Polyquaternium 7

What is it? Polyquaternium 7 is a water soluble cationic co-polymer.
INCI Polyquaternium-7
Appearance Clear, very viscous liquid.
Usage rate 0.2–5%
Texture Silky smooth and very thick.
Scent Nothing distinguishable
pH 3–4.5 (I did find a few versions with pH values closer to 7; check with your supplier to confirm)
Charge Positive/cationic
Solubility Water
Why do we use it in formulations? Polyquaternium 7 is conditioning, and it has an absolutely incredible skin and hair feel. I love it in my Foaming Shaving Cream for the most incredible slip and gorgeous rich feel. In hair products it gives substantivity without build-up and improves comb-through. It is advertised as having “very good compatibility with many anionic surfactants”, making it useful in body washes and shampoos. Generally speaking, it makes your projects feel divine and leaves skin and hair feeling silky smooth and conditioned without any hint of greasiness. It also functions as a film former, helping keep the skin and hair moisturized.
Do you need it? No, but it is lovely.
Refined or unrefined? Polyquaternium 7 only exists as a refined product.
Strengths Polyquaternium 7 is an excellent conditioning ingredient with great skin feel—and it doesn’t smell fishy, like some alternatives.
Weaknesses Can be a challenge to find abroad, not generally considered to be “natural”.
Alternatives & Substitutions Honeyquat would be a decent alternative, but it does have a very distinct fishy smell that is widely considered to be unpleasant. I’ve had readers complain of honeyquat making products unusable due to the scent at 2%. Whatever you use as a substitute, it needs to be positively charged and water soluble as a bare minimum.
How to Work with It Include Polyquaternium 7 in the cool down phase of your projects.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry,
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks At 2% I find Polyquaternium 7 adds enough thickness to otherwise watery serums to make them too thick to mist!
Recommended starter amount 30mL (1fl oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Recipes that Use Polyquaternium 7


What is it? Silk is made by silkworms and obtained from those silkworm cocoons. It can be hydrolyzed to make it water-soluble so it can easily be incorporated into our skincare products and cosmetics.
INCI Hydrolyzed silk
Appearance A slightly granular white to off-white powder or a liquid.
Usage rate 2–5%
Scent It varies greatly with suppliers. Mine has a slight sweet smell that does not carry through to finished products at all, but I’ve heard from readers who have purchased it from other suppliers and the scent is unpleasant and powerful enough to overwhelm products at low usage rates.
pH 5–7
Solubility Hydrolyzed silk is water soluble; if the silk has not been hydrolyzed it will not dissolve, so make sure you’re purchasing hydrolyzed silk!
Why do we use it in formulations? Silk is an excellent moisturizing ingredient with heaps of label appeal (a lotion with silk? How luxurious!). It creates a very fine film over the skin, helping create a smoother appearance and reduce trans-epidermal water loss. Silk also helps protect hair.
Do you need it? No, but I adore it and use it frequently.
Refined or unrefined? Ensure whatever you purchased has been hydrolyzed; Tussah silk will not work, nor will plain powdered silk.
Strengths Excellent moisturizing ingredient, reduces water loss, higher molecular weights can add some smoothing and sheen to skin and hair.
Weaknesses It isn’t vegan, and it can stink.
Alternatives & Substitutions A different hydrolyzed protein would be the best substitution for hydrolyzed silk. Try oat, baobab, quinoa, rice, or oat, making sure you’re paying attention to which phase your substitution goes into (heated or cool down).

If you have a different type of silk that will work too, as long as it has also been hydrolyzed. I typically specify “hydrolyzed silk” in my recipes as the water-soluble part is more important than the particle size (learn more about that in the Tips, Tricks, and Quirks section below).

How to Work with It Include it in the heated water phase; it can also be cold-processed if needed.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, hydrolyzed silk should last about two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks It is often possible to purchase hydrolyzed silk in a variety of particle sizes—powder, peptides, and amino acids. The powder is usually the largest particle size, followed by peptides and then amino acids. The finer the powder the more readily it can penetrate the skin and hair, but there will be less of a visual sheen/finish. I use peptides to get the best of both worlds.
Recommended starter amount 30g (1oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon. Mine is from New Directions Aromatics.

Some Recipes that Use Silk

Sodium Lactate

What is it? Sodium lactate is the sodium salt of lactic acid. It occurs naturally in the skin as part of the skin’s NMF (Natural Moisturizing Factors), and is an excellent humectant. It is a significantly stronger humectant than vegetable glycerin, with over twice the water holding capability.
INCI Sodium lactate
Appearance It is available as a power or a thin liquid that is typically a solution of approximately 60% strength.
Usage rate 0.5–5% (the numbers I’ve found vary quite widely—I’ve seen up to 10%)
Scent None
pH 7.5–9
Solubility Water
Why do we use it in formulations? In skin care products it it used primarily as a humectant. It is second only to hyaluronic acid in its ability to hold water! It can also reduce tackiness in formulas, and is a keratolytic. Sodium lactate increases skin hydration in both leave-on and rinse-off applications.

It can also be used as a pH adjustor and buffering agent.

In bar soaps it can be included to harden the bar faster and improve un-moulding, though it can also accelerate trace.

It is sometimes sold as a preservative, but it is absolutely not a preservative. It can help boost preservative function, but it is not a preservative on its own.

Do you need it? No, but if you have dry skin I’d highly recommend it. It’s inexpensive and versatile.
Strengths Non-sticky, highly effective humectant.
Weaknesses Sodium lactate is rich in electrolytes, so it doesn’t play well with electrolyte-sensitive emulsifiers and thickeners.
Alternatives & Substitutions Other humectants would be a good place to start; vegetable glycerine, propanediol, and sodium PCA would all be good choices. Watch for the stickiness factor, though! If a recipe already contains some glycerine, replacing sodium lactate with even more glycerine could make the end product stickier than intended.
How to Work with It Include it in the water phase. I’ve found conflicting information about its heat stability; if you’re using a 5% or less it could easily be moved from the heated water phase to the cool down phase, but if you’re using enough that your cool down phase would be larger than 10% of the recipe that could destabilize your emulsion.

I usually use the 60% liquid solution version of sodium lactate in my formulations. If you have the powdered version you’ll want to use 60% of the amount and make up the remaining 40% with distilled water. For example, if a formulation called for 10% sodium lactate solution you would use 6% sodium lactate powder and 4% distilled water.

Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, sodium lactate should last for at least 5–6 years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks I’ve read the sodium lactate can make skin sun-sensitive above 2.5%, but have not been able to find any additional sources for that claim. No suppliers warn of sun sensitivity while commonly recommending higher usage levels. The CIR’s “Safety Assessment of Alpha Hydroxy Acids as Used in Cosmetics” specifically states sodium lactate is not photosensitizing (page 6).
Recommended starter amount 100mL (3.3fl oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Recipes that Use Sodium Lactate

Panthenol (Vitamin B5)

What is it? Panthenol (vitamin B5) is a vitamin that is fantastic for skin and hair care. D-panthenol (dextrorotatory panthenol) is metabolized into D-pantothenic acid by the body, and that’s the type of panthenol that works wonders in our formulations.
INCI Panthenol
Appearance You can purchase it as a white crystalline powder or a clear liquid.
Usage rate 1–5% in skin care, with the higher end of the range for more therapeutic applications.

0.75–1% for shampoos and conditioners, 0.5–0.75% for hair styling products. 1% for nail care.

Scent None
pH 8–9
Solubility Water
Why do we use it in formulations? Panthenol acts as a moisturizer by drawing water from deeper layers of the skin into the upper layers of the skin. It helps with softness and elasticity, and is anti-inflammatory. It stimulates skin re-generation and boosts healing.

In hair care it is a small enough molecule to penetrate the hair and moisturize it, helping increase elasticity/reduce breakage. It makes hair softer and shinier, and reduces static.

Do you need it? I highly recommend it.
Strengths Panthenol is an insanely versatile skin and hair care ingredient with a proven track record of awesomeness.
Weaknesses I can’t really think of anything. There’s been a shortage lately so it’s more expensive than it was in 2017, but given the low effective usage rates it is still a very cost effective ingredient.
Alternatives & Substitutions N-acetyl glucosamine, allantoin, and urea share some similarities with panthenol. You can attempt to replace some of the humectant properties with ingredients like a hydrolyzed protein or a humectant, and some of the skin soothing benefits with an herbal extract like calendula.
How to Work with It Include the powdered version in your heated water phase; the liquid version is heat sensitive so it should go in the cool down phase. Both versions can be cold-processed in products that don’t require heat.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, panthenol should last two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks The “Pro-V” in Pantene is panthenol! V = 5 in Roman numerals.
Recommended starter amount 30g (1oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Recipes that Use Panthenol

Propanediol 1,3

What is it? Propanediol is a humectant and solvent derived from corn sugar. It is a good natural alternative to propylene glycol.
INCI Propanediol
Appearance Semi-viscous clear liquid
Usage rate 1–20%, though I find it can feel draggy beyond 3%—this does depend on the formulation, though!
Texture In products it tends to be smooth, but too much can be draggy
Scent Nothing very noticeable, slightly sweet
pH 7
Solubility Water
Why do we use it in formulations? It’s a fantastic non-sticky humectant. I’ll often include it in products that I want to be super hydrating (facial lotions, winter products, etc.). I frequently choose it for inclusion in more watery products (things like facial mists, gels, and micellar waters) where a tacky skin-feel would be really noticeable, especially since it can help reduce the stickiness of glycerin.

It helps add clarity and boosts both viscosity and flash-foam in surfactant products. It also increases the feeling of cleanliness on rinse-off.

Do you need it? No, but it’s inexpensive and versatile, so if somewhere you’re shopping will sell you a small amount I’d grab a bottle as part of a larger order.
Strengths It’s a great non-sticky humectant that serves many other purposes (see “why do we use it in recipes?”).
Weaknesses Can be harder to find than other humectants.
Alternatives & Substitutions Vegetable glycerin is a decent alternative, though watch that you don’t include so much in the recipe that it starts to feel sticky. Propylene glycol would be a great alternative as they are very similar.
How to Work with It Include it in your heated water phase or cold-process it if the recipe does not require heating.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, Propanediol should last about a year once opened.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Propanediol can boost preservative performance!
Recommended starter amount 30mL (1fl oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Recipes that Use Propanediol

Hyaluronic Acid

What is it? Hyaluronic Acid is an incredible humectant and moisturizer that we include in our products for incredible hydration and skin plumping. You can learn a lot more about it here! The Hyaluronic Acid we use in our products is made by fermentation and is vegan.
INCI Hyaluronic Acid
Appearance Fine white powder
Usage rate 0.01–2%. I typically use the 1% solution at 20%; aka 0.2% of the overall formulation.
Texture Once made into a solution with water it is very slippy, leaving the skin soft and hydrated with no sticky after-feel.
Scent Nothing noticeable
Absorbency Speed Fast
pH 6–7.5
Solubility Water
Why do we use it in formulations? Hyaluronic Acid is a fantastic humectant and moisturizer; I typically include a 1% solution at 20% in recipes for a 0.2% concentration to seriously boost the hydration power of a recipe.

Learn way more about Hyaluronic Acid here!

Do you need it? It’s definitely a luxury ingredient, but if you have very dry skin I would recommend it.
Strengths It is an unbeatable humectant and moisturizer.
Weaknesses It is pretty expensive—typically at least $5/g.
Alternatives & Substitutions There really isn’t anything that performs like Hyaluronic Acid. “VEGELURON” is supposed to be a viable alternative, but I haven’t worked with it yet. If you don’t have Hyaluronic Acid for a recipe I’d probably swap it out for more water or aloe vera juice, and see if you can also include extra non-sticky humectant, like propanediol 1,3.
How to Work with It Dissolve 1% in water with a sufficient preservative to create a solution (click here for instructions), and include that in the heated water phase of your recipes or cold-process it. Hyaluronic acid is effective at low amounts, so you shouldn’t need a lot.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, Hyaluronic Acid powder should last two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Different weights of Hyaluronic Acid will create different viscosities when made into a solution. Low molecular weight (LMW) makes a fairly thick gel. Higher weights will make thicker gels, lower weight will make thinner solutions.

Resist the temptation to make a high concentration solution (above 1%) right off the bat! You risk the Hyaluronic Acid not hydrating into the water and remaining as wasteful clumps.

Recommended starter amount 10g (0.35oz) if the price is decent. This will make 1L of 1% stock. You can definitely buy less, every 1g = 100mL of 1% stock.
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Recipes that Use Hyaluronic Acid

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