An immersion blender is an essential bit of formulating equipment; it’s the high-shear mixer of choice for home makers. Immersion blenders blend without whipping lots of air into our products; it’s a purée action, not a whipping action.
I do not recommend the sort of thing you’d use to whip up whipping cream or cream together butter and sugar for making cookies instead of an immersion blender. Mixers like that are designed to incorporate lots of air into our formulations, and that’s not the aim if a formulation calls for an immersion blender. Using a whipping device rather than a blending device can create a product that will collapse as it ages (it can also make a big mess)
My go-to blender for years as been the Braun one seen in the above photo. I picked it up for about $5 at a thrift shop over ten years ago and it’s been great, but I wouldn’t go out of your way to source that exact model. The head of this blender is 6.6cm across, and it tends to fit in 400mL (and up) beakers. This blender works for batch sizes 100g and up; I’ve made up to 1kg of lotion and ~2kg of soap with it with no isssues.
I have a Dynamic MiniPro with a homogenizer head and I don’t recommend it. It’s very heavy, cost hundreds of dollars (most of the cost was the homogenizer attachment), and I rarely use it.
As of December 2022 I also have a Bamix immersion blender, and I love it! The best part about it is the size of the blender head (5.6cm across); it’s small enough to fit in a 250mL beaker, so I can make smaller batches (down to ~50g [1.76oz]). Hooray!
I picked my Bamix up at a thrift shop; it looks to be the “SWISSLINE” model from the 1980s. Bamix still manufactures new immersion blenders and they look to be quite widely available through Bamix directly and through kitchen supply shops. You won’t need the beaker or the chopper/processor that come with some sets, but it is helpful to have the three different blades and the stand. I mostly use the “whisk” blade—the round disc with the little scoopy perforations. My mixer is labelled as 140W and is plenty powerful; modern Bamix mixers seem to start at 150W, so I’m betting any current model will work for you. (Not sponsored, but hey Bamix… if you’re reading this, I’d love to compare a modern one to my vintage model! 😉)
Learn more about equipment for formulating:
Syringes (without the needle!) are really useful for filling tubes and other types of packaging with small openings. I use them mostly for getting lotions into soft squeeze tubes. They “steer” a lot more easily than piping bags, and you have a lot more control than you do when using a funnel.
I recommend purchasing something that’s about the same size as the containers you’ll be filling. I usually make 100g (3.5oz) batches of lotions, so it would be nice if my syringe would easily hold the entire batch. The ones I have at the moment don’t, and that’s a bit of a pain.
You can find syringes like this under the name “catheter syringe” on Amazon. Another possible option is a “meat injector syringe“, though you’ll want a fairly wide injector bit as our lotions are a lot thicker than meat juices.
If you’re finding the plunger starts to be hard to push down as the syringe ages, try swapping out the rubber gasket (or the entire plunger). I’ve found they tend to deform and swell after multiple washes.
Check out these videos to see a syringe in use for tips & tricks:
Watch glass are round, concave pieces of glass. They’re available in a variety of sizes. Mine were purchased from Grainger Canada.
In the photo for this entry you can see a 10cm watch glass functioning as a lid for a small beaker.
I get a lot of questions about these, but honestly, I don’t think they’re very useful for most formulators. I mostly use them as a convenient flat-ish surface for displaying ingredients in video b-roll. If you do not make videos and find yourself slowly rotating a small plate of shea butter/clay/etc. in front of a camera on a regular basis, don’t waste your money. Glass Prep Cups are much more useful as they’ll hold both liquids and solids. You can use tin foil or other flat, solid things as beaker lids.
As of early 2022 I’ve added a hot plate to my equipment lineup. The model I have is a Corning PC-35; I purchased it used for $50CAD. My decision making process was basically “I’ve been looking for a hot plate; this one is available on Kijiji for a reasonable price and the online reviews aren’t awful”. If you’re wondering why I didn’t buy a different one, it’s because it wasn’t available locally for $50 🤷🏻♀️
It can heat from 0–510°C (🔥), which is far hotter than I can imagine needing. If I set it to just a few notches about “low” it heats to about 60–70°C, which is perfect for making emulsions without needing a water bath. I use my hot plate all the time, for all kinds of formulations. I do wish it was a bit bigger, but at the same time I’m glad it doesn’t take up too much space while I’m working, or while it’s in storage. I definitely recommend keeping an eye out on second-hand listings to see you if you can pick up something similar.
This adorable little mixer is a Badger Air-Brush Co. 121 Paint Mixer; I suspect Badger has discontinued them as they are unavailable most places I checked. Thankfully Lotion Crafter, where I bought mine, still has them!
I used this gadget to mix small batches of things that need a thorough stirring, but aren’t being emulsified—this is usually blending pigments/micas into base ingredients when making colour cosmetics. It isn’t as powerful or as large as the Mini Mixer I use, and I don’t tend to use them interchangeably; I either need the small head and medium blending speed of the Micro, or I need the larger head and strong kick of the Mini.
If you are working with finely powdered ingredients in a way where they will become airborne, a good dust mask is a must to prevent you from inhaling those powders.
The three biggest places a dust mask becomes necessary are:
- If you are blending powders together in a coffee grinder or some other high-speed blender (typically making colour cosmetics or powdered face masks). While the ingredients may not be particularly inclined to be airborne on their own, whipping them up in a coffee grinder can really send them flying when you remove the lid.
- If you are working with solid surfactants. They are very lightweight and floaty, and will drift into the air and into your airways as soon as you open the bag or tub they are store in.
- If you are working with other ultra-light, ultra-fine powdered ingredients. Much like solid surfactants, silica microspheres, nylon 12, and Silica Dimethyl Silylate (SDS) are incredibly lightweight and will float around the room as soon as you open the bag or jar. Make sure you pay attention to any information from your supplier regarding the use of a dust mask, and if you notice powder poof-ing up and floating around when you open a container, go put on your dust mask.
What dust mask do you have?
I have the Ellipse Low Profile Dust Respirator (USA / Canada), and it’s fantastic.
What should I look for when purchasing a dust mask?
I recommend choosing a dust mask that is comfortable and seals really well. You’re a lot more likely to wear it if it’s comfortable, and what’s the point if it doesn’t seal well?
I don’t recommend a disposable mask as they rarely seal well enough—you’ll just end up inhaling powders around the edges.
The best place to purchase a good respirator/dust mask will likely be a hardware store.
If we need to wear a dust mask while working with these ingredients, why don’t we wear one while we use the finished product?
Because the finished product contains some sort of liquid ingredient that weighs the powders down. Powdered makeup and face masks will contain a small amount of liquid oil, shampoo bars will contain oils and liquid surfactants, etc.