Quaternium-90 Sepiolite and Quaternium-90 Montmorillonite (Thickening Clay)

What is it? Quaternium-90 Sepiolite (and) Quaternium-90 Montmorillonite (Thickening Clay) is an alkyl quaternary ammonium clay. It’s basically a fine powder derived from clay that has been treated to create a powder that, when used in small amounts, thickens oil-based products and helps keep pigments in suspension. It is generally recommended for use in cosmetics.
INCI Quaternium-90 Sepiolite (and) Quaternium-90 Montmorillonite
Appearance Off white fine powder
Usage rate Suggested rate is 1–3%
Texture Smooth ultrafine powder
Scent Nothing noticeable
Charge Cationic (positive)
Solubility Insoluble
Why do we use it in recipes? Quaternium-90 Sepiolite (and) Quaternium-90 Montmorillonite does four very cool things. 1) It thickens oil-based concoctions. 2) It contributes to a more matte finish. 3) It helps keep powdered pigments in suspension. 4) It helps improve adhesion/wear time in colour cosmetics.
Do you need it? If you like creating coloured cosmetics I would highly recommend it!
Refined or unrefined? Quaternium-90 Sepiolite and Quaternium-90 Montmorillonite only exists as a refined product.
Strengths Excellent pigment suspension, thickening, and skin feel at low concentrations. It’s also very easy to work with!
Weaknesses Too much can make the end product drying (I find even 3% can create products that are more drying than I’d like, especially in lip products). It’s also pretty dang hard to source outside the USA.
Alternatives & Substitutions I don’t have any great recommendations. You can try using white kaolin clay in its place, but this will not have the thickening/suspending properties or the added adhesion.
How to Work with It Take care not to inhale the clay—wear a dust mask. This product is very lightweight and floaty, and very easy to accidentally inhale. Stir/blend it into the oil phase of your concoctions at pretty much any point—the manufacturer stipulates it can be incorporated at any time. Low shear mixing is sufficient—I usually use my MicroMini Mixer to blend everything together.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, Quaternium-90 Sepiolite and Quaternium-90 Montmorillonite should last at least five years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Learn more about Alkonium Clays here.
Recommended starter amount 30g (1.06oz)
Where to Buy it The only place I’ve found it for sale is TKB Trading.

Some Recipes that Use Quaternium-90 Sepiolite and Quaternium-90 Montmorillonite (Thickening Clay)

Boron nitride

What is it? Boron nitride is an inorganic compound made of boron and nitrogen, purchased in powder form for use in cosmetics.
INCI Boron nitride
Appearance White powder
Usage rate “Boron nitride is reported to be used at up to 25% in eye product formulations, at 2% in lipstick formulations, up to 16% in powders, and at up to 0.9% in fragrance preparations.” –CIR Report (These numbers were reported by industry as typical usage numbers and are not maximum allowable concentrations)
Texture Soft, fine powder
Scent None
Solubility Insoluble
Why do we use it in recipes? Boron nitride improves both slip and adhesion in cosmetics; I tend to primarily use it in eye makeup formulations as both slip and adhesion are very important there. It also contributes a bit of a soft-focus finish, similar to sericite mica. I’ve mostly worked with boron nitride in formulations you’ll find in my book, Make it Up.
Do you need it? Not necessarily, but I would highly recommend it if you want to make your own eyeshadow.
Strengths Excellent skin feel, slip, and adhesion properties.
Weaknesses Can be harder to find, and it is one of the more expensive cosmetic powders.
Alternatives & Substitutions Boron nitride is tricky to substitute. Sericite mica has similar properties, but does not improve adhesion nearly as well as boron nitride does, so you might consider using a blend of sericite mica and an adhesion booster like magnesium stearate or magnesium myristate as a starting point.
How to Work with It Include it in the ground portion of your cosmetic recipes. It can be hot or cold processed.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, boron nitride should last indefinitely.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks The crystal shape of boron nitride is hexagonal.
Recommended starter amount 30 (1oz) or less. Even 10g (0.35oz) would last you a while if you can find somewhere selling that small of an amount.
Where to Buy it Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier. It is sold on Amazon, but much of it isn’t cosmetic grade, so if you do choose to purchase through Amazon please confirm with the seller that what you are purchasing is cosmetic and not industrial grade.

Some Recipes that Use Boron nitride

Calcium carbonate

What is it? Calcium carbonate is a naturally occurring form of calcium—egg shells are made up almost entirely of calcium carbonate!
INCI Calcium carbonate
Appearance White powder
Usage rate Varies with the end product and the reason for use; 5–30%
Texture Soft, chalky powder
Scent Nothing much—perhaps a bit dusty
pH 9
Solubility Slightly water soluble
Why do we use it in recipes? Calcium carbonate absorbs oil extremely well, so it can be found in cosmetics and skin care products as an oil control/mattifying ingredient. The high pH of calcium carbonate means you need to be careful with use around the eyes, though.

You’ll also find calcium carbonate in toothpastes as a mild abrasive.

Do you need it? No; I tend to prefer silica microspheres, though they are more expensive.
Refined or unrefined? While you can make your own calcium carbonate from eggshells I would recommend purchasing it—the store bought powder is much softer/less gritty than anything you’ll ever be able to make at home.
Strengths Very effective oil absorber/mattifying ingredient, inexpensive.
Weaknesses High pH.
Alternatives & Substitutions Silica microspheres are a great alternative.
How to Work with It Calcium carbonate can be hot or cold processed. As it is insoluble you can add it to either the heated oil or heated water phase of an emulsion—I’d probably choose the water phase as calcium carbonate is quite absorbent, so it seems wise to put it in the larger phase. In cosmetics, grind it in with everything else.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, calcium carbonate should last at least five years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Calcium carbonate occurs naturally in many things, including marble, egg shells, and pearls!
Recommended starter amount 30g/1 ounce or less.
Where to Buy it Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon. It is available as a dietary supplement, and those can be suitable, just make sure what you’re getting is 100% calcium carbonate. Pressed tablets will often have binding ingredients, so look for free flowing powders and read the ingredients list.

Some Recipes that Use Calcium Carbonate

Ultramarines

What is it? Ultramarines are a synthesized pigment made from ingredients like kaolin clay and sulfur. The original blue pigment was ground from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli, making it extremely expensive, and we’ve been synthesizing it since the early 1800s.
INCI Ultramarines
Appearance Vibrant fine pigments available in bright blue, lavender, and purple.
Usage rate I haven’t been able to find a maximum usage level. These pigments are very potent, though, so I can’t imagine you needing more than 50% for most cosmetics.
Texture Fine powder
Scent Generally nothing noticeable, though it can be sulfur-y in high-pH environments
Solubility Insoluble
Why do we use it in recipes? As pigments, for colour.
Do you need it? No, though if you are making cosmetics and want more natural bright blues and purples they are your only option.
Strengths Strong, vibrant pigments that are generally considered natural.
Weaknesses The blue in particular can be difficult to blend into formulas.
Alternatives & Substitutions Lake dyes are the only alternative for such bright, potent pigments.
How to Work with It Include in the grinding phase for powdered cosmetics or blend into melted creamy bases.

Ultramarine is not approved for lip use in the USA, but it is in the EU.

Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, ultramarine pigments should last at least five years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Due to the sulfur used in the manufcature of ultramarines they can develop an eggy scent if used in products with a pH above 6.
Recommended starter amount 10g (0.35oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Recipes that Use Ultramarines

Sodium chloride (salt)

What is it? Good ol’ salt! The variety you’re likely the most familiar with is table salt, but sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, and many other salts are basically just sodium chloride (NaCl).
INCI Sodium chloride
Appearance It can vary; generally crystalline, but there’s a lot of different size and shape possibilities. You can also purchase different colours of salt, like pink Himalayan salt and black salt.
Usage rate Up to 100%
Texture It varies; very coarse to fine crystals.
Scent Little to none.
Solubility Water
Why do we use it in recipes? Salt can play several roles in our skin care products. It can be used as an exfoliant, included in bath soaks, and used to thicken some surfactant blends. You’ll find it in hair mists for texturizing the hair. It does function as a humectant, but the skin feel can be sticky. Larger grain and/or colourful salts can also be beautiful decorative elements. In high enough concentrations it can inhibit microbial growth, but we rarely use it at concentrations this high.
Do you need it? No, but you probably already have it!
Refined or unrefined? It depends what you’re looking for; I have table salt, large grain salt, and Himalayan pink salt.
Strengths Inexpensive, readily available.
Weaknesses Salt is very rich in electrolytes and can compromise anything that is electrolyte sensitive.
Alternatives & Substitutions As an exfoliant granulated sugar can be a good alternative. For bath salts, Epsom salts are a good alternative. For thickening surfactant blends you can try Crothix or a gum like HEC.
How to Work with It Include as directed in the recipe (it can vary a lot depending on the reason for use). Can be hot or cold processed.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, salt should last indefinitely.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Try mixing equal parts fine grain salt and liquid oil for a simple body scrub.
Recommended starter amount 100g (3.3oz)—more if you are making bath salts
Where to Buy it Buy it from your local grocery store or Amazon. You might want to turn to a DIY supplier for more affordable versions of fancy salts like Himalayan pink sea salt.

Some Recipes that Use Salt

Silica Microspheres

What is it? Silica microspheres is an “an amorphous hydrated silica” in a microsphere (super tiny ball) format. Silica is a naturally occurring mineral found in everything from granite to sand.
INCI Silicon Dioxide
Appearance Very fine white powder.
Usage rate 1–15%, up to 100% (watch for the product being too drying)
Texture Incredibly soft and smooth with a silky, dry finish.
Scent Nothing noticeable.
Solubility Insoluble
Why do we use it in recipes? Because they’re magic, basically. Silica microspheres improve slip, reduce the oily feel of products, and help improve the appearance of the skin by diffusing light for a real-life airbrushing effect.

I use silica microspheres in a lot of eye makeup formulas because they improve the slip/glide of the product and help with oil control, which helps improve wear time.

I include silica microspheres in cream cosmetics and oil serums because they give the end product a beautiful dry-touch finish that is incredibly luxurious and feels very expensive. Try blending a drop or two of oil with a tiny sprinkle of silica microspheres and rubbing that into your hand to see what I mean!

I love silica microspheres in all kinds of cosmetics for oil absorption, light diffusion, and improved slip.

Do you need it? If you want to make colour cosmetics I highly recommend owning some silica microspheres.
Refined or unrefined? Silica microspheres only exist as a refined product.
Strengths Extremely effective oil absorption, light diffusion, and improved slip.
Weaknesses They can be hard to find in some parts of the world, and may be too drying for some skin types.
Alternatives & Substitutions Silica microspheres are hard to substitute well. Sericite mica can be a decent alternative, but it is not nearly as oil absorbent so if the recipe relies on the silica microspheres for a dry-touch finish that likely won’t be present. Calcium carbonate has similar oil absorbing properties, but the pH is much higher so it isn’t a good choice for eye products. Calcium carbonate also has none of the light dispersion/blurring properties of silica microspheres.
How to Work with It Wear a dust mask! Silica microspheres are very lightweight and prone to floating around and being inhaled.

Stir or hand-mash into powdered cosmetics after you are done using your coffee grinder; grinding silica microspheres compromises their teensy sphere-ness. Silica microspheres can also be stirred into hot or cold liquid cosmetics that won’t be ground.

Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry,
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks In my book, Make it Up, feel free to replace calcium carbonate with silica microspheres in any recipe for a better end result. I used silica microspheres sparingly in the book as they can be very expensive in some parts of the world, but if you have an ample supply I think you’ll enjoy the swap!

Some companies sell straight silica microspheres as an expensive setting powder—check your ingredient labels!

Recommended starter amount 30g (1oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Recipes that Use Silica Microspheres

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