Sweet Almond Oil

What is it? A versatile liquid carrier oil pressed from almonds.
Appearance Yellow liquid
Texture Smooth liquid oil
Scent Low scent, nothing remarkable.
Absorbency Speed Average
Solubility Oil
Why do we use it in formulations? It’s great in lip balms, facial serums, and lotions. It’s also rich in vitamin D.
Do you need it? I love it in lip balm, but you could use safflower oil, apricot kernel oil, or sunflower seed oil instead. You can get away with it.
Refined or unrefined? I’ve been using unrefined and I like it.
Strengths It’s a great, versatile carrier oil with an average absorption speed.
Weaknesses Obviously not a good choice if you’re concerned about nut allergies!
Alternatives & Substitutions Jojoba oil, argan oil (USA / Canada), olive oil (pomace) (USA / Canada), safflower oil.
How to Work with It I love it in lip balm, but I also like it in facial serums.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry,
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks It can stain sheets if used as a massage oil.
Recommended starter amount 250mL (8fl oz)
Where to Buy it Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Sweet Almond Oil

Sunflower Oil

What is it? A yellow liquid oil pressed from the seeds of the sunflower.
Appearance Pale yellow liquid oil.
Texture Smooth, liquid oil.
Scent Low scent, typical of carrier oils.
Absorbency Speed Fast
Solubility Oil
Why do we use it in formulations? It’s a great, versatile, carrier oil that’s great in lotions, body butters, salves, lip balms, and more.
Do you need it? Sunflower oil is a great choice for so many projects and is so inexpensive that I think it’s a great thing to have in your DIY pantry. I especially like sunflower oil because it is rich in linoleic acid and has been shown to be beneficial for irritated and sensitive skin. “Sunflower seed oil preserved stratum corneum integrity, did not cause erythema, and improved hydration in the same volunteers.” (source)
Refined or unrefined? I use refined and like it.
Strengths A great, versatile carrier oil that’s rich in linoleic acid and vitamins A, B, D and E. An excellent, inexpensive choice for skincare due to the fatty acid composition.
Weaknesses I can’t think of many! It’s widely available and studies have shown it has great skincare benefits, especially when compared to oleic-acid rich oils like olive oil.
Alternatives & Substitutions I’d recommend sticking with other fast-absorbing, low-scent carrier oils that are rich in linoleic acid and low in oleic acid. Good options include grapeseed oil, safflower oil, pumpkin seed oil, corn oil, cotton oil, walnut oil, wheat germ oil, and watermelon oil.
How to Work with It Include sunflower oil in the oil phase of your formulations. It can be hot or cold processed, as required by the formulation.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, sunflower seed oil (USA / Canada / UK / NZ) should last up to two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks It’s very high in Linoleic Acid, which is a fatty acid that’s been found to be highly beneficial to troublesome skin (acne, eczema, psoriasis, etc.).
Recommended starter amount 250mL (8fl oz)
Where to Buy it Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Sunflower Oil

Kaolin Clay

What is it? Kaolin clay is a fine, smooth clay that comes in a variety of colours (white, red, green, pink, yellow, and orange). I tend to use white 99% of the time I use kaolin.
Appearance A light, fluffy, fine powder.
Texture Smooth and creamy when blended with water. Light and smooth when dry.
Scent A bit dusty? Nothing terribly noticeable.
pH 6
Solubility Insoluble
Why do we use it in formulations? It’s a great all-purpose clay; in terms of strength it’s pretty middle-of-the-road, making it great for face masks for all skin types. I also love the white stuff in cosmetics and body powders as it helps boost adhesion and manage moisture.
Do you need it? If you were only going to purchase one clay, I’d recommend white kaolin.
Strengths Kaolin is extremely versatile and is a fantastic all-around clay.
Weaknesses If you’ve got very oily skin you might find white kaolin clay (USA / Canada) isn’t strong enough for you.
Alternatives & Substitutions Other light clays (the French clays, zeolite) can work similarly well in face masks and soap. In anything where you need your clay to be white, white kaolin is your best choice by a mile.
How to Work with It As kaolin is a fine powder, be sure to wear a dust mask around it if it’s going to become aerosolized (like if you’re whipping it up in a coffee grinder).
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, kaolin has an indefinite shelf life.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks When blending kaolin into a liquid, slowly whisk it into water (as opposed to adding water to the clay) for the smoothest possible blend.
Recommended starter amount 100g (3oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Kaolin Clay

Cocoa Butter

What is it? Cocoa butter is the fat extracted from cocoa beans.
INCI Theobroma Cacao Seed Butter
Appearance Beige chunks
Texture Hard and brittle at room temperature—just like a good bar of chocolate. When it melts, the oil is thin and smooth, and absorbs into the skin easily.
Scent Deliciously chocolatey! You can also buy deodorized stuff that smells like mostly nothing.
Absorbency Speed Fast
Approximate Melting Point  34°C/93°F
Why do we use it in formulations? Cocoa butter will help thicken recipes without adding a wax (and even solidify if used in high enough concentrations)—check out this experiment for more information. It’s wonderfully smooth, and brings its delicious chocolatey scent to projects. Yum!
Do you need it? I’d say so! I use it all the time, and I love just taking the lid off the tub and inhaling the super delicious scent. YUM.
Refined or unrefined? I say unrefined all the way, but if you don’t like the smell of chocolate then refined is your best bet.
Strengths Amazing scent, smooth texture, it’s a rare brittle butter.
Weaknesses Not everybody loves the scent (easily solved by purchasing deodorized cocoa butter (USA / Canada)).
Alternatives & Substitutions There aren’t a lot of brittle butters out there that make good swaps; kokum butter or tucuma butter would be the best choices.
How to Work with It Include cocoa butter in the oil phase of your products. Melt it gently in a water bath along with the rest of your ingredients.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, cocoa butter should last at least two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks You can also purchase dark cocoa butter (USA / Canada), but I’ve found that to be a bit of a novelty; I wouldn’t bother with it.
Recommended starter amount 100g (3oz)
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Cocoa Butter

Coconut Oil

What is it? The oil pressed from the meat of coconuts. Depending on the ambient temperature where you live/store your coconut oil it can be either liquid (in temperatures above ~24°C/75°F) or solid (in temperatures below ~24°C/75°F).

You can also purchase fractionated coconut oil, which is coconut oil that has been modified so that it’s always liquid, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Fractionated coconut oil and coconut oil are not interchangeable.

Coconut oil contains ~48% lauric acid; this saturated fatty acid is a big part of what gives coconut oil its gorgeous slip. Lauric acid melts around 43°C (109°F) and feels quite thin and slippy on the skin, while palmitic acid melts around 63°C (145°F) and stearic acid melts around 70°C (158°F), and both of those feel much more substantial and buttery (you’ll find high concentrations of these buttery fatty acids in Shea Butter and Cocoa Butter). That high lauric acid composition is why coconut oil so readily tips between solid and liquid, melting around 25°C (77°F), and why we call it an oil rather than a butter.

INCI Cocos Nucifera Oil
Appearance When solid, coconut oil is a chunky white fat.

When coconut oil has melted, it’s a clear liquid.

Texture Coconut oil is a solid soft white oil that quickly liquifies on contact with skin. If you live somewhere with an ambient temperature above 24°C/75°F then it’ll be a liquid oil. Once melted it’s an extremely smooth oil with excellent slip/lubrication properties.
Scent Delicious! The virgin stuff smells like piña coladas and will leave you thinking you’re on a tropical vacation. It smells incredible. The RBD (refined/bleached/deodorized) variety smells like nothing.
Absorbency Speed Average
Why do we use it in formulations? In soap coconut oil contributes incredible bubbly lather that’s nearly impossible to get with other oils, which is why coconut oil is in nearly every single soap recipe you’ll find.

In body products I love to use it for its incredible scent and for its glide; coconut oil is so slippery that it pairs beautifully with stiffer, slower-melting fats (like shea butter). It’s also lovely in lip products for great slip.

Approximate Melting Point 24°C/75°F
Do you need it? Yeah! It’s super versatile and smells amazing.
Refined or unrefined? I have both; I use the refined/bleached/deodorized stuff for soap (it’s much cheaper), and the virgin variety for everything else.
Strengths Delicious scent, great slip on the skin thanks to its high lauric acid content.
Weaknesses It’s a bit thin to be a great moisturizer in very dry climates, and too much take a product from feeling pleasantly “slippy” to oily.
Alternatives & Substitutions You’ll want an oil that is high in lauric acid and not too high in palmitic or stearic acid. Babassu oil and palm seed/kernel (not fruit!) oils both fit this bill 🙂
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, coconut oil should last at least two years; its high saturated fat content makes coconut oil quite resistant to going rancid. If you live somewhere temperatures can fluctuate above and below 24°F (75°F) I recommend storing your coconut a wide-mouthed tub (rather than a narrow-mouthed har) so you can still get to it if it solidifies.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Virgin coconut oil is one of a few ingredients that will scent a final product; it smells amazing when paired with honey-scented golden beeswax and chocolatey unrefined cocoa butter!
Recommended starter amount 250mL (8fl oz) unless you’re using it for soap, in which case I would get at least 1L (34fl oz) of the refined & bleached variety.
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier; my favourite coconut oil is the “traditional” coconut oil sold by Baraka.

Some Formulations that Use Coconut Oil

Beeswax

What is it? A lovely wax made by bees; you can buy a golden (unrefined) version, or a refined (bleached) version.
Appearance The unrefined stuff is a beautiful golden colour and will usually come in big chunks or bricks (often moulded with a cute honeycomb texture). The refined variety is white and comes in pellets. You can also purchase golden beeswax in pellets, but it’s not going to smell as amazing as the variety that you source locally in chunks.
Texture It’s a firm wax that’s a wee bit tacky to the touch.
Scent The lovely, unrefined stuff smells like honey and is utterly divine. The refined variety smells like nothing.
Absorbency Speed Beeswax on its own isn’t going to absorb into your skin as it melts far above body temperature. When added to concoctions, it will slow the absorbency speed.
Melting Point It melts around 63°C/145°F, which is one of the higher melting points we work with in DIY skincare and cosmetics.
Why do we use it in formulations? We use it to thicken and harden our concoctions. In low concentrations it thickens, in higher concentration it hardens and solidifies. It adds a lovely creaminess to concoctions that gives salves and balms great staying power on your skin.
Do you need it? Unless you’re vegan I would highly recommend getting some beeswax—it’s an essential part of my DIY pantry and you’ll see it in a lot of recipes.
Refined or unrefined? For almost everything I recommend getting the unrefined stuff; purchase it at your local farmer’s market! It’s one of very few ingredients that almost anybody can source locally.There are a few recipes in my book that call for the refined stuff, though. These recipes really rely on the precise strength of the beeswax, and I’ve found the slight variation in the unrefined variety can impact the performance of the final product.
Strengths It’s a wonderful thickener and hardener, even in small concentrations. It also increases the staying power of your projects, helping lip balms, salves, and body butters stick around on the skin by slowing absorbency speed.
Weaknesses At higher concentrations in makes projects really skiddy and sticky, so we generally don’t want to make beeswax more than 1/3 of a formula (though there are exceptions). I’ve done some experiments with beeswax and liquid oil and beeswax and coconut oil—check those out to see how it works at different concentrations.
Alternatives & Substitutions Beeswax’s creamy consistency is quite unique, and it’s hard to substitute out if you are looking to have the same skin feel in the end product.

Two popular vegan alternatives to beeswax are candelilla wax and carnauba wax, both of which are much harder and glossier than beeswax, and don’t work well for 1:1 swaps. You can try using them at about 80%, but keep in mind that the recipe will likely require some fine-tuning given the differences in textures between candelilla/carnauba and beeswax. They are much glossier/slippy-er and don’t have the creaminess that beeswax does. They’ll make something hard, but they will not lend much in the way of substantialness to your formula.

I highly recommend reading this FAQ and the linked experiments to learn more about how beeswax and many different waxes perform. I generally compare non-beeswax waxes to beeswax in those experiments so you can get an idea of how or if they could work as an alternative.

You cannot use an emulsifying wax, like Polawax or Emulsifying Wax NF, in place of beeswax.

How to Work with It If you buy it in a large hunk the first thing you’ll need to do is break it down into smaller, workable pieces. I recommend using a large, study chopping knife to shave off small bits of it on a cutting board. Store the shavings in a jar. You’ll need to use boiling water to clean off the knife blade as it’ll have sticky wax all over it.

Beeswax is best melted in a hot water bath; beeswax heated above 85°C / 185°F will discolour and turn a darker brown. Beeswax should not be left over direct heat unattended as it can spontaneously combust.

Take care not to wash large amounts of liquid beeswax down your drain as it’ll solidify further down and block the drain.

Storage & Shelf Life Store beeswax somewhere cool and dry; I will usually store the brick in a plastic bag, and store the smaller shavings I’ll make with a knife in a mason jar. The shelf life of beeswax is indefinite.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Boiling water comes in really useful when cleaning up beeswaxy messes, as does paper towel for wiping down containers while they’re still warm before washing them.
Recommended starter amount 100g (3oz)
Where to Buy it I highly recommend purchasing beeswax (USA / Canada) locally—try your farmer’s market and chat with anybody selling honey. They might not have beeswax with them that week, but they can probably bring some the following week.You can also buy it online from most DIY type suppliers, including Amazon.

Some Formulations that Use Beeswax