This fun, bright shower gel emerged out of a series of experiments I did last summer when I got a bag of Sodium Coco Sulfate for the first time. I basically tried combining it with a variety of different liquid surfactants and transforming those blends into shower gels, and then tested them over a couple months to see what I liked. This one immediately caught my attention for its fantastic spreadable gel consistency and amazing bubbles, and I thought it was high time I shared it!
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The surfactant blend is simple: super bubbly sodium coco sulfate and some amphoteric cocamidopropyl betaine to help make the blend milder. Once we’ve got those two ingredients all heated up and transformed into a clear paste we’ll dissolve said paste in some water (smoosh smoosh smoosh). Cool that down, add some glycerine, essential oils, and preservative, and we’re well on our way!
I’ve kept this shower gel pretty darn simple. There are a lot of things we can add to shower gels, body washes, shampoos, face washes, and other fun surfactant-y things, but I also know not everybody has all of those things, or wants to own them. So, this one is simple. Also, frankly, this is a body wash-off product and I don’t find the loss of something like a hydrolyzed protein or panthenol to be noticeable to my calves. If I’m going to put those ingredients in just one thing I’d prefer they were in the lotion I put on my legs after the shower, rather than the thing that’ll be on my skin for a few seconds before getting rinsed down the drain.
In my testing I tried a couple different pigment options: micas & lake dyes. Lake dyes outperformed micas by a wide margin as they dispersed very well in the base, with a tiny amount giving a wonderful punch of even, transparent colour. Micas eventually settled out of the gel, giving uneven colour and leaving a glut of mica at the bottom of the bottle. For that reason I’d recommend using lake dyes if you have them. Micas will work fine if that’s all you have, or you could also just leave the whole lot unpigmented (especially if you’re going to use an opaque or colour-tinted bottle). I didn’t use iron oxides because you can’t get a good, crisp purple without a bright red and a bright blue, and iron oxides don’t come in those colours. You can get purple with a combination of carmine and blue ultramarine, but it seemed a waste to put carmine in something that goes down the drain so quickly, and ultramarine don’t disperse well in water (it tends to waffle between sinking to the bottom and floating on the surface of the water, giving little colour to the overall product).
When it comes to thickening: I tried salt & Crothix. I ended up really liking salt on its own, not only for the awesome gel consistency, but also because you’re much more likely to have it than Crothix! Do take care to keep the amount quite low; not much is needed, and too much will do the opposite of thickening the shower gel, which is a bummer.
Once you’ve finished thickening the gel you’ll have the sort of thing that’s perfect on a loofa. I find one solid squirt is more than enough for a thorough full-body sudsing, and the lavender/spruce combo is wonderfully fresh and uplifting first thing in the morning, or after a particularly sloggy run (hellllo getting back into running after a winter full of sloth-like behaviour). Anywho—let’s get to the bubbles!
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Lavender Spruce Shower Gel
118.35g | 78.9% distilled water, heated
1:1 citric acid solution, as needed
Salt, as needed
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 sodium coco sulfate and cocamidopropyl betaine into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Place the measuring cup in your prepared water bath to melt everything through. Stir occasionally; after about 20 minutes you should have a uniform paste.
Once you have a uniform paste, remove the measuring cup from the water bath and add the water. Weigh the whole lot (cup + surfactants + water) and note that weight. Put the cup back in the water bath. Stir to combine, using your flexible silicone spatula to smoosh up the surfactant blobs and encourage them to dissolve faster. Stir fairly gently to avoid creating a ton of bubbles. After about 30 minutes the surfactant blobs should vanish into the water.
While the surfactants are melting and dissolving, weigh out the glycerine into a small bowl. Whisk in some wee amounts of the pigments; I’ve provided rough guidelines, but I’d really recommend just adding the tiniest bit of each colour (a few specks, really) at a time and whisking thoroughly between additions so you can see the colour bloom (keep whisking—at first you’ll think there’s nowhere near enough and then after about 30 seconds—bam! Purple!). Adjust to a purple you like—cooler (more blue) or warmer (more red), it’s up to you!
Once your mixture is uniform, remove it from the heat. Weigh it, and top off with water as needed, referencing your previous noted total weight. Let it cool to room temperature, either by leaving it until cool, or by putting it in an ice bath.
Once cool, stir in the pigmented glycerine, essential oils, and preservative.
This is a good time to test and adjust your pH. I found the pH of this shower gel to be ~8.5 as is, and three drops of a 1:1 citric acid solution brought it down to ~5.5. If you’d like to learn more about pH measuring and adjusting, Skin Chakra has a series of great articles you can find here.
Now it’s time to thicken! We’ll be using salt. I started by adding 0.5g, then 0.3g, then 0.2g. I stirred between each addition, waiting a few minutes between each addition to ensure I was getting a good feel for how thick it would be when it settled. When I got quite close to where I wanted to be I stepped the additions down to 0.1g and waited five minutes between additions to see how it was thickening up.
Once you’ve reached a lovely end consistency you’re ready to bottle up your concoction and get sudsy in the shower! I used a 120mL/4 fl oz tottle from Windy Point. Enjoy!
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this shower gel 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.
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 150g.
- You could try a different solid anionic surfactant in place of the SCS, like SCI or SLSa.
- You can use different essential oils, or a fragrance oil
- I chose lake dyes because they disperse very well in a watery base, giving even, clear, strong colour. I tried micas and they tended to settle to the bottom of the tube.