Happy new year, and happy 2021! I decided to kick off this new year with an evolution of the formulation that kicked off 2020—my much-loved Moisturizing Repair Cream (please read that post, too—there’s lots of good background information in it!). This lotion-y evolution features Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate as the emulsifier instead of Glyceryl Stearate SE or Polawax, creating a lighter, more glossy finished product that is more lotion than cream but still has all the gorgeous richness of the cream version. I am loving it to bits, and I hope you will too!
Want to watch this project instead of reading it?
To start with—lotion vs. cream. It’s not a very firm distinction, but people generally think of creams as being thicker and heavier, while lotions are thinner and lighter. Last year I shared an Intense Hand Rescue Cream and then a follow-up Nourishing Hand Rescue Lotion a few months later, and the big change between those two formulations (to take it from “cream” to “lotion”) was decreasing the size of the oil phase. Both formulations are emulsified with Glyceryl Stearate SE, an anionic oil-in-water emulsifier that both thickens and emulsifies. The cream version sported a 26.25% oil phase, while the thinner and lighter lotion follow-up had a 16.9% oil phase; a reduction of nearly 10%. This 10% reduction of the size of the inner phase dramatically reduces the viscosity and lightens the skin feel of the final product. With this lotion-y riff on a cream formulation, we achieve a similar effect, but with a different tactic.
This Moisturizing Repair Lotion uses Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate to emulsify, and that’s about all that has changed, formulation-wise. The 2020 cream version has a 16% oil phase, while this lighter lotion version has an almost-identical 15% oil phase—but a dramatically different (lighter!) viscosity. This is completely due to the new emulsifier. Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate is absolutely integral to this formulation, and you must use exactly this emulsifier with the exact matching INCI to make this product (if you’ve read my other posts featuring this emulsifier I’m sure I sound a bit like a broken record on this front, but it’s important!).
Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate emulsifies our formulations, but unlike emulsifiers like Glyceryl Stearate SE and Polawax, it does not contribute much of anything in the way of thickening. This allows us to control the viscosity of our formulations almost entirely independently of the size of oil phase. If you are using Glyceryl Stearate SE or Polawax, a larger oil phase means a more viscous lotion—those two characteristics are bound together. With Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate, they aren’t bound. I have created emulsions using Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate with oil phases above 35% that were still so thin they split over time; a similarly phased emulsion using Polawax would be completely solid.
Beyond the change in the emulsifier, the only meaningful changes to this formulation are the addition of 1.5% colloidal oatmeal for added skin-soothing goodness and reducing the Polyacrylate crosspolymer-6 (Sepimax ZEN) down to 0.2%. Everything else is nearly identical, but the end product is very noticeably different. Watch the video for a side-by-side comparison!
The nearly identical-ness continues with the procedure, which is much the same. The biggest difference is that the pH of this version comes out a bit higher and needs to be lowered, while the cream version tended to happily sit just below 6 without any adjusting. I used a 90% lactic acid solution to adjust this formulation, but a 50% citric acid solution will also work. I find that the pH for this formulation does drop very quickly, so make your acidic additions very slowly.
Once finished, this Moisturizing Repair Lotion is utterly divine for dry, parched skin. I’m definitely still washing my hands like mad, and this wonderful lotion helps a lot. Enjoy!
Want to watch this project instead of reading it?
Moisturizing Repair Lotion
Heated oil phase
2g | 2% Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate (USA / Canada / UK & EU / Australia)
5g | 5% cetearyl alcohol (USA / Canada)
5g | 5% refined shea butter (USA / Canada)
3g | 3% dimethicone 350 (USA / Canada)
1.5g | 1.5% colloidal oatmeal (USA / Canada)
0.2g | 0.2% Polyacrylate crosspolymer-6 (USA / Canada / UK / Australia)
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 or glass beaker. 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 Polyacrylate crosspolymer-6 [Sepimax ZEN] + colloidal oatmeal 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 the water phase. Add enough hot distilled water to the heated water phase 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 ten, blend for another minute or two, and repeat this blend-cool-blend cycle until the outside of the glass measuring cup is cool to the touch and the lotion is thick and creamy.
Up next, let’s get set up to check and adjust the pH (if needed). When made as written, this lotin has a pH around 8 and needs to be lowered to ~5.5–6. The niacinamide should be in formulations with a pH around 6 and the Optiphen Plus preseravtive functions best in formulations with a pH below 6. To test and adjust the pH: create a 10% dilution by weighing 2g product and 18g distilled water into a small bowl or beaker and whisk to combine (wondering why?). Check the pH with your pH meter (I have this one [USA / Canada]). Depending on the shape of your bowl/beaker you may need to tilt it in order to fully submerge the sensor on your pH meter. Please read this article to learn more about pH adjusting.
If necessary, add a drop of the 90% lactic acid solution to the parent batch, stir, and re-test with a new little bowl of 18g distilled water + 2g of the lotion from the parent batch. Continue until the pH is in the 5.5–6 range. I needed just one drop of 90% lactic acid for a 100g (3.5oz) batch.
When the lotion has been pH adjusted, it’s time to add the cool down phase. 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.
At this point in time it’s not a bad idea to re-check the pH to ensure it hasn’t shifted, but in my experience adding the Optiphen Plus and niacinamide (Vitamin B3) did not change the pH at all. If you’re using a different preservative that is quite pH sensitive you should re-check and adjust if needed.
And we’re done! Transfer the lotion to a tottle 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!
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this cream contains water, you must 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 100g.
- To learn more about the ingredients used in this formulation, 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 (niacinamide, colloidal oatmeal) 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.
- If you would like to use Polawax/Emulsifying Wax NF or Glyceryl Stearate SE instead of Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate, please refer to the 2020 cream version of this formulation.
- 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 Polyacrylate crosspolymer-6 (Sepimax ZEN), or try another gelling agent (Aristoflex AVC would work).
- If you’re like to use a different preservative, please review this FAQ and this chart.
- If you’d like to incorporate an essential oil, please read this.