Today we’re going back to the basics with a Super Simple Moisturizing Lotion. I pared down the ingredients as much as I could, so this lotion just features five (5!) inexpensive ingredients that can be easily modified to suit what you have, or what you prefer. If you’ve never made lotion before, this is a fantastic place to start! In this post (and the partner video) I’ll be going over the essential components of lotions so you can easily and confidently make your own simple lotions at home. I’ll also be doing a follow-up live stream on this formulation this upcoming Sunday on YouTube where I’ll answer the questions I get + some of the more common DIY lotion questions I’ve heard over the years, so be sure to tune in for that as well!
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How did I end up with five ingredients? Well, we know this is going to be an emulsion, so there has to be oil and water—that’s two to start with. To bring them together, we’ll need an emulsifier—that’s three. To keep everything shelf-stable we need a preservative, and that makes four. While we could stop there, I wanted to include an inexpensive humectant to really amp up the moisturizing goodness of this lotion, and that’s where ingredient #5 comes in.
Let’s take a closer look at each ingredient!
This is a really simple lotion, and that’s the point. If you’re looking for something a bit fancier, you can find all my hand & body lotion formulations here, and all my face lotion formulations here. As of this writing, there are nearly 80 to choose from!
Oils help moisturize and soften the skin, slowing the loss of water (transepidermal water loss, or TEWL). They’re where the richness in a lotion comes from—without some fat, we’ve just got watery things!
For oil, you could choose any liquid oil, or even a butter, like mango butter or shea butter. I chose fractionated coconut oil as it’s lightweight and inexpensive, but safflower oil, grapeseed oil, apricot kernel oil, almond oil, and jojoba oil would all be good choices. If you want to get a bit more complex you could also blend a couple of different oils (or butters!)—just make sure the total weight stays the same. Learn more about choosing different oils with this post.
Water helps hydrate the skin and also dilutes the oil in the lotion, which is why lotions are lighter and faster absorbing than things like body butters and body oils that are 100% comprised of oils and/or butters.
This part is very simple; plain ol’ distilled water—the sort that you buy in big jugs at the grocery store. We prefer distilled water for making lotions and other DIYs as it’s one less variable in our formulation—it’s just water. Learn more here! If you don’t have distilled water, tap water is usually fine (assuming you have good tap water—if you have quite pongy well water or some other type of less-than-awesome water coming out of your tap, I’d recommend getting yourself some distilled water).
To fancy things up, you could swap out some of the water for something like a hydrosol (to add a lovely scent), aloe vera juice (for soothing goodness), or witch hazel (it’s astringent and anti-inflammatory).
Oil and water don’t mix without some help, and that’s where our emulsifier comes in!
For an emulsifier, you’ll need a complete emulsifying wax (I say “complete” because some companies sell products they call “emulsifying wax”, but upon closer reading of the description, something else is required to create a stable emulsion). I recommend Polawax, Emulsifying Wax NF, Olivem 1000, or Ritamulse SCG (those last 2 options are considered natural) for this project. You could also use BTMS-50, but it is typically more expensive than the first four options I listed, and it isn’t as widely available.
You absolutely cannot use beeswax, candelilla wax, carnauba wax, soy wax, etc. instead of an emulsifying wax! Please read this for more information, and watch this video to see what will happen if you do.
When water is present in a formulation, we need to include a broad spectrum preservative to keep it stable. There are a few exceptions to this (like when things are designed to be used immediately, or when a formulation is crafted to be self-preserving), but this lotion isn’t one of those exceptions.
To preserve this DIY I recommend using Liquid Germall Plus (INCI: Propylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate). It is very effective at low concentrations and works in a wide pH range, meaning we don’t have to test and adjust the pH of our end product (I felt like testing & adjusting started to stray away from “super simple”!). It is water-soluble, and only heat tolerant up to 50°C (122°F), so we’ll add it to the lotion after it has cooled below that point. If you’d like to learn more about preservatives, please read through the Preservatives section in the Humblebee & Me FAQ + check out this table.
Humectants hold onto water, keeping water on the skin for longer, helping prevent the product from drying out if you leave it uncovered, and drawing up moisture from the lower layers of the skin. Learn more here! They’re a wonderful thing to have in lotions and other skincare products. Examples include glycerin, propylene glycol, hyaluronic acid, propanediol 1,3, sodium lactate, and many, many more. We’re using glycerin today as it’s readily available (it can often be found at pharmacies sold as Glycerin USP), inexpensive, and effective. You could use propanediol 1,3 or propylene glycol as alternatives, but I think you’ll find glycerin is a lot easier to purchase.
And that’s it for the ingredients!
This lotion (and most lotions) have three phases: a heated water phase, a heated oil phase, and a cool down phase. The heated phases are ingredients that aren’t heat sensitive, while the cool down phase is where we incorporate ingredients that cannot be heated. The heated water phase is the water and glycern; the heated oil phase is the emulsifying wax and liquid oil; and the cool down phase is just our preservative.
We’ll talk about the procedure more in the video, so make sure you watch it.
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Super Simple Moisturizing Lotion
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. 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. 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. Stir with a flexible silicone spatula to incorporate.
Grab your immersion blender and begin blending the lotion, starting with short bursts so the still-very-liquid lotion doesn’t whirl up and spray everywhere. Blend for about a minute, leave to cool for ten, blend for another minute or two, and repeat this blend-cool-blend cycle until the outside of the glass measuring cup is barely warm to the touch and the lotion is thick and creamy.
When the lotion 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 won’t be able to put the entire batch of lotion on that scale without blowing it out. So—grab a smaller dish. Add a scoop or two of lotion, 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 lotion. Doing it this way minimizes the amount of cool down ingredients lost to the secondary container.
All that’s left at this point is to bottle up the lotion! This lotion is thin enough to package in a pump-top bottle or a soft squeeze tube. A 120mL (4 fl oz) package is a good choice. Use as you would any lotion. Enjoy!
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this lotion 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 100g.
- 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! Please read the blog post (there’s a lot of information about substitutions in there!) and look up the ingredient in the encyclopedia before asking about further substitutions.
- If you’re like to use a different preservative, please review this page.
- If you want to incorporate an essential oil, please read this.
- If you want to incorporate anything else, please read this.