the water mixture into the surfactant mixture and give it a light stir before scraping that surfactant mixture into the water beaker. The surfactant mixture will be quite thick and paste-y. Leave the remaining measuring cup/beaker that contains everything in the water bath to allow the lumps of surfactant paste to dissolve, gently stirring occasionally to break up any surfactant blobs.
Once the mixture is completely uniform and there are no more surfactant blobs, remove the beaker from the heat and leave it to cool for about half an hour. When it has cooled so it’s just slightly warm to the touch, stir in the essential oils and preservative. Cover with some cling film and leave to completely cool—overnight is a good length of time, but if you get carried away and it ends up being a day or two, that’s ok, too.
When your cleanser is SUPER cool (I covered mine and put it in the fridge for an hour), we can add the Crothix™ liquid to thicken it up. I added about a gram at a time and stirred to combine, ending up with just about 4g (0.14oz). Crothix™ liquid is a wonderfully powerful thickener, and it can take a little while to really kick in, so be patient between additions and make sure you aren’t seeing any wispy floating blobs when you stir before adding more.
When you’re happy with the consistency of your cleanser, decant it into a 100mL pump-top bottle (I like this bottle paired with this pump-top) or a squeezy bottle with a flip or disc top (like this one).
The pH of this is ~5.5 without any adjusting.
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this cleanser contains water, you must include a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth. This is non-optional. Even with a preservative this project is likely to eventually spoil as our kitchens are not sterile laboratories, so in the event you notice any change in colour, scent, or texture, chuck it out and make a fresh batch.