Welcome to our first formulation of 2020—a beautiful Moisturizing Repair Cream! I am so excited about this rich, nourishing hand cream. It’s positively perfect for this time of year, helping protect skin against the winter dry and cold. Our two power ingredients are deeply moisturizing and inexpensive vegetable glycerin and niacinamide, AKA vitamin B3, which helps reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and boost ceramide production. The finished cream has a rich, decadent texture and delivers a long-lasting immediate hydration boost. Booyah!
Want the video for a version using Polawax!
This formulation was inspired by a lovely product from La Roche Posay; Cicaplast Mains. I’ve used a few products from their Cicaplast line and have loved them all, but what really caught my eye about the hand cream was the marketing call-out on the tube: “Niacinamide 4% and Glycerin 30%”. Sorry—30% glycerin?! That’s… a lot of glycerin. Far more than I would’ve guessed would be enjoyable in a product (glycerin is pretty sticky on its own) and yet… I loved the hand cream, so clearly it wasn’t too much. Cool!
The ingredient list for the original product was fairly short and sweet: Aqua, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Niacinamide, Glyceryl Stearate, Butyrospermum Parkii Butter / Shea Butter, Dimethicone, PEG/PPG-18/18 Dimethicone, Glyceryl Stearate SE, Sodium Polyacrylate, Caprylyl Glycol, Phenoxyethanol. Since we know glycerin is used at 30% and Niacinamide at 4%, we have two useful anchors to start to figure out what else is going on and build our own formulation.
Check out the ingredient analysis video I made for this product!
The bulk of the lotion is water and glycerin, with some additional humectant-y goodness from butylene glycol (a humectant similar to propylene glycol and propanediol). Cetearyl alcohol, glyceryl stearate, shea butter, and dimethicone look to be the primary fatty emollients. The dimethicone will also help counter any tackiness from the high concentration of glycerin, which is definitely a good thing, and the cetearyl alcohol and glyceryl stearate will both contribute to thickening the end product. PEG/PPG-18/18 Dimethicone and Glyceryl Stearate SE are our emulsifiers.
Sodium Polyacrylate is a very cool ingredient—it’s insanely absorbent, and can be found in diapers doing important moisture-absorbing work there. I found this super cool YouTube video that shows it in action—check it out! According to CosmeticsInfo, this ingredient can perform a lot of jobs in cosmetics, but in this cream, I think its most important jobs are emulsion stabilizer, film former, emollient, and thickener. Our last two ingredients (Caprylyl Glycol, & Phenoxyethanol) may look a bit familiar—that’s because they’re the two ingredients in Optiphen™, so we can conclude those two ingredients are our preservative (though their performance will be boosted/supported by all the water-activity-lowering powers of the glycerin & butylene glycol).
Up next was doing some tweaking to accommodate the ingredients I have/can get. I swapped butylene glycol for propanediol; dropped the glyceryl stearate (figuring I could get more emollient/thickening from cetearyl alcohol if needed); dropped the PEG/PPG-18/18 Dimethicone (didn’t have it + figured I’d see if I could make it work with just the glyceryl stearate SE); and swapped the Sodium Polyacrylate for a different gelling agent to keep the thickening/emulsion stabilizing properties (I tried skipping that element altogether and created quite a few not-quite-stable creams).
From there it was time to pull together a first stab at the formulation, make it, and see what happened. The first version used Glyceryl Stearate SE at 20% of the oil phase—a relatively average percentage for emulsifying wax NF, so it seemed like a decent place to start. There was also no gum/carbomer element in version #1. The cream was pretty nice—rich & thick, low on tack, and deeply moisturizing. It wasn’t, however, terribly stable. I tried several versions with increasingly more glyceryl stearate SE and copious amounts of high-shear blending, but they all separated. They didn’t fully split, but after an hour or so there would be distinct bits that were definitely more oil and others that were definitely mostly water. Boo.
I fixed that stability issue with the inclusion of 0.5% of a gelling agent. I tried both xanthan gum and Sepimax™ Zen (INCI: Polyacrylate Crosspolymer-6), a pre-neutralized gelling agent that’s really easy to work with. The Sepimax version was, without a doubt, superior—both in terms of end consistency and skin feel. The xanthan version is gummier/slimier, while the Sepimax version is smoother and more elegant. They are both perfectly stable, though, so feel free to use whichever ingredient you prefer (or possibly try a different gelling agent).
When it comes to packaging this cream I’d recommend an open tub or a soft squeeze tube; it’s far too thick for a pump-top and stiffer-walled squeeze-ish bottles. I’ve been carrying this beautiful cream around with me lots in the last 6 months—it’s been to Kansas & British Columbia, it’s been on ski trips, and I’ve taken it to lunch dates with friends to insist that they try it. While it’s nowhere near as tacky as I would’ve guessed given the glycerin concentration I’d still call this “low tack” rather than “no tack”, meaning I find I prefer to use it on my hands and less so all over my body. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
Want to watch this project instead of reading it?
Moisturizing Repair Cream
Heated oil phase
4g | 4% glyceryl stearate SE (USA / Canada)
4g | 4% refined shea butter (USA / Canada)
3g | 3% dimethicone 350 (USA / Canada)
5g | 5% cetearyl alcohol (USA / Canada)
0.5g | 0.5% Sepimax™ Zen (USA / Canada)
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a wide, flat-bottomed sauté pan.
Weigh the heated water phase into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Weigh the entire lot (measuring cup + ingredients) and note that weight for use later. Weigh the heated oil phase into a second heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Place both measuring cups in your prepared water bath to melt everything through (the Sepmiax Zen will not melt in the oil phase—that’s ok!).
After about 20–30 minutes the oil part should be completely melted and the water part should be thoroughly dissolved. Remove the water bath from the heat and weigh it. Add enough hot distilled water to bring the weight back up to what it was before heating, and then pour the water part into the oil part. Stir with a flexible silicone spatula to incorporate.
Grab your immersion blender and begin blending the lotion, starting with short bursts so the still-very-liquid lotion doesn’t whirl up and spray everywhere. Blend for about a minute, leave to cool for five, blend for another minute or two, and repeat this blend-cool-blend cycle until the outside of the glass measuring cup is barely warm to the touch and the lotion is thick and creamy.
When the lotion is cool it’s time to incorporate our cool down ingredients. Because cool down ingredients are typically present at very low amounts you’ll need to use an accurate scale—preferably one accurate to 0.01g. As these more accurate scales tend to have fairly low (100–200g) maximum weights you won’t be able to put the entire batch of lotion on that scale without blowing it out. So—grab a smaller dish. Add a scoop or two of lotion, and then weigh the cool down ingredients into that, using the more accurate scale. Stir to thoroughly incorporate, and then stir all of that back into the master batch of lotion. Doing it this way minimizes the amount of cool down ingredients lost to the secondary container.
Up next, let’s get set up to check and adjust the pH (if needed). When made as written, both versions of this cream (glyceryl stearate SE and polawax) have a pH around 5–6, which is great, but it’s still a good idea to check because of the niacinamide (desired pH around 6) and the Optiphen Plus (functions best in formulations with a pH below 6). Be sure to read this great article on the importance of diluting solutions when pH testing them—we’re doing that here! Prepare at least two small bowls by weighing 9g of distilled water into them (you’re going to want a scale that’s accurate to 0.01g for this). To make your citric acid solution, weigh 5g of citric acid into a small beaker and add 5g of distilled water. Stir to combine; you’ll probably a couple quick microwave bursts are required to get the citric acid to dissolve as this is a pretty concentrated solution.
To test the pH, add 1g of product to one of the bowls containing 9g of water to create a 10% dilution, and pH check that. If necessary, add a drop of the citric acid solution to the parent batch, stir, and re-test with a new little bowl of 9g distilled water + 1g of the lotion from the parent batch. Continue until the pH is close to 6.
When the pH is where we want it to be, we’re done! Transfer the lotion to a jar or soft squeeze tube and you’re ready to moisturize up a storm (100mL [3.3fl oz] is a good size for a 100g [3.5oz] batch). Enjoy!
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 100g.
- 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.
- I don’t recommend substituting the vegetable glycerin, though you could try a homemade glycerite as an alternative!
- Propylene glycol or butylene glycol would be good alternatives for the propanediol. You could also try more vegetable glycerin.
- Please watch the video & refer to the formulation in the description box if you wish to use Polawax instead of Glyceryl Stearate SE.
- You could use any carrier oil or butter that your skin loves instead of shea butter.
- I don’t recommend swapping out the dimethicone as it really helps prevent this lotion from being tacky.
- You could try a natural silicone alternative, like LuxGlide 350. Look for one that is marketed as a dimethicone alternative rather than a cyclomethicone alternative.
- You could try a slippy liquid oil, though no liquid oil will do the same job as dimethicone.
- Both of those alternatives will result in a stickier end product.
- I don’t recommend swapping out the cetearyl alcohol, but if you have to I’d try a blend of cetyl alcohol and stearic acid.
- You can use xanthan gum instead of Sepimax Zen, or try another gelling agent (Aristoflex AVC would work).
- Remember that the gelling agent is integral to the stability of the lotion, so if you use one that is sensitive to electrolytes, don’t add any electrolytes (eg. aloe vera, urea, hydrolyzed silk, sodium lactate) to the formulation.
- If you’re like to use a different preservative, please review this page.