Today I’m sharing a formulation I’ve had a ton of requests for; an all-natural, sulfate-free liquid shampoo! This Rose & Silk Clarifying Shampoo was one of my Formula Botanica Diploma in Organic Haircare Formulation final projects (if you’d like to read my full review of the course, click here). I formulated this shampoo to have rich & decadent lather, a soft scent, and to improve shine and bounce. Because of the all-naturalness, it does use a few ingredients that are new to Humblebee & Me or rarely used; please refer to the substitution suggestions at the end of the formulation if you don’t have everything. Let’s dive in!
As part of the project, we were instructed to devise a target customer that our formulation was for. My target customer was women, aged 30–40, with fine hair that is easily weighed down. She currently uses conventional haircare products, but is interested in using more natural haircare products, as long as they perform like her conventional products. She is not willing to compromise on performance and will choose performance over natural if she can’t have both.
With that in mind, my product/formulation philosophy was to create high-performing natural haircare products that meet the standards of the customer who is interested in natural, but not willing to compromise on performance; knowing they’ve gone back to their tried-and-true conventional products in the past, and they’ll do it again if their expectations are not met.
So, this formulation! Since it’s a shampoo, let’s start by talking about the surfactants. I used two different ingredients, but one is a blended ingredient (Plantapon® TF), so this shampoo contains four different surfactants. Non-ionic decyl glucoside is our primary surfactant; it creates dense, thick, rich lather and offers gentle yet effective cleansing. Cocamidopropyl betaine is an amphoteric surfactant it helps make the blend milder and boost flash foam. Polyglyceryl-10 Caprylate/Caprate is an ultra-mild natural non-ionic surfactant that works to boost lather, and coco glucoside (also non-ionic) further boosts lather. The surfactants come together to create dense, luxurious, plentiful lather and a mild finished product. The glyceryl oleate (part of the Plantapon® TF) adds conditioning and re-fatting, ensuring the hair feels clean after shampooing, but not coarse or dry. I find the level of clean is a bit extra—worthy of the “clarifying” name without being too strong.
The two primary surfactants (the glucosides) have high pH values, so I included 0.3% citric acid in the formulation to make the end product acidic. Once everything has been blended up, the shampoo has a final pH in the 4.5–5 range, which works for our hair and for our natural preservative, Geogard® ECT (INCI: Benzyl Alcohol, Salicylic Acid, Glycerin, Sorbic Acid).
I wanted to include rose as the sole scent note. Due to the low allowed usage rate of rose otto, I chose to use a rose hydrosol instead. Mine is very fragrant, so I’ve kept it to 25% to keep the end product from being overwhelmingly perfume-y.- Earlier versions of this formulation used less hydrosol, but I increased it as the smell of the surfactants is quite “detergenty” and was noticeable (and not all that nice) in the end product. Panthenol and hydrolyzed silk help add shine and bounce to the hair; silk is great for label appeal as well 😉 Propanediol 1,3 and sodium lactate are both great humectants, and help prevent the shampoo from drying the hair.
The shampoo is thickened with Siligel™ (INCI: Xanthan Gum, Lecithin, Sclerotium Gum, Pullulan); a blend of natural gelling and thickening ingredients that creates a rich and almost silicone-y feel to the end product, unlike some natural gums that can feel snotty. As interesting as Siligel™ is, I honestly wasn’t super impressed with it and won’t be re-purchasing it. If you are committed to natural formulation I think you’d find it helpful, but in the future, I will probably use Crothix™ for thickening this sort of formulation.
The finished shampoo is pale yellow in colour, with a consistency comparable to runny honey—viscous enough that it isn’t hard to apply to the hair, but thin enough that it can easily be worked into the roots and through denser hair. It smells softly of roses and has a rich, yet slippy feel on the skin. When massaged into wet hair it works up into a rich, dense lather with delicate “lace glove” bubbles. When rinsed, the hair is left clean and refreshed, without any lingering scent from the shampoo. I hope you love it!
Want to watch this project instead of reading it?
Rose & Silk Clarifying Shampoo
24.22g | 34.6% distilled water
17.5g | 25% rose hydrosol
Using a digital scale, weigh the Siligel™ and propanediol (Phase A) into a beaker. Stir thoroughly to combine, ensuring there are no clumps of Siligel™.
Add the sodium lactate, citric acid, panthenol, and hydrolyzed silk. Stir gently to combine before adding the Plantapon® TF and Cocamidopropyl Betaine (Phase B), and stirring gently.
Add the distilled water and rose hydrosol (Phase C). Stir gently to avoid working up a lather.
Weigh the Geogard® ECT and Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate (Phase D) into a small bowl or beaker. Add a small amount of the shampoo, stir to combine, and then transfer that mixture back into the parent batch of shampoo. Stir gently to combine.
The next step is testing the pH of the shampoo (watch the video tutorial to see this in action!). To test the shampoo, create a 10% dilution using distilled water in a small dish or beaker. Check the pH using a pH meter. If the formulation has been made as written, the pH should fall between 4.5–5, which is great. If the pH falls outside that by +/- 0.1, adjust it using either a 50% citric acid solution (to make it more acidic), or a 20% sodium hydroxide solution (to make it more basic). For a 70g batch, incorporate a single drop of the pH adjusting solution into the shampoo, and then test the shampoo again by preparing a new 10% dilution and testing that with your pH meter (be sure to rinse it in distilled water between uses).
Cover tightly with a piece of cling film. Leave to rest for two hours, giving everything time to dissolve and incorporate.
To package; use a funnel squeeze “tottle”; I used a 60g one from YellowBee for my 70g batch. The mixture will be uniform when filling, but will continue to thicken for approximately three days (I’d say it gets to the 80–90% point within 6 hours and then slowly gets ever-so-slightly thicker).
Use as you would use any liquid shampoo. Enjoy!
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this shampoo contains water, you must include a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth. This is non-optional. Even with a preservative, this project may eventually spoil as our kitchens are not sterile laboratories, so in the event you notice any change in colour, scent, or texture, chuck it out and make a fresh batch.
As always, be aware that making substitutions will change the final product. While these swaps won’t break the recipe, you will get a different final product than I did.
- As I’ve provided this recipe in percentages as well as grams you can easily calculate it to any size using a simple spreadsheet as I’ve explained in this post. As written in grams this recipe will make 70g.
- To learn more about the ingredients used in this formulation, including why they’re included and what you can substitute them with, please visit the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia. It doesn’t have everything in it yet, but there’s lots of good information there! If I have not given a specific substitution suggestion in this list (panthenol) please look up the ingredient in the encyclopedia before asking.
- I have not tested alternatives for Siligel™ in this formulation. I’d look at trying hydroxyethylcellulose, but any sort of gum/thickener could work. You’ll have to try it and see! Different gums & thickeners can have dramatically different skin feels, so make sure you are researching your ingredients to learn more. Blends of gums can work better than single gums. Have fun experimenting!
- You could also use Crothix™ Liquid.
- You could try glycerine instead of propanediol 1,3 and/or sodium lactate.
- You could use a different acid (lactic acid would work well) instead of citric acid, but you’ll need to do all your own testing and adjusting to get the right amount.
- You can replace hydrolyzed silk with a different hydrolyzed protein (oat, rice, baobab, quinoa)—this is an especially good option if you hate the smell of your hydrolyzed silk.
- You could try a different chelator instead of Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate. Make sure the usage rate is appropriate. If you use Liquid Germall™ Plus instead of Geogard® ECT you shouldn’t need a chelator and can replace it with more distilled water.
- If you’d like to learn more about the surfactants used and compare them to ones you might already have so you can make substitutions, check out this page and read this FAQ.
- The re-fatting agent (Glyceryl Oleate) in the Plantapon® TF surfactant blend is integral to the performance of this shampoo. If you switch up the surfactant blend to use something that does not contain some Glyceryl Oleate you will want to get that effect from somewhere else and will be in re-development territory.
- In the USA and the EU, you can purchase a blend of Coco Glucoside and Glyceryl Oleate—that product, plus some decyl glucoside, would be a good place to start substituting out the Plantapon® TF.
- You could use a different hydrosol for a different scent. I do recommend including some sort of hydrosol as this shampoo doesn’t smell very nice on its own.
- If you’re like to use a different preservative, please review this FAQ and this chart. You could easily use Liquid Germall™ Plus at 0.5% instead of Geogard® ECT, replacing the missing 0.5% with more distilled water.
- If you’d like to incorporate an essential oil, please read this. Also, please be aware that adding an essential oil or fragrance oil can cause gum-thickened surfactant products to curdle, depending on the interactions between the chemical compounds in the essential oil and the rest of the formulation. Tread carefully here to avoid ruining the entire batch.