I’m pretty darn excited to finally share a formulation for a liquid shampoo! I’ve had a lot of requests for a non-soap liquid shampoo over the last few years, and here we are. This one stars a surfactant blend that kicks off oodles of dense, thick lather, leaving your hair feeling all kinds of clean and silky. There are some conditioning goodies for manageability and panthenol + silk for added shine and bounce. It’s also cold-processed, so making it is as easy as measure, stir, and wait!
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I’ve found liquid shampoo to be a rather finicky thing to formulate. It seems like it should be simple enough, especially since solid shampoos are fairly straightforward… but no. My first liquid shampoo experiments (those ones don’t bear much resemblance to this formulation) left my hair feeling reaaaaally clean, but also like snaggy, gritty chalk; hurk. Not good, obviously!
As part of my coursework for my Diploma in Organic Haircare Formulation course at Formula Botanica I made my first successful liquid shampoos. Their guide formulations incorporated some re-fatting additions to liquid shampoos, which got rid of the chalky feeling. Hooray!
For this formulation, I started with a collection of ingredients that are very commonly found in commercially available liquid shampoos: water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLeS), Cocamidopropyl Betaine, cationic guar gum, some sort of polyquaternium ingredient, fragrance, and preservative. The first one was ok, but I quickly noticed my hair wasn’t staying clean for anywhere close to as long as it usually would—early formulations had my hair feeling clean for hours rather than days. Also not great, but a better place to be than hair chalk.
From there I started tweaking and fiddling, trying to increase the cleansing power of the shampoo without straying back into chalk-hair territory. I tried a few variations with increasing concentrations of Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLeS), which quickly ended up creating something akin to sudsing hair jello—also not ideal! That led to the incorporation of some Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, which is both less viscous and more concentrated than SLeS. Swapping some SLeS for Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside allowed me to keep the active surfactant matter (ASM) of the shampoo high enough to cleanse the hair, but also thin enough to dispense and use.
Once increasing the active surfactant matter (ASM) of the formulation seemed to dead-end I started dialling back the re-fatting and conditioning ingredients; the Olivem 300, cationic guar gum, and polyquaternium. Earlier versions used polyquaternium 7, but I eventually switched to polyquaternium 10 as I was running out of 7 and had lots of 10 that I wanted to play with. I was surprised by just how much I had to reduce the Olivem 300; I started at 4% and ended up at 0.5%. I noticed a difference in hair cleanliness between 0.7% and 0.5%!
For some fancying-up ingredients, I’ve included small amounts of panthenol (Vitamin B5) and hydrolyzed silk, both of which are lovely for the hair, offering more shine and bounce. If you’re looking for a vegan option for the hydrolyzed silk you can swap it out for a different hydrolyzed protein, like hydrolyzed rice protein or hydrolyzed quinoa protein.
The thickening for this shampoo comes primarily from two places; the cationic guar gum and the very-viscous Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLeS). You shouldn’t have to do any sort of adjustments or additional thickening, which is always convenient! The shampoo will seem a bit thin when first made, but it’ll thicken up over about an hour to a lovely shampoo-y consistency.
The finished shampoo lathers up like crazy, feeling utterly decadent on the hair and skin (I made about 2 years worth of shampoo while developing this formulation so I’m definitely using it as body wash as well!). You can also easily tweak how cleansing the shampoo is but dialling back the active surfactant matter (ASM) and increasing the Olivem 300 if your hair does better with gentler shampoos—just be sure to start with small adjustments on the Olivem 300 front, as small increases and decreases can make a big difference. Enjoy!
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Silk & Shine Shampoo
1.2g | 1% hydrolyzed silk
0.6g | 0.5% panthenol powder (vitamin B5) (USA / Canada)
0.6g | 0.5% Olivem300 (USA / Canada)
0.36g | 0.3% Polyquaternium 10
0.36g | 0.3% Liquid Germall Plus™ (USA / Canada)
0.6g | 0.5% fragrance or essential oil of choice
34.08g | 28.4% distilled water
Weigh the glycerin and cationic guar gum into a beaker and stir until thoroughly combined.
Add the secondary phase ingredients and stir to combine.
Add the surfactant phase, stir to combine.
Gently add the water, stirring slowly to combine. Once the mixture appears uniform, leave the shampoo to sit for about an hour to thicken before bottling. I used a 120mL (4 fl oz) tottle. Use as you would use any liquid shampoo!
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 120g.
- I spent a lot of time carefully adjusting and testing this formulation to create something that works well; please be aware that if you start changing much of anything you are likely to be in re-development and re-testing territory.
- 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 (panthenol, silk, Olivem 300) please look up the ingredient in the encyclopedia before asking.
- I do not recommend swapping out the cationic guar gum. You could try non-cationic guar gum.
- You could try propanediol instead of vegetable glycerin.
- You can use polyquaternium 7 instead of polyquaternium 10.
- If you’re like to use a different preservative, please review this page.
- 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.
- You can easily incorporate a bit of colour by dipping the tip of a spoon or stirring rod into some water-soluble dye and stirring the distilled water with it—that amount of dye won’t register on a scale, but it is potent enough to colour the shampoo!
- Be sure to watch maximum usage rates for essential oils.