L-Arginine

What is it? L-Arginine is an amino acid with a basic pH—it’s useful for boosting the pH of our formulations.

It has moisturizing, skin conditioning, and barrier boosting properties, but if used at pH-adjusting amounts those benefits are unlikely to be noticeable in a finished product. The formulations I’ve found that use it as an active ingredient use it at 0.5–2%. Your mileage may vary, though! Depending on the formulation you may be able to work in enough L-Arginine to get skin benefits and a perfect pH.

INCI Arginine
Appearance White crystaline powder
Usage rate As needed to get the pH of your formulation where you want it; generally less than 1%.
Scent Nothing noticeable at pH-adjusting levels.
pH A 10% L-Arginine solution has a pH between 10.5–12.
Solubility L-Arginine is water-soluble.
Why do we use it in formulations? L-Arginine is used to raise the pH of our formulations; I find I’m most likely to need it when working with acid-based natural preservatives that dramatically lower the pH of a formulation.
Do you need it? No, but you should have something to raise the pH of your formulations and this L-Arginine is a good choice if you can get it.
Refined or unrefined? L-Arginine only exists as a refined ingredient.
Strengths An easy, gentle ingredient for raising the pH of our formulations.
Weaknesses It’s not terribly easy to find.
Alternatives & Substitutions A 10% NaOH (lye) solution or triethanolamine will work, but not in the same amounts—if you’re following a formulation that includes L-Arginine to adjust the pH you’ll have to test and adjust with the new base/pH raising ingredient.
How to Work with It L-Arginine isn’t super strong, so you can add the straight powder to some formulations, or make a dilution—whatever works for each formulation. I keep a 10% solution and the pure powder on hand.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry,
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Cosmetic grade L-Arginine is not the same as food, dietary supplement, or pharmaceutical grade. I’m unsure if L-Arginine purchased from the drug store would be a good workaround if you can’t purchase cosmetic grade L-Arginine.
Recommended starter amount 30g (1.06oz)
Where to Buy it I’ve only found cosmetic grade L-Arginine at Skin Chakra (Germany) and Essential Wholesale (USA).

Some Formulations that Use L-Arginine

Silicone Elastomer (Dimethyl Siloxane Elastomer, Fumed Silica)

What is it? Silicone elastomer is a super fine, slippy, gorgeous powder ingredient that improves all kinds of colour cosmetics. It helps with oil control, improves skin feel, and helps disguise imperfections.

If you’ve used Silica Dimethyl Silylate and Silica Microspheres, I’d say silicone elastomer exists somewhere between them. It’s slippy like silica microspheres, but thickens a bit more like Silica Dimethyl Silylate (SDS).

INCI Dimethyl Siloxane Elastomer, Fumed Silica (generic)
Appearance Ultrafine white powder
Usage rate Up to 20%
Texture Ultra-smooth and rich
Scent None
Solubility Insoluble, but so fine that it is indistinguishable.
Why do we use it in formulations? Basically, it makes everything better! It blurs fine lines, improves slip, and can improve wear time by helping control sebum. It improves colour/pigment payoff and makes our cosmetics feel more expensive/luxurious. TKB lists the usage rate as up to 20%, but I’ve noticed big differences including it at less than 1%!
Do you need it? No, but if you love making high-end colour cosmetics I definitely recommend it.
Refined or unrefined? Silicone Elastomer only exists as a refined product.
Strengths It’s a potent and highly effective way to level up your cosmetic formulations.
Weaknesses  I have only found silicone elastomer for sale from TKB Trading in the USA.  They ship internationally, but I know that can get expensive.
Alternatives & Substitutions Silica Microspheres would be my first suggestion. Keep in mind that when you’re making substitutions in cosmetics even very small changes can dramatically impact the performance, wear time, and consistency of the cosmetic. I worked on a formulation that included 0.25% Silica Dimethyl Silylate (SDS), which didn’t work—I switched that 0.25% to silicone elastomer and it was perfect.
How to Work with It Avoid inhaling silicone elastomer; I find it is far less floaty/inhalation prone than Silica Dimethyl Silylate and Silica Microspheres.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, silicone elastomer should last three years or more.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Read the reviews for this product on TKB Trading to get some fun ideas for using it!
Recommended starter amount 30g (1.06oz) will last a long time!
Where to Buy it  I have only found silicone elastomer for sale from TKB Trading.

Some Formulations that Use Silicone Elastomer

Glycol distearate

What is it? Glycol distearate is “the diester of ethylene glycol and stearic acid.” It can function as an emulsifier and emulsion stabilizer but tends to be primarily used as an opacifier/pearlizer for surfactant products. Glycol distearate lends a really lovely creamy, pearlescent appearance to surfactant products without thickening them or negatively impacting lather (as added fats do).

Glycol distearate is often sold with some variation on the word “pearl” in the name, so make sure you’re searching by INCI when looking for this ingredient.

INCI Glycol distearate
Appearance Medium-sized flat white flakes
Usage rate 1–4%
Texture Brittle, snappable flakes
Scent Nothing noticeable.
Approximate Melting Point 60–63°C (140–145°F)
Charge Non-ionic
Solubility Oil-soluble, self-emulsifies in water
Why do we use it in formulations? Glycol distearate gives opacity and some pearlescence to our surfactant formulations without diminishing lather.
Do you need it? If you want to make an opaque, creamy-looking body wash/face wash/shampoo that still has rich, plentiful lather, you’ll want some glycol distearate.
Refined or unrefined? Glycol distearate only exists as a refined product.
Strengths Glycol distearate is a very effective way to opacify surfactant products without negatively impacting lather.
Weaknesses It can be harder to find, depending on where you live.
Alternatives & Substitutions Glycol distearate is unlikely to be a lynchpin ingredient in a surfactant formulation, so you can likely just replace it with more distilled water if you don’t have it. This will mean the end product is not opaque, but the function of the product should not be massively impacted.

I’ve had good results using Glyceryl Stearate SE instead of glycol distearate with two main modifications. The first is that you’ll need to reduce the thickener in the formulation as Glyceryl Stearate SE contributes much more thickening than glycol distearate does—a one-for-one swap without any other adjustments will make for a noticeably more viscous end product. And, for better pearlescent-ness, I’d include a small amount (perhaps 0.25–0.5%) of a shimmery mica of your choice.

If you can find a liquid pearlizing ingredient that contains Glycol distearate you can likely tweak the formulation to work with that instead. Make sure you are reading through the documentation on that ingredient (specifically the recommended usage rate) to see how much you are generally supposed to use and go from there.

How to Work with It Glycol distearate must be melted, so include it in a heated phase. I’ve used it in heated oil and heated water phases; both work, so let your formulation guide you.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, Glycol distearate should last at least two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks It is also possible to purchase products that contain Glycol distearate blended with other ingredients like Laureth-4, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, and Cocamide MEA. These are usually sold as pearlizing agents for surfactant products. Make sure you are watching the INCI of what you are purchasing, as these ingredients are not necessarily directly interchangeable.

While many suppliers list glycol distearate as an emulsifier, I have not found it makes a suitable replacement for emulsifying waxes like Polawax, Olivem 1000, Glyceryl Stearate SE, etc.

Recommended starter amount 30g (1.06oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Glycol distearate

d-Limonene

What is it? d-Limonene (citrus terpenes) is a natural solvent derived from citrus peels. I mostly use it in cleaning applications. It is a terpenoid hydrocarbon found in many essential oils. It can also be found as an adulterant in low quality essential oils (especially citrus ones).
INCI d-Limonene
Appearance Clear liquid
Usage rate Up to 100%, though that would be a very strong cleaning solvent! Recommendations for incorporation in formulas are typically 20% or less.
Texture Thin, volatile liquid
Scent Citrusy—orange/lemon
Approximate Melting Point -74ºC to to -96.9ºC (-101.2°F to -142.6°F)
Solubility Oil, alcohol
Why do we use it in formulations? d-Limonene is an excellent de-greasing solvent that also adds a fresh, citrusy scent to our products. I have only used it in cleaning products.
Do you need it? It’s great if you intend on making your own cleaning products, but beyond that I wouldn’t bother.
Refined or unrefined? d-Limonene only exists as a refined product.
Strengths Fantastic natural de-greasing solvent that also smells great.
Weaknesses Can degrade/break down some plastics in high concentrations with extended exposure.
Alternatives & Substitutions Citrus essential oils are typically high in d-limonene; sweet orange, grapefruit, clementine, bitter orange, tangerine, and satsuma essential oils can all contain upwards of 90% d-limonene. Those essential oils seem like a reasonable place to start, though they are all likely to be more expensive than isolated d-limonene. Out of those essential oils sweet orange, satsuma, and tangerine are not photosensitizing, so I would likely choose one of those.
How to Work with It Include in the oil phase of your products or solubilize into the water phase. Avoid heating as the flash point is quite low (43–49°C/109–120°F).
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, d-limonene should last at least two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Try solubilizing some d-limonene with vinegar for an excellent cleanser.
Recommended starter amount 100mL (3.3fl oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use d-Limonene

Corn Starch

What is it? Corn starch is starch isolated from corn. It’s a common kitchen ingredient, where it is often used for thickening.
INCI Zea Mays Starch
Appearance Fine white powder
Usage rate Up to 100%
Texture Soft, smooth, silky
Scent None
Solubility Insoluble
Why do we use it in formulations? In anhydrous products it helps reduce the greasy/oily skin feel, and in higher concentrations it can give the entire product a powdery, dry-touch finish and contribute to thickening.

In powdered cosmetics it acts as a diluent and improves slip.

It can also be used in dusting powders, or even used as-is for a dusting powder.

Do you need it? No, but there’s a good chance you already have it!
Strengths Readily available, inexpensive and effective ingredient.
Weaknesses Unsuitable for anyone with corn allergies.
Alternatives & Substitutions Other starches, like wheat or arrowroot, and good alternatives to corn starch.
How to Work with It In anhydrous products, add to the oil phase—I like to let it soak with the liquid/melted oils and then stir everything together. In powdered products, include it in the grinding phase.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry,
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Some companies sell corn starch in a shaker bottle as a natural baby powder—if you want to try that just put your own (cheaper!) corn starch in a shaker bottle!
Recommended starter amount 100g (3.3oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Corn Starch

C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate

What is it? C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate is a lightweight oil soluble ester with a beautiful dry skin feel. It is made from benzoic acid and C12–15 alcohols.
INCI C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate
Appearance Clear liquid
Usage rate Manufacturers suggest 1–30% (The CIR does not mention a maximum usage level; tests a 100% concentration showed no reaction or irritation)
Texture Smooth, thin liquid
Scent Nothing noticeable
Absorbency Speed Fast
Solubility Oil
Why do we use it in formulations? C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate adds dry-touch emolliency and improves pigment dispersion in our products, making it a great choice for colour cosmetics. Its light, dry touch also makes it a great base for body oils and other anhydrous products we’d like to have a light, dry finish (it is similar to isopropyl myristate in this way).
Do you need it? No
Refined or unrefined? C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate only exists as a refined product.
Strengths Excellent light-weight emollient that improves slip and reduces greasy feel.
Weaknesses Not considered natural, can be harder to source.
Alternatives & Substitutions Isopropyl myristate would probably be my first choice, or a lightweight silicone like cyclomethicone (take care not to heat volatile silicones). A very lightweight carrier oil will also work, though that will still be heavier than  C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate.
How to Work with It Include C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate in the oil phase of your formulations. It can be hot or cold processed.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate should last two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate is sold under many different trade/brand names; be sure to check the INCI so you know what you’re buying.
Recommended starter amount 50–100mL (2–3fl oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate

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