This lovely Soothing Creamy Facial Cleanser is a new favourite of mine for washing my face, morning and night. A gentle blend of surfactants is suspended in a creamy base with lots of moisturizing glycerin, anti-inflammatory aloe vera juice, and soothing allantoin. Low, slippy lather rinses away to leave your face gently cleansed and happy ❤️It’s face-cleansing perfection!
Want to watch this project instead of reading it?
It was inspired by a First Aid Beauty product that I read some lovely reviews of on Reddit’s r/SkinCareAddiction, so of course, I headed over and read the ingredient list immediately. I didn’t have most of the ingredients, but I did have a few of them, so I set to work!
The surfactant blend is a combination of anionic Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI), non-ionic Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, and amphoteric Cocamidopropyl Betaine—three of my favourite gentle surfactants. You’ll want to be sure to use very finely powdered Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) so it incorporates really easily. If yours is chunkier you can blend it up in a DIY-only coffee grinder; just be certain to do it while wearing a well-fitting dust mask in a well-ventilated area. You really really do not want to inhale powdered surfactants! Those surfactants are blended with moisturizing vegetable glycerin and a bit of xanthan gum to help ensure the cleanser remains stable and doesn’t split over time.
The watery bits of this cleanser are a blend of distilled water and soothing aloe vera juice. I’ve also included a tiny amount of citric acid to bring the pH down to where we want it—right around 5.3. A mildly acidic pH is precisely where we want our facial cleansers to be, pH-wise, as our acid mantle is also acidic. You can learn all about this from this great article from Simple Skincare Science. (The mildly acidic pH is also necessary for our preservative—Optiphen™ Plus.)
We get our creamy goodness from three ingredients. Glyceryl Stearate SE is our emulsifier, while stearic acid and cetearyl alcohol both thicken the cleanser and add some lovely richness and emollience. If you wanted to make a thinner cleanser you could try swapping out a 2–3% from the stearic acid and/or cetearyl alcohol for a liquid oil.
The making part of this cleanser is very similar to making lotion—heating up separate oil and water phases, and then blending them together until cool before incorporating the cool-down phase. Despite all the surfactants in this cleanser, it doesn’t kick up a ton of lather while blending thanks to the high oil content, which is definitely nice! We don’t want to be turning our concoctions into whipped cream and then trying to bottle them 😂
I chose to package this cleanser in a soft squeeze tube. Some of my earlier versions went into GoToobs, and that also worked beautifully (another bonus—they’re designed to be easy to clean and re-use, which is especially good now that packaging is hard to come by). You could also put this in a pump-top bottle, a tottle, or a squeezy PET bottle with a disc-type lid.
Want to watch this project instead of reading it?
Soothing Creamy Facial Cleanser
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a wide, flat-bottomed sauté pan.
Weigh the heated water phase into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup or beaker (I used 100mL beakers for both heated phases for a 50g [1.76oz] batch). Start with the glycerine and gum, stirring to thoroughly disperse before stirring in the surfactants (wear your dust mask!), and finally the distilled water, aloe vera juice, and citric acid. Weigh the entire lot (measuring cup + ingredients) and note that weight for use later.
Weigh the heated oil phase into a second heat-resistant glass measuring cup or beaker. Place both measuring cups in your prepared water bath to melt everything through.
After about 20–30 minutes the oil part should be completely melted and the water part should be thoroughly dissolved. Remove the water bath from the heat and weigh the water phase. Add enough hot distilled water to the heated water phase to bring the weight back up to what it was before heating, and then pour the water part into the oil part (this is important—it’s hard to get the oil phase out of its beaker completely as it’s very prone to solidifying). Stir with a flexible silicone spatula to incorporate.
Blend the mixture for a minute or two with a small high-powered mixer, and then switch to hand stirring (if you don’t have a high powered mixer you could try making a 100g [3.5oz] batch so you can use an immersion blender, or just hand stir a lot and hope the emulsion holds). Stir occasionally as the mixture cools.
When the cleanser is cool, it’s time to incorporate our cool down ingredients. Because cool down ingredients are typically present at very low amounts, you’ll need to use an accurate scale—preferably one accurate to 0.01g. As these more accurate scales tend to have fairly low (100–200g) maximum weights you likely won’t be able to put the entire batch of cleanser on that scale without blowing it out. So—grab a smaller dish. Add a scoop or two of cleanser, and then weigh the cool down ingredients into that, using the more accurate scale. Stir to thoroughly incorporate, and then stir all of that back into the master batch of cleanser. Doing it this way minimizes the amount of cool down ingredients lost to the secondary container.
Now it’s time to test the pH of the cleanser! 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 5.2–5.5, and that’s great! If the pH is above 6 or lower than 4.5, you’ll need to adjust it. Please read this article if that’s the case.
And that’s it—packaging time! I used a 50g (1.76oz) soft tube from YellowBee in the video, and I used GoToobs as I was developing and testing this formulation (they’re much easier to fill and re-usable). I really like a squeeze tube for this formulation, but a pump-top bottle or flip-disc topped squeeze bottle would also work. This is too viscous for a treatment pump or eyedropper cap.
Use as you would any face wash. Enjoy!
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this cleanser 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 50g, which is about a one month supply of face wash if you wash your face twice a day.
- 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 please look up the ingredient in the encyclopedia before asking.
- You could try Propanediol 1,3 instead of glycerine
- You could try a different gum, but that will impact the end texture of the product
- 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 powder larger grain Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) in a DIY-only coffee grinder, but be sure you are wearing a well-fitting dust mask!
- If you have Iselux Ultra Mild surfactant blend you could try that at 14% instead of the blend I’ve used.
- You can replace the aloe vera juice with more distilled water, a hydrosol of choice (this will obviously impact the scent of the end product), or even witch hazel.
- I don’t recommend switching out the citric acid. If you do, you’ll need to test and adjust the pH of the final product to ensure it’s suitable.
- If you don’t have a scale precise enough to reliably weigh out the citric acid, simply make a stock and use that instead. Weigh out equal weights distilled water and citric acid to create a 50% solution, and then you will use 0.2% of that solution instead of 0.1% pure citric acid (remove 0.1% from the distilled water).
- You could try a different complete emulsifying wax instead of glyceryl stearate SE.
- You could try a different combination of stearic acid, cetearyl alcohol, and/or cetyl alcohol instead of what I have used.
- You could replace the allantoin with panthenol.
- A different botanical extract your skin loves will work instead of calendula (or replace it with more water).
- If you’re like to use a different preservative, please review this page.
- If you want to incorporate some essential oils, please read this.
The soft tube packaging was gifted by YellowBee.