Carnauba wax

What is it? Carnauba wax is a hard, yellow wax from the leaves of the Copernicia Cerifera palm in Brazil. It is the hardest vegetable wax.
INCI Copernicia Cerifera Wax
Appearance Thin yellow flakes
Usage rate Typically 30% or less will be sufficient. Learn more here.
Texture When melted it creates very firm, glassy products. Learn more here.
Scent Mine smells like pretty much nothing, but I have heard from readers that theirs has a very strong scent that comes through in finished products. I would recommend sourcing a refined version and inquiring with the supplier about the scent before purchasing.
Absorbency Speed Average
Approximate Melting Point 80–85°C (176–185°F)
Solubility Oil
Why do we use it in formulations? Carnauba wax offers excellent, glassy hardening to our products, and thanks to its high melting point it can be an especially good choice for hot climates. I will sometimes blend it with beeswax to get the creaminess of beeswax and the glide of carnauba wax.
Do you need it? No; I’d recommend having one of the “C” waxes (candelilla or carnauba), but they’re similar enough that I don’t think you need both.
Refined or unrefined? I would recommend sourcing a refined version and inquiring with the supplier about the scent before purchasing.
Strengths Strong, glassy, glossy hardening wax.
Weaknesses Carnauba wax does not give the creamy consistency beeswax does, and as such it can be a bit disappointing in products if you are looking for a creamy end product.
Alternatives & Substitutions Candelilla wax is a good alternative.
How to Work with It Include it in the heated oil phase of your formula; it must be melted into the product.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, carnauba wax should last at least
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Carnauba wax is sold in three different grades: T1, T3, and T4 (learn more here). You’ll want T1 for your cosmetics.
Recommended starter amount 50g (1.76oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Carnauba Wax

Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer (Aristoflex AVC)

What is it? Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer (Aristoflex® AVC) is a gelling agent and oil-in-water pseudo-emulsifier (according to the manufacturer it can stabilize up to 15% hydrophobic ingredients). It can be used to quickly create lightweight gel-creams. It is a synthetic polymer. Unlike some other gelling agents, it is pre-neutralized and does not need to be pH adjusted.

Clariant (the manufacturer) productes an entire line of Aristoflex® products; the “AVC” distinction is important! The AVC variety is marketed as the most versatile of the line.

INCI Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer
Appearance Fine white powder
Usage rate 0.5–2%
Texture Creates silky smooth gels.
Scent Nothing noticeable.
pH 4–6 (1% in distilled water)
Solubility Water
Why do we use it in formulations? I primarily use it to create lightweight gels with small amounts of pseudo-emulsified oils.

It can also be used as a co-thickener/emulsion stabilizer in products containing other primary emulsifying/thickening ingredients, and to gel concoctions that contain high concentrations (upwards of 50%) of ethanol.

Do you need it? No, but it is wonderfully fun and very useful for certain types of projects.
Refined or unrefined? Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer (Aristoflex® AVC) only exists as a refined product.
Strengths  Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer (Aristoflex® AVC) quickly creates beautiful gels. It can also create “pseduo-emulsions” by stabilizing non-water-soluble ingredients (oils, silicones) into an otherwise aqueous formula. Clariant (the manufacturer) says “the stabilizing effect of Aristoflex® AVC is explained by the cross-linked structure of the polymer, providing a yield value and thus ‘trapping’ the oil droplets or solids (e.g. pigments) in the water/polymer matrix.”
Weaknesses Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer (Aristoflex® AVC) does not play well with electrolytes—you’ll notice an immediate loss of viscosity as soon as electrolytes are added. Avoid ingredients including electrolytes like aloe vera, sodium lactate, salt, and urea. If your end product is significantly thinner than expected, double-check the ingredients for anything containing electrolytes.
Alternatives & Substitutions At this time I can’t suggest anything terribly suitable. You could try using a different gelling agent like hydroxyethylcellulose for the gelling job, and then incorporating a solubilizer like Cromollient SCE for the emulsifying/stabilizing part. This sort of two-part alternative will require you to at least partially re-develop and re-test the formula.
How to Work with It Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer (Aristoflex® AVC) can be hot or cold processed. It can be pre-dispersed in the oil phase (as you would a gum) before blending in the water phase with a high shear mixer. I’ve also had good results mixing together all the other ingredients in the recipe before sprinkling the Aristoflex® AVC over the surface of the mixture and blending that together with a high shear mixer.

Keep the pH of the final product in the 4–9 range. A pH above 9 will release ammonia.

Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, Aristoflex® AVC should last up to three years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks For clear gels, use at least 1% Aristoflex® AVC, or include ~5% glycerin or other solvent. Distilled or de-ionized water will give the best results.
Recommended starter amount 30g/1 ounce
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier. So far I’ve found it at Windy Point Soap Making Supplies (Canada) and LotionCrafter (USA).

Some Formulations that Use Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer (Aristoflex® AVC)

Cera Bellina

What is it? Cera bellina is a modified beeswax (“the free fatty acids have been converted to polyglycerols esters“) that thickens oils and butters into very cool, glide-y oil gels.
INCI Polyglycerol-3 Beeswax
Appearance Small off-white pellets/beads
Usage rate This really depends on what you want to make. I did an experiment using it at different levels that you can review here. You aren’t likely to need more than 30% cera bellina in products.
Texture Creates rich, slippy oil gels.
Scent Nothing noticeable
Absorbency Speed Quite slow
Approximate Melting Point 63–73ºC (145–163°F)
Solubility Oil
Why do we use it in formulations? Cera bellina does a few very cool things! Its primary use is as a thickener/solidifier, creating very smooth, slippy oil gels. It also helps with pigment distribution, reduces sweating in solid balms, and can function as a co-emulsifier. I love using it to create ointments and lip glosses, where it thickens and gives a beautiful gel consistency that is really well suited to those types of products.
Do you need it? No, but I would recommend it if you are especially fond of ointments or lip gloss.
Refined or unrefined? It only exists as a refined product.
Strengths Creates very cool, smooth oil gels.
Weaknesses Not vegan, harder to acquire than most waxes.
Alternatives & Substitutions Nothing really works the same way as cera bellina; you can try using beeswax instead, but you won’t get the oil gel effect.
How to Work with It Include cera bellina in your heated oil phase; it must be melted to use. Products made with it can feel quite greasy, so I’d recommend shifting your oil balance towards faster absorbing oils.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, cera bellina should last at least two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks The inclusion of cera bellina in your formulas can help prevent graininess in butters like shea butter.
Recommended starter amount 100g (3.3oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Cera Bellina

Guar Gum

What is it? Guar Gum is a thickening gum extracted from the guar bean.
INCI Cyamopsis Tetragonoloba Gum
Appearance Fine beige powder.
Usage rate <2%
Texture When hydrated it creates slippery, rather snotty gels.
Scent Nothing noticeable
pH 5.5–7 (1% solution)
Charge Non-ionic
Solubility Water
Why do we use it in formulations? Guar gum is used to thicken water-based products. It can be used as the sole gelling/thickening agent in products like gels or body washes, or can be incorporated at lower amounts (typically 0.5% or less) to thicken and stabilize emulsions.
Do you need it? No
Strengths Inexpensive, natural, vegan thickening agent.
Weaknesses Gels made solely with guar gum tend to have a snotty consistency, and I really don’t like how they feel on the skin when they dry down.
Alternatives & Substitutions I prefer hydroxyethylcellulose, but xanthan gum can also work.
How to Work with It Whisk the guar gum into something from your formula other than water to create a slurry; glycerine is a good choice, or a liquid oil. This allows us to distribute the gum without it starting to hydrate, which will cause it to clump and create “fish eyes” in our product. Once the gum has been thoroughly dispersed in the non-water medium you can start to slowly incorporate the water. Gentle heating will speed the thickening process, but it is not necessary.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, guar gum should last at least two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks One can also purchase cationic guar (Guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride). This is not the same ingredient and they are not interchangeable.
Recommended starter amount 30g (1oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon. Guar gum is also often available at health food stores.

Some Formulations that Use Guar Gum

Xanthan Gum

What is it? A natural gum made from the fermentation of sugar.

We can purchase three different types of xanthan gum: regular, soft, and clear.

  • Regular/normal xanthan gum is the most common and the cheapest; you can often purchase this ingredient at health food stores as well as from most DIY suppliers. It creates hazy gels that I generally describe as slimy and snotty.
  • Soft & clear xanthan gums create far more pleasant gels than regular xanthan gum; they feel far less snotty and are are much more carbomber-like in terms of clarity and skin feel. I’ve worked with both soft & clear xanthan gums from a few different suppliers and can’t really tell a difference between the two. I’d feel confident using one instead of the other, and I’d say you only need one of them.
INCI Xanthan Gum
Appearance Fine off-white granular powder. Regular xanthan tends to be a bit more cream coloured while soft and clear are a bit whiter.
Usage rate 0.01–2%
Texture Regular/ normal: Once hydrated it creates slick, slimy gels.

Soft & clear: Once hydrated they create slippy, cushiony gels.

Scent Nothing strong
pH 6–8
Charge Anionic
Solubility Water
Why do we use it in formulations? In gels, xanthan gum creates the body of the gel. In emulsions, it can be used to stabilize and thicken.

I don’t like the feel of gels thickened solely with regular xanthan gum; I find them to be slimy and unpleasant. I prefer to use regular xanthan gum around 01–0.3% in emulsions—at that low usage rate, it contributes a lovely slip and added stability to the emulsion.

Soft & clear xanthan gums are far more versatile than regular xathan gum as the skin feel and consistency is far more appealing.

Do you need it? No
Strengths Effective natural gelling agent and thickener.
Weaknesses Regular: Unappealing consistency, poor leave-on skin feel to some people.

Soft & clear: More expensive than regular, not as readily available.

Alternatives & Substitutions Consider guar gum or hydroxyethylcellulose.

I find soft & clear xanthan gum don’t thicken as strongly as regular xanthan gum, so if a formulation calls for regular xanthan gum and you’re using soft or clear, you’ll want to use a bit more. I’d start with 20–30% more, so if a formulation called for 0.4% regular xanthan gum, I’d try 0.5% soft or clear xanthan gum.

If a formulation calls for soft or clear xanthan gum, and you want to use regular instead, I’d use 20–30% less. You’ll also want to keep in mind that the skin feel and appearance will be different. If you’re making an emulsion that contains a small % of xanthan to thicken and stabilize you likely won’t notice a huge difference, but if you’re making a gelled product and xanthan gum is the star gelling ingredient, you definitely will.

How to Work with It Pre-disperse it in glycerin or oil (depending on what else is in the formulation) before combining it with water to fully hydrate. I usually choose oil as the pre-dispersing medium when it is available as xanthan gum cannot clump in oil.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, xanthan gum should last at least two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks The inclusion of xanthan gum in emulsions can amplify the soaping effect.
Recommended starter amount 30g (1oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Xanthan Gum

Stearic Acid

What is it? Stearic acid is an isolated fatty acid we use as a thickener and hardener in lotions, salves, body butters, and more. It occurs naturally in butters like cocoa butter (~36%), shea butter (~38%), and kokum butter (~54%), as well as in some liquid oils like plum oil (~2%) and sunflower oil (~4%).

It is possible to source stearic acid from non-vegan sources, but I have never found non-vegan stearic acid for sale. It’s usually derived from palm, but I have found canola oil derived steric acid as well. Check with your supplier to see which plant oil your stearic acid is derived from.

INCI Stearic Acid
Appearance Small white beads or pellets; it’s easy to confuse with other white pellets like emulsifying wax.
Usage rate For emulsions, generally 1–5%. For anhydrous products, 1–40/50%.

It’s unlikely you’d ever need or want more than 50% in a formulation, but you can try it! Click here to learn more about how different concentrations of stearic acid impact anhydrous formulations.

Texture As part of our products it stiffens/hardens and adds a butter-like creaminess/weight. When melted into liquid oils I find it gives them a more buttery consistency.
Scent Nothing much; perhaps a bit fat-like.
Absorbency Speed Medium to slow
Approximate Melting Point 69.3°C (156.7°F)
Solubility Oil
Why do we use it in formulations? Stearic acid stiffens/hardens our products. The more you use, the harder/thicker your formulations will be!

Small amounts of stearic acid (1–5%) in lotions will significantly thicken them.

When used in anhydrous rinse-off products like cleansing balms or emulsified sugar scrubs, stearic acid thickens while maintaining excellent rinse-off (unlike true waxes, which can leave a tacky film behind).

I like including it in salves, balms, body butters, and body butter bars—with or without wax. With stearic acid you can use less wax, which improves skin feel. You can also use stearic acid to make a blend of liquid oils feel buttery, and in larger amounts, to stiffen/harden without any added wax.

Stearic acid is also very useful for raising the melting point of body butters and other anhydrous formulations—brilliant if you live somewhere hot!

Do you need it? I sure love it and would highly recommend it—it’s inexpensive, versatile, and has a long shelf life. If you can get 100–200g that’ll last you quite a while.
Strengths It’s a strong thickener without the weight and tack of waxes; I find it gives a rich buttery feel to products.
Weaknesses I can’t think of any!
Alternatives & Substitutions Stearic acid is pretty hard to swap out. It is a stronger thickener/hardener than both cetyl alcohol and cetearyl alcohol, so if either of those are used as an alternative the end product will be softer. Stearic acid also produces creamier/richer products, so the end product will feel thinner/less substantial on the skin. Out of the two, cetearyl alcohol is the better option, but you’ll likely need to do a bit of re-formulating.

I don’t recommend using a true wax as an alternative for stearic aid.

Faux/pseudo waxes (“waxes” that are actually hydrogenated vegetable oils—check the INCI!) may be a decent alternative in some situations, but you will have to do some experimentation to determine usage rates and if the end feel still works for you.

How to Work with It Include stearic acid in the heated oil phase; it needs to be melted into products.

Try blending stearic acid with cetyl alcohol for a great creamy, slippy thickening combination!

Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, stearic acid should last at least two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Stearic acid has a higher melting point than beeswax!

Stearic acid is not acidic and will not lower the pH of your formulations like citric acid or lactic acid.

A 2:1 blend of stearic acid and triethanolamine can be used as an emulsifier (it’s what LUSH uses in most of their lotions!).

Recommended starter amount 100g (3.3oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Stearic Acid