Today we’re creating a gentle Lavender Facial Cleansing Bar—a solid foaming facial cleanser with a skin-happy pH, creamy lather, and a lovely lavender scent. Several bees have sent in requests for another solid facial cleanser, with references to products from Cerave and Drunk Elephant. I’ve been testing this one for a while now, and I’m really excited to share it with you!
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The inspiration for this Lavender Facial Cleansing Bar is Cerave’s Hydrating Cleansing Bar. It’s a solid white syndet bar comprised primarily of Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI), stearic acid, and cetearyl alcohol. It also contains an amphoteric surfactant (Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine), hyaluronic acid, ceramides, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, and quite a lot of other ingredients— find the full list here. I tried a sample of the Cerave bar last year and really enjoyed it; it had a lovely low, creamy lather and didn’t leave my skin feeling tight or squeaky.
When I’m looking at creating an inspired-by sort of formulation I’m always trying to strike a balance between keeping things accessible (this usually means reducing the original ingredient count, selecting for more easily available ingredients) and trying new things that are inspired by the original product. This project is no different. One of the biggest changes I opted to make was dropping the hyaluronic acid and ceramides from my version; these ingredients are pretty dang expensive. If you want to include them you certainly can, but I prefer to save ingredients like that for leave-on products. I also swapped the amphoteric surfactant they used (Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine) for the more readily available Cocamidopropyl Betaine.
In the “trying new things” camp we have two things. Thing #1—incorporating a gum into the bar. Xanthan gum is the last ingredient in the original, after carbomer, and I was really intrigued by the idea of using a gum in a syndet bar. Xanthan can be a bit slimy, but in a solid bar, it could offer some structure and added slip. Interesting! Thing #2 was the incorporation of some salt, which is something I’ve also been playing with as part of a shampoo bar formulation I’ve been working on and testing since December. Lush’s “Seanik” shampoo bar contains salt (and a plant-based gel!), and that’s where I first got the idea. This facial cleansing bar is structured pretty differently from the shampoo bar I’ve been playing with, and I was curious to see how it worked here. Lush claims the addition of salt brings gentle cleansing and can help moisturize the skin. I’m not convinced I notice a huge difference between a syndet bar that’s 2–3% salt and one that isn’t, but I enjoy trying new things, and I really like how this bar performs. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts if you’ve experimented with salt and syndets!
The bulk of the bar is Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI), at 50%, which is the maximum rinse-off usage rate. For this project, I used a finely powdered Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) from New Directions Aromatics that they’ve since discontinued in favour of a larger chip format. If your Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) is in larger bits you can grind it up to create a finer powder, just make sure you’re wearing a dust mask that seals really well! Inhaling airborne powdered surfactants is unbelievably unpleasant.
Our Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) powder is moistened with some Cocamidopropyl Betaine and a glycerin/xanthan gum slurry and then bound together with a melted mixture of stearic acid, cetearyl alcohol, and BTMS-50. All that comes together to create a fairly liquidy mixture that we can add our essential oil (calming lavender) and the preservative (Optiphen Plus, selected for its higher heat tolerance) to before quickly moulding. I froze my little 25g bars for thirty minutes before unmoulding and leaving to dry for a day.
The resulting cleansing bar offers a gentle, creamy lather that leaves the skin feeling clean, but not tight. It also lasts an incredibly long time—as of this writing I’ve been using the same 25g bar twice a day for six weeks and it has barely shrunk at all! When made as written the pH of this facial cleansing bar is right around 5, which is great. I hope you enjoy this bar as much as I do 🙂
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Lavender Facial Cleansing Bar
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a small saucepan.
Weigh the glycerin and xanthan gum into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Whisk to combine. Add the Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI), and salt, and stir to combine. Place the measuring cup in your prepared water bath to heat the mixture through.
Weigh the heated oil phase into a small saucepan and melt over low, direct heat.
Once the oil phase has melted, add it to the hot surfactant paste and stir to combine—it won’t be particularly inclined to at first, and that’s ok. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir/mash as it cools. As the mixture cools the oils will integrate.
When the mixture has cooled noticeably (it should be less than 80°C) and has thickened but is still somewhat pliable, mash in the cool down phase ingredients and pack the paste into your mould. Freeze for at least half an hour before unmoulding and leaving to dry for about 24 hours before using. I find they lose ~1% of their weight in about 20 hours, and a further 0.1–0.2% after 48 hours. If left for two weeks the bar can lose up to 3% of its weight, but considering the first third of that is achieved in the first 6% of those two weeks… roughly 24 hours seems to be more than enough.
To use, simply rub the bar between wet palms as you would with a bar of soap, and wash your face as usual. Be sure to let the bar dry between uses; it will start to soften and melt if left to sit in a puddle. Enjoy!
Because this cleanser both contains and will regularly come into contact with water, you need to include a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth. This is non-optional. Even with a preservative this project may eventually spoil as our kitchens are not sterile laboratories, so in the event you notice any change in colour, scent, or texture, chuck it out and make a fresh batch.
As always, be aware that making substitutions will change the final product. While these swaps won’t break the recipe, you will get a different final product than I did.
- As I’ve provided this recipe in percentages as well as grams you can easily calculate it to any size using a simple spreadsheet as I’ve explained in this post. As written in grams this recipe will make 50g.
- To learn more about the ingredients used in this recipe, including why they’re included and what you can substitute them with, please visit the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia. It doesn’t have everything in it yet, but there’s lots of good information there! If I have not given a specific substitution suggestion in this list please look up the ingredient in the encyclopedia before asking.
- You could try guar gum instead of xanthan gum
- Propanediol would work instead of vegetable glycerine
- You could replace the salt with more stearic acid or cetearyl alcohol
- I don’t recommend substituting the Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI)
- You could try a different liquid amphoteric surfactant instead of the Cocamidopropyl Betaine
- If you’d like to learn more about the surfactants used and compare them to ones you might already have so you can make substitutions, check out this page.
- You could replace the BTMS-50 with BTMS-25; I would use 4% BTMS-25 and 4.5% cetearyl alcohol. If you wish to eliminate the cationic element, replace the BTMS-50 with more cetearyl alcohol.
- I don’t recommend swapping out the stearic acid or cetearyl alochol; if you do, be prepared to re-develop the formula.
- You can use a different essential oil or fragrance.
- If you’re like to use a different preservative, please review this page.