I’m pretty excited to share this Satsuma Shower Gel with you guys—mostly for two reasons. Reason #1: I was utterly obsessed with The Body Shop’s “satsuma” line as a kid, and I’ve had this gorgeous satsuma dupe fragrance oil for years, meaning to make satsuma-y things with it—and I finally am! Reason #2: this is the first self-preserving hydrous formulation I’ve shared. It’s been a long time in the making/testing, and I’m excited to finally share it.
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It was inspired by LUSH’s self-preserving liquid shower gels. They combine quite a lot of glycerine with anionic Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLeS), amphoteric Sodium Cocoamphoacetate, lactic acid for pH adjusting, and carrageenan to thicken. Each gel also contains a selection of essential oils, infusions, extracts, and colourants to differentiate them from one another. There are no preservatives—so how do they stay fresh?
I’ve been doing lots of reading and research into preservatives, spoilage, and hurdle technology over the last few years, and from my research, I believe there are several factors at play here. One of the best articles I’ve read on self-preserving/preservative-free products/hurdle technology is this two-piece (part 1 + part 2 + the extensive references at the bottom for even more info) one from Botanical Formulations—it does a great job of discussing the different tactics a formulator can combine to create a formulation that keeps itself in check. Definitely give it a read!
Tactic #1 with this formulation: reducing the water activity with a high concentration of glycerin (30%). Just because water is present in a formulation doesn’t mean it’s available to any microbes looking for a watery home—humectants like glycerin, propylene glycol, sugar, and salt can, in high enough concentrations, “lock up” the water in a formulation, effectively keeping it too busy to get into any trouble. Think about honey—it does contain water, but it also contains so much sugar that that water activity is too low for anything to grow. If the honey is diluted with water the water activity will gradually increase to a point where the honey/water solution can spoil, but pure honey is incredibly shelf-stable. Be sure to give this a read to learn more.
Tactic #2 is pH; I’ve kept the pH of this formulation around 4–4.5. “Most microbes, and especially pathogenic ones, can survive and grow in a pH of between 5 and 8, so slightly acidic, neutral and slightly basic. Most bacteria prefer a neutral pH of between 6.5-7.5 and most gram positive and gram negative bacteria cannot survive below pH 4.5. However many pathogenic yeast and moulds can thrive in acidic pH levels below pH 4.5” (source). That acidic environment isn’t inhospitable to everything, but it does reduce the variety of things that could set up shop in our shower gel. The LUSH product contains some lactic acid to lower the pH; I used citric acid as that’s what I have. I worked to incorporate the citric acid directly into the formulation so you don’t have to do a ton of testing and adjusting (as I’ve done it for you!) but I do recommend checking the pH of the final product just to be certain it’s where we want it to be.
Tactic #3 is good manufacturing practice. I always take care to create in a clean environment, with clean equipment, but I was extra careful here, misting things with 70% isopropyl alcohol and letting it evaporate off before carrying on. The less contamination from the get-go = the less likely the product is to spoil as time goes on.
Tactic #4: A general lack of anything particularly delicious to microbes. There’s nothing super interesting in this shower gel—no powdered botanicals, no oils, no proteins, no clays, etc. After the water and glycerin, we have a wee bit of carrageenan, citric acid, and fragrance. The rest of the formulation is comprised of anionic and amphoteric surfactants.
Tactic #5: The packaging doesn’t allow the user to stick fingers into the product, and the orifice is small, reducing the chances of anything getting into the end product and contaminating it.
Ok! So that’s the theory—does real-world performance confirm this multi-point hypothesis? I made two batches of this shower gel in early September 2019 and stored them in my shower for months, using them and keeping an eye on ’em for any signs of spoilage. After eight months, there was nothing—no change in consistency, no clouding, no change in scent, nothing. Without a proper test, it’s hard to confidently say they’re still fine at the 8-month mark, but given how rapidly microbes reproduce when left un-checked, I think it is safe to say this body wash is shelf-stable for at least four months. You certainly don’t have to leave this self-preserving if you don’t feel comfortable—it would be very easy to reduce the water by 0.5% and include 0.5% Liquid Germall Plus (INCI: Propylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate)—but this has been an enjoyable formulation challenge for me. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!
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Satsuma Shower Gel
45g | 30% vegetable glycerine (USA / Canada)
0.45g | 0.3% iota carageenan
45g | 30% Sodium Laureth Sulfate (USA / Canada)
15g | 10% Cocamidopropyl Betaine (USA / Canada)
0.75g | 0.5% satsuma fragrance oil (USA / Canada)
0.0075g | 0.01% orange water-soluble dye
43.1925g | 28.8% distilled water
0.6g | 0.4% citric acid (USA / Canada)
Weigh the glycerine and carrageenan into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Whisk thoroughly to combine. Add the surfactants and fragrance, stirring until uniform.
For the water and dye: weigh the distilled water and dye into a beaker or glass measuring cup. You are unlikely to be able to weigh out the dye due to the very small amount; what I did was weigh about half the water into the measuring cup, and then dip a clean spoon or glass stirring rod into the bag of dye so there was just a tiny amount on it, and then swished that spoon around in the weighed-out water before topping it off to a full 28.7% distilled water. If you were making a 5kg batch of this you’ll likely be able to weigh out the dye properly, but the dip-and-swish method works well for a 150g batch (and that’s a decent amount of shower gel). Add the citric acid to the coloured water, and stir to combine.
Combine the water and surfactant mixtures. Stir gently to combine, cover, and leave to thicken and dissolve for an hour or so (overnight is also very convenient!). Once the mixture has thickened and is uniform (you’ll need to give it another stir after it sits to ensure everything is well mixed) we can move on to checking the pH of the body wash.
Weigh 2g product and 18g distilled water into a small bowl or beaker and whisk to combine (wondering why?). Check the pH with your pH meter (I have this one [USA / Canada]). Depending on the shape of your bowl/beaker you may need to tilt it in order to fully submerge the sensor on your pH meter. If your ingredients are all pretty similar to mine, it should fall between 4.1–4.4, and that’s great! If the pH is above 4.5 or lower than 4, you’ll need to adjust it. Please read this article if that’s the case.
Once we’re sure the shower gel has the proper pH all that’s left to do is transfering it to our packaging. I used a 120mL (4 fl oz) tottle. Use as you would any shower gel. Enjoy!
In my testing, this self-preserving shower gel showed no changes after 8 months. To be on the safe side, I would recommend using it within four months. If you add a preservative it should easily remain stable for at least 1–2 years.
As always, be aware that making substitutions will change the final product. Given the self-preserving nature of this formulation, I don’t advise making any changes to this formulation unless you want to either add a preservative or re-test the formulation for stability over the course of several months. Keep this note in mind as you read the following list:
- 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 150g.
- To learn more about the ingredients used in this recipe, 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 please look up the ingredient in the encyclopedia before asking.
- You could try propanediol 1,3 or propylene glycol instead of the glycerine
- You could try a different thickener (xanthan gum, guar gum, etc.) instead of the carrageenan
- You could adjust the amount of carrageenan to get a thicker or thinner end product
- The dye is optional; you can replace it with more water if you don’t want to use it (I expect this change could be made to the self-preserving version without any need to re-test)
- 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. Sodium Coco Sulfate (SCS) would probably be my first choice, but it is significantly more concentrated than Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLeS), so you must adjust the formulation to have a similar final active surfactant matter.
- Satsuma is a citrussy scent; if you don’t have it I’d look at other citrussy fragrance oils or essential oils.
The orange water-soluble dye was gifted by YellowBee.
Beatiful photos, big idea!
Thank you so much!
Hi. I can only get sodium cocoyl isethionate in uk for the foaming part but I don’t know how much to put in as it is a powder. Would you be able to let me know how to add this please
This isn’t a great formulation for using with Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI)—you’d basically need to reformulate it. Please look up Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) in the Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia (https://www.humblebeeandme.com/diy-encyclopedia/) for a list of formulations to make with it 🙂 Happy making!
I have everything to make this but, the satsuma fragrance. Yay I love it when that happens! Never smelled the satsuma but, I’ll be picking some up now!
OOooh I hope you love the satsuma scent! SWOON 😀
I’ve been seeing carageenan..in a few of your recipes & don’t have it. I have guar, carbopol, HEC, Aristflex, sepogel & crothix. I wonder what would be the way for me to figure out what would be the best one to sub it with. I know your post mentions guar but would any of these work? What would be the way to identify?
The best way would be to try it; I’ve found that gums + surfactants + scents can make for lots of curdling, and it’s hard to predict what will curdle and what won’t without trying it. For this one you could probably just use salt, though 🙂 Sulfates thicken wonderfully with salt!
Oh my god! Another wonderful project.. Can I add a touch of mica instead of the water soluble colour?
Kind of, but you’ll need a lot more—like, 100x more. And please see the note about making changes/substitutions to this formula at the bottom on the post 🙂
This is fascinating. I’m sure this recipe will appeal to many people out there who don’t like preservatives.
I always wondered about honey, too. And syrup. Can sit on the shelf for years and not mold!
That color makes me want to eat it.
And I’ve never smelled Satsuma but I’m dieing to, now. My childhood fragrance love affair was the original Herbal Essences scent. What I wouldn’t give for the perfect dupe of that.
Good job, Marie!
Thank you so much, Cristie! I had a lot of fun experimenting with this 🙂 Make sure you check out the articles I linked to if you haven’t already—it’s fascinating stuff 😀 And fingers crossed you find your Herbal Essences dupe!
Cristie, Brambleberry has an Herbal Essence FO that’s pretty spot on, in my opinion.
Oh thank you, Hana. I’ll go check this out right now!
Ooooh, thanks for the tip Hana!
I’ve been so excited to see you finally make something like this! I knew you would, because you’d mentioned the lush self preserving products before. I’m honestly too afraid of not preforming my sanitisation steps well enough to do this without one, but I love the information anyway. I’ve been quietly wondering about the line where the water becomes uninhabitable by nasties.
Thanks so much!
Thank you so much! And… pssst… I did try it without doing any additional sanitizing (beyond what I usually do) and that batch is still fine, too. Happy making!
This looks so fun, love TBS satsuma scent! I have been afraid to try gel formulas and creams because I am scared of mold, but also find the world of preservatives overwhelming. Definitely going to do some more reading of those articles you mentioned, I always thought Lush had some kind of unattainable witchcraft going on with all their preservative-free stuff.
Have fun and happy making! Even if you don’t make this particular formulation you could always pick up a bottle of the fragrance oil and make different satsuma-y things 😀 Happy making!
Hallo Marie, very interesting is the high percentage glycerine storage system that sequesters water by inhibiting the proliferation of bacteria, I used this system in some preparations such as the neutrogenic-like hand cream, being very moisturizing and repairing in the presence, however, also of fat, but not I have never used so much glycerin in the shower bath, what does it feel like on the skin?
instead I used detergents in concentrations of 40% sorbitol or fructose which is very moisturizing and does not require a preservative.
recently I also add EDTA present in all commercial preparations. I also love the gel effect, I also use carrageenan, alginate or sclerotium gum, I recently used 5% or slightly more polyquaternium10, the effect on the skin is very nice, it also seems to diminish the eye irritation effect of the shampoo. I want to try your recipe with a lot of glycerin in the shower bath.
Hello Ava, don’t you find the smell of polyquaternium10 coming through in the end product at such high percentage? Or maybe only mine is so smelly? Even at 1% I get products with notes of dead fish in the end – not great 😀
Hello Pauline, absolutely not, it is completely odorless, maybe yours has expired or has been badly preserved. then of course the origin of the purchase changes. what I can tell you is that it has unfortunately hardened me, it is no longer dust and now it becomes more difficult to make it gel, it takes longer but warm water helps a lot. I find it a fantastic product for all cleansing products and also in face creams.
also the gels come in a crazy transparent, like shower gel!
Thanks for sharing! I find the high dose of glycerin isn’t really noticeable on use—it just feels like a lovely, lathery shower gel 🙂 Happy making!
Hi what a great post!
I would really like to try out this formulation but I need to buy some sodium laureth sulfate first. The only one I can find in my country is the one with 70% active surfactant matter. If I was to buy that and make this formulation I would have to reduce the sodium laureth sulfate to 11,14% to match the active surfactant matter of the SLeS in this recipe.
So should I replace the rest with water or glycerin to keep the self preservation active?
The only other liquid anionic surfactant I can find is sodium lauryl sarcosinate with 30% ASM and 7,5-8,5 ph. Could this be a good replacement?
Thank you in advance
I’d replace it with more water 🙂 I’d be interested to hear how the sodium lauryl sarcosinate version comes out as well—you’d likely want to drop the citric acid and add it as needed after making, and then monitor it for stability. Happy making!
I’m in Australia and also can only get 70% SLeS. I made this as suggested with 11.14%, replacing with water, & it worked out great! I also used mandarin EO instead of fragrance, and kappa rather than iota carrageenan. Could probably reduce if using kappa. Lovely tho!
I noticed you are not using Polysorbate 20 in this formulation. In most of your other recipes, when using fragrance oils and/or essential oils you do use Polysorbate 20 to solubilize the oils. How come you don’t need it this time? Thank you!
There’s enough surfactant in here that that fragrance is solubilized 🙂 Happy making!
I was so excited when I was reading and you mentioned lactic acid. I was like OMG Marie is giving us an active body wash?! This formula sounds lovely all the same. And I have everything to make it except the Satsuma. I do have that yummy natural mango fragrance you recommended a while ago so maybe I‘ll use that. Do you know how I could incorporate lactid acid into this body wash? Can I just replace some of the water and adjust pH if necesssry?
Citric acid is also an AHA, just like lactic acid, so I suppose it kind of could be. I don’t know a lot about formulating with AHAs for chemical exfoliation aims, beyond knowing the pH of the end product is really important to efficacy—LabMuffin has a post on this. In my experience with using AHAs and BHAs in skincare, they work best in leave-on products rather than rinse-off ones, so while you certainly could pH adjust with lactic acid instead of citric (you’d have to back up several steps in the formulation process to figure out how much is needed after removing the citric acid), you’d likely notice better skincare outcomes with a leave-on product 🙂 happy making!
Where did you get your bottle from? Looks like a YellowBee, but I did not see one. I love their packaging, but I am in the US so I rarely buy from them. I have not tried liquid shower soap so I want to start. I love the foaming soaps I have made.
This one is from Windy Point (also Canadian), but it looks like SKS sells the same ones. If I were you I’d get the HDPE ones instead—I prefer them!
also where do you get your small squeeze bottle from I see you use for your preservative and vit. E? I need to transfer my preservative into one I think because it is easy to get too much pouring it from the container it comes in.
They’re all from Voyaguer, but everything even similar-ish has been sold out for months (everywhere, not just there) thanks to pandemic complications :/
Figures. I was buying some soap ingredients from Amazon and that sure quickly ran out. Grabbed some for liquid soap from lotion crafter. Hope things get back to more normal soon.
Agreed! My understanding is that there will likely be a lag with packaging as stocks in North America have to be replenished from China, and shipping is slow and/or more expensive than it was a year ago.
I tried this with Kappa Carrageenan and it completely solidified. I know there are different types of carrageenan but would they have differed that much?
How interesting! I must admit I have only tried iota; I will have to get my hands on the other varieties and do some experiments 🙂 In the meantime, I’d recommend trying less kappa and seeing how that goes. If it’s solid, I’d probably use half or less!
Marie what is a good Gram Scale to get. I have been trying to look for 1 like yours and I am not having any luck. Please let me know. The scale that I have is not giving me the #’s correctly as you get. I have even used a dropper to help and either I still go over a little or under.
Please check out the scale entries in the Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia (https://www.humblebeeandme.com/diy-encyclopedia/) + this FAQ 🙂
I do not know what I did wrong but everything came out perfect except the PH Level is 3.53 … Is there any way of getting it up to the 4 to 4.40 PH Level? It is truly beautiful otherwise. Please anyone, let me know.
I use l-arginine to raise the pH of my formulations, but you could also use a 10% NaOH solution 🙂
I made one sweet orange shower gel yesterday partly inspired by this. Salt gave amazing texture with SCS + amphosol. My skin just loves this pH range. Propably sounds silly but I also like how the preservative I used doesn’t have much scent. Such interesting topic! I admire your work. Beautifull. xx
PS. Picked up SLSA few days ago. So I’m making a new batch of your shampoo bar.
Hooray! And I 100% agree with you on the salt / Sodium Coco Sulfate (SCS) / Cocamidopropyl Betaine front 😀 Such a cool consistency!
I’m interested in trying this recipe. You linked where to purchase sodium lauryl sulfate but the link brings up STEOL CS-230 PCK SURFACTANT – LIQUID and the description of the item says not to be confused with sodium lauryl sulfate. Is it still ok to use the surfactant that you linked?
If you re-read the formulation you’ll see it calls for Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLeS), NOT SLS 🙂 Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLeS) is what is linked—I used that exact product, you can even see it in the photos. Happy making!
I tried making this and it didn’t quite work. I made it without the carageenan because I was going to thicken it with salt. When I add the SLES to the water, the SLES seems to glob up and make a ball of goo. It doesn’t mix with the water. Do you have any idea what could be happening? I had to get my SLES through Bulk Apothecary since Essential Wholesale has been out of it lately.
Love all of your recipes!
I’d just wait a while to give it a chance to dissolve—cover and leave, and it’ll probably be fine in the morning 🙂
Hii Marie! Could you suggest what preservation would be best for this formulation and in what percentage? Also I don’t have iota carrageenan, can I use guar or xanthum ?
This came together beautifully and easily and then I woke up to a thinned out product with bits of carrageenan floating around in it. I threw a dash of salt in and it thickened back up but I’ve never had much luck with carrageenan. I thought you had to heat it for it to work. I didn’t heat this one. I made it exactly as stated except that the final PH was 5.6 and I left it there adding .5% germall.
I’ve definitely become a bit disillusioned with carrageenan since finishing my first bag and then replacing it. Bag #1 seems to have been unicorn carrageenan, and everything since has been a seaweed scented disappointment :/
Thanks for sharing, I’m going to do it now.
Hi what a great post!
I would really like to try out this formulation.
Is it possible to substitute
sodium laureth sulfate with potassium cocoate? If so, would I have to reduce the amount of glycerin since potassium cocoate contains glycerin? I am really looking for a sulfate free surfactant but I’m having a hard time finding the substitutes listed.
Sorry didn’t mean to post this in your comment.
I’m afraid that would be a great big “it depends/maybe/try and see/you’d almost certainly need to redevelop the formulation”—a bit like taking a cake recipe that uses all purpose flour and trying to re-work it to use almond flour instead. Good luck and happy experimenting!
I am trying to find out what the pH of The Body Shops commercial SATSUMA is. I believe it is manufactured in the UK.
Nobody in Australia can tell me!!
Hope you can help
Can I add Polysorbate 20 and reduce the ammount Sodium Laureth Sulfate because I want to use orange and grapefruit essential oils insteat of the satsuma fragrance oil.
And another question: Can I change Sodium Laureth Sulfate completly againgst Ammonium laureth sulfate and use the same percentage?
I want to go SLES free.
Can I color the body wash with turmeric? Would the benefits of the turmeric be of value in a Wash off product?
Hi Marie, I made this recipe and it wouldn’t thicken. I went back to the bag of iota carrageenan and it says it needs to be heated to at least 160 degrees to work.